Build Confidence and Courage for Your Next Creative Leap
By Jeannine McGlade & Andrew Pek | Posted 6/15/10 | Updated 10/5/20
As business professionals, authors, and consultants, we work in a world in which our faith in our ideas and actions is tested time and time again.
When we take a risk by suggesting a new idea and a path that we are convinced will help others grow, we know that we will be opening ourselves up to potential criticism and loss of control. After all, organizations, as we have learned, concentrate on critique and evaluation, not necessarily originality and expression. Even when innovation is considered necessary for organizational survival, private and public organizations often still value linear and well-defined actions and results above the artistic and creative expressions of their workforces. And the spotlight of creative success can be so intense that the members of the workforce don't want to deal with the attention.
Picture this: You're sitting in a meeting with your colleagues trying to brainstorm solutions to a problem. As someone gets the courage to express an idea, you hear, "That will never work," or "We've tried that before," or "No one will ever let that happen," or "We just don't do things like that here." If nothing else, these naysayers never learned the rules of brainstorming. What happened to rule number one, no judgment!?! Ignoring this rule certainly doesn't encourage more ideas to emerge from the group.
"When we judge or criticize another person, it says nothing about that person; it merely says something about our own need to be critical." — Unknown
Venturing into an invisible creative space is a nonlinear, messy, unclear process, and it's seen by many organization leaders as an inefficient use of time that shows mixed results. Even when there is an earnest commitment to acquiring and generating fresh new ideas, organizations limit this approach in an effort to keep the ideation and cultivation of sparks tightly controlled. Too much ideation is seen as fluff and vaporware, not something of substance and form.
In work we nourish safe, secure, and clear actions that can be quantified, tested, and implemented. Work belongs to the realm of order and predictability, not whims, hunches, or possibilities. The many of us who experience and nurture spark moments and consciously look to exercise our creative genius often find that we have been taught to have very little faith in our ideas. And as a result, we find the habit of venturing a gamble, just as the word suggests. Very few are willing to wager their proven equity for big, new, fresh ideas.
What does confidence mean to you? What does it look like? Feel like? Sound like? Smell like? Taste like? Create a poem on confidence and incorporate your answers. Here are some examples from our workshops:
Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us," suggesting that our real challenge lies within and is often the biggest barrier to making a leap and venturing into a more creative space. Throughout our work and life experiences we have identified several dynamics that influence whether or not we will make a leap and pursue cultivating our creative genius further.
To step into the unknown requires a great deal of confidence. The opposite of confidence is self-doubt. Self-doubt is the part of creative contemplation that says, What if people do not like what I have to suggest? Or, No one is likely to support my idea, or, worse, It's too far-fetched, so why bother even sharing it? Why should I expose myself? Self-doubt is more concerned with impossibility and figuring out ways to defeat our inspirations than encouraging possibility and risk taking. Self-doubt feeds our fear that if we fail we will be alone and exposed and vulnerable. As we said before, organizations value and reward proven and concrete results. Therefore, feeding our creative genius and letting our imagination wander and venture is often perceived as risky.
We learn very early in life that such things as equations, theories, and ideas need proof to be accepted. Consequently, we are concerned with fitting in, staying in a space of certainty and safety rather than venturing into darker, hidden spaces of our imagination and creative passion. We are split between producing clear, tangible, concrete results and pursuing, cultivating, and experimenting with the faint renderings that have been playing out in our minds. The state of our creative genius and whether we break out and venture into unknown territory depends on our willingness to take risks and accept failure as one of the possibilities.
"Your current safe boundaries were once unknown frontiers." — Unknown
When we asked Rick Dzavik, the former European innovation leader for a large consumer health-care company, if he ever had any doubts about his success and ability to obtain support for his innovation agenda, he smiled and said, "Every day. From the moment we began to conceive and shape a program for building a more innovative culture to actually implementing one, my team and I would frequently question our own actions and even went as far as not trusting our intuition on things because of past experiences. It took a long time to hit our stride, but eventually, as we gained traction, we improved our level of confidence." Of course, Dzavik and his team were hugely successful, even though they still had some doubts along the way. So keep in mind that when you're contemplating whether or not to venture into unknown places, things may feel beyond your reach, similar to Indiana Jones looking across the chasm. It may at first be daunting, but you won't know until you ultimately make the leap.
"Growth means change and change involves risk, stepping from the known to the unknown." Unknown
In work today the stakes are increasingly high. Because of increased competition, high-performance targets, and the vicissitude associated with corporate takeovers and layoffs, our desire and willingness to venture out is shaky at best. And in general, as John Lennon sang so eloquently, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans," causing you to react and shift your priorities.
Without notice, your husband one day declares to you that he hates his job and quits, or your boss informs you that your services are no longer needed and you are out of a job. The emphasis on the bottom line and constant pressure to produce in most modern jobs often make the human psyche the ball in a ping-pong match between our desire to operate in artistic, self expressive ways and our need to conform to the realities of the corporate stage and associated spotlights of tried-and-true behaviors. We want to express ourselves and unleash our creative flow, but we easily give in to self-doubt and retreat into safe behaviors when we need to make a decision or commit to a course of action.
Have you ever had a spark of an idea but suppressed it as quickly as it came to you because of your lack of confidence? Our creative streams are often dammed by a combination of self-doubt and the unconscious, bland expectations of other people and our organizations. Work is perceived as a place of sweat and toil where little or no time is devoted to attracting or advancing energy to creative thought. As a result, we avoid taking the step to release that vital creative spirit we are born with, opting instead to keep it safe and hidden in the dark recesses of our minds.
The next time you have a spark and hesitate to share it with someone else, either at work or at home, imagine that they will not only not judge or criticize it, but instead fully embrace it and help you to realize the spark's full potential! Then go ahead and share it!
©2010 Jeannine McGlade & Andrew Pek. All rights reserved.
Jeannine McGlade and Andrew Pek are authors, speakers, trainers, and thought leaders in making innovation and creativity a habit. more