Have you opted out of your creativity?

Take a moment and think back to when you were a child, maybe five or six years old. What were some of the things you loved to do? One of my favorite memories is gliding across our frozen pond in rubber boots, pretending to be an ice skater. From playing make-believe to building sand castles or blanket forts, a lot of our happiest childhood memories come from using creativity.CCBook_Front_Comp_560px

Research shows that creativity is a key ingredient for creating a successful and fulfilling life. And we’re all born with it! The trouble is we don’t always remember or believe that. David Kelley’s TED talk “How to Build Your Creative Confidence” explains how many of us opt out of our creativity as we grow, losing out on those opportunities for joy.

Kelley defines “creative confidence” as the natural human ability to come up with innovative ideas, combined with the courage to act upon them. What I love about this definition is that it broadens the value of creativity beyond artistic endeavors and celebrates it as necessary any time we have an idea to pursue.

At Thrive, we use drawing as a tool to teach this kind of creative confidence—not just for art’s sake alone, but also to foster overall fulfillment and success. We start each project by talking with kids about how everyone is creative and everyone can learn to draw. We teach strategies to transform ideas into reality on their paper, along with problem solving skills so that kids can create what they want in their artwork. This foundation can translate into the same skills for their lives.


Here are some highlights of what I took away from David Kelley’s TED talk:


1. The belief that some people are born creative and some are not is a myth

Based on what I’ve seen teaching art, especially when working with adults, there’s a common assumption that only some people are born creative. I often hear adults say “My sister is the artist in my family” or “I can’t even draw a stick figure”. In reality, all people are creative. The key is whether or not we believe ourselves to be. Having the conviction that you can achieve what you set out to do—a belief in your creative capacity—lies at the heart of innovation.


2. From a young age, many people opt out of thinking of themselves as creative

Little kids have no problem expressing themselves creatively, but at some point many become inhibited as a result of cruel comments from peers or being shut down by adults. I see this with my older art students and remember it from my own childhood as well. I stopped drawing at the age of 8 because of criticism and discouragement. It was only as an adult that I finally realized that everyone, including me, could learn to draw. Creative confidence is like a muscle—it can be strengthened and nurtured through effort and experience. For me, regaining my creative confidence actually allowed me to start my own business and follow the path I’m so passionate about.


3. The best way to gain confidence in your creative ability is through experiencing a series of small successes

Creativity takes courage. To create something new, you must experiment—and often things don’t turn out how you’d like. Sometimes the fear of failure is so high that we don’t try, staying instead with whatever is a comfortable, sure thing. Taking small steps as we experiment, and encouraging ourselves with those successes, is helpful to building confidence.


Kelley’s TED talk focuses primarily on how adults can regain their creative confidence. But as teachers and parents we can try to anticipate those critical moments where children may shut down or opt out of their creativity, and help them navigate through it so that they preserve their creative confidence as they grow.


David and Tom Kelley’s latest book Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All is available October 15, 2013.


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