Creative Confidence and Competence

By: Anne Orban, M.Ed., NPDP

“Anyone can learn to be creative, it just takes a lot of practice and a little confidence.” Robert Sutton, Professor of Management Science & Engineering, Stanford Engineering School.

At the very beginning of Innovation Focus’s Building a Culture for Innovation: The Creative U training, we ask the key question ‘do you think of yourself as creative?”  The way you answer that question has the same implication as the much reported saying by Henry Ford – ‘whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t, you’re exactly right.”

Creative confidence is often a significant deficit in corporate cultures. A current commentator on creativity, Sir Ken Robinson, headlines his challenge to creativity around the way in which the education system seems to beat creativity out of us. David Kelley, of Stanford and IDEO fame, who was recently featured on CBS’s 60 minutes (January 6, 2013) also addresses the challenge of creative confidence.  Creative confidence is an underpinning of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford that is Kelley’s brainchild.  And here I paraphrase David Kelley:

‘Because of what we educate for and expect in our education system, it is constructed so that there is a right answer and it is the student’s job to find that answer and report it back. So, a lot of the people lack both the skills and the confidence to work on messy problems where the answer is not known and where the only hope is to keep pushing forward, observing the world and the people in it, identifying unmet needs, brainstorming solutions, and trying to develop prototypes that work — and failing forward through this disconcerting process. Creative confidence means that, even when people aren’t sure, they have the energy and will to keep pushing forward, to be undaunted when ideas don’t work, to keep trying new ideas.’

It is no coincidence that Abbie Griffin, co-author of the evidence-based book, Serial Innovators, noted that a common feature of serial innovators in mature firms is that they grew up as creative problem solvers on family farms where solutions had to cobbled together from what was available.  It is no stretch to realize that creative confidence is an integral legacy of that experience.

The research of Robert Sternberg, a psychologist, suggests that creative people have made the decision to be creative, regardless of setbacks and frustrations, and that deciding to be creative does not assure creativity, but without that decision, it is sure not to happen. Today’s professionals may also have decided that creativity is not for the office and be channeling their creative energy into avocations, volunteer service, gardens, culinary arts and more because creative competence is not a value where they work.  Just imagine how productive it could be to tap into that creative competence to grow the creative confidence of teams and organizations.

It can be helpful to have models for the components of a culture for innovation.  Innovation Focus likes how Dimis Michaelides, a self-proclaimed escapee form the corporate world, presents the drivers, structures and sources of creativity that need to be embraced, supported and encouraged to build and sustain a culture for innovation — and we have reproduced it here.

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For 3 Elements of any creative act:

  • Talent: capacity to imagine new things and make them happen
  • Energy: determination, effort and time for innovation
  • Method: effective ways to confront challenges

4 organization structures for innovation to happen:

  • Target: definition of the type of innovation
  • System: ways ideas are generated
  • Team: creating and managing how we work together to invent things
  • Individual: commitment to stretch our limits (the decision to be creative)

5 drivers of culture for innovation

  • Ideas:  the things we have to love, grow and reward
  • Freedom: the ability to be open and debate
  • Engagement: how the organization and its people help each other grow
  • Humor: how we create connections and relieve stress
  • Risk: how people are empowered to act and deal with success and failure

If you believe that your organization can progress in its desire and commitment to build creative confidence and competence to achieve and sustain a culture for innovation, then we hope that the content of this article can make a constructive contribution.

Innovation Focus supports new product and new business development project teams at the front end of innovation with process, facilitation, project management and training that is fast, fun, flexible and fact-based.

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