Amazing Experiences, life heuristics

Building Creative Confidence


Tonight I had a chance to hear Tom and David Kelley of IDEO and fame speak at the Kepler bookstore in Menlo Park. The topic of the night? Something that could not have been more timely – their new book on building and sustaining creative confidence.

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 I took some notes from the conversation (paraphrased in bold), and made an effort to make the points as concise and actionable as I can in plain text underneath. If any of these speak to you – give your feedback in comments!

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1. Everyone can be creative. It is not a genetic gift, it is learned through cultivation and practice. David says: people think that if you come out of the womb and cant draw, its all over for you – whereas if you are born and can’t play the piano off the bat – that’s okay. 

If you don’t consider yourself a creative type right now, that’s okay! Its been beaten of you by traditional system and definitions, but don’t worry it can be restored by the tips below.

2. Practice involves guided mastery – someone more experienced holding you by the hand and showing you step by step. To improve yourself at something – find a mentor to teach you incrementally; human beings are excellent imitators.

3. The kind of productive creativity that David/Tom/IDEO/ practice is called Design Thinking. The central idea is to empathize with human beings. Look at what is meaningful for people. This is a huge untapped opportunity – people start new businesses around new technology, and new business models – but the new business that needs will change everything. 

This is a huge untapped business opportunity. Ask yourself carefully what people need – validate that need – and build it.

4. To understand people – you have to understand their motivations – and the easiest way to do that is to ask: “Why?” normal response… “Why?” deeper response… “Why?” somewhere they have not gone before… “Why?”


4.5 To get things started – begin by asking: “How can we ….”

It assumes that the thing can be done, that we are in this together all in the first 3 words!

5. Its okay to do the same thing over and over again – that is how you get better. 


6. The grade system in schools is a terrible motivation system. It teaches you to be good at predicting what the professor wants. It does not encourage you to fail. 

I propose a more productive definition of failure – when things dont happen the way that you want them to because you stopped working on it. That is the only definition of failure that matters. I am so happy to be on leave from school at the moment – brown has great classes, but being tested in the school of life is a whole nother level of awesome.

7. In school you are taught Problem Solving. In the world, you also need Design Thinking – deciding what problems are important to solve, and sometimes even rephrasing the problems that clients give to you. 

Again, always ask why. Check to make sure that the problem is actually a problem for the people who will “benefit” from it.

Final take-aways: 

1. I need to get into a project/class.

2. Its better to learn things when you need them in service of a bigger project.

3. I need to get my hands dirty more.

Final surprise – on my way back from the talk, I ride into the middle of a film scene! The crew is filming excerpts from James Franco‘s book Palo Alto. I ask: “How can I help?” One of the producers introduced me to the head of the Art team. I’ll be waking up at 8 am tomorrow to start making things. Woo!

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