Reclaim your creative confidence

Robin Nicholson
Director: Corporate-911

Over my ten-year career as a business rescue practitioner, I have seen various reasons why companies find themselves in financial distress. While the common themes of mismanagement and failing to capitalize on industry trends are prevalent reasons. Other reasons include poor employee management and Executive mental burnout.

There is a reason why some academics are offered sabbaticals. Not only is it for them to finish their thesis or to further their studies (which would benefit the institution that they work for), it is also an opportunity for them to address the mental stress that their job places on them and to regain their creative confidence. We were encouraged to embrace our creativity as children, and we encourage our children to do the same.

For many executives, creativity plays a more important role in the sustainability of their business then they realise. It is therefore important that executives also work hard to reclaim their creative confidence.

Fear of being judged
The article points out that if the scribbling, singing, dancing kindergartner symbolizes unfettered creative expression, the awkward teenager represents the opposite: someone who cares—deeply—about what other people think. It takes only a few years to develop that fear of judgment, but it stays with us throughout our adult lives, often constraining our careers. Most of us accept that when we are learning, say, to ski, others will see us fall down until practice pays off. But we can’t risk our business-world ego in the same way. As a result, we self-edit, killing potentially creative ideas because we’re afraid our bosses or peers will see us fail. We stick to “safe” solutions or suggestions. We hang back, allowing others to take risks. But you can’t be creative if you are constantly censoring yourself.

The article adds that half the battle is to resist judging yourself. If you can listen to your own intuition and embrace more of your ideas (good and bad), you’re already partway to overcoming this fear. So take baby steps, as Bandura’s clients did. Instead of letting thoughts run through your head and down the drain, capture them systematically in some form of idea notebook. Keep a whiteboard and marker in the shower. Schedule daily “white space” in your calendar, where your only task is to think or take a walk and daydream. When you try to generate ideas, shoot for 100 instead of 10. Defer your own judgment and you’ll be surprised at how many ideas you have—and like—by the end of the week.

Also, try using new language when you give feedback, and encourage your collaborators to do the same.

Creativity needs to flow from the top down
Photo By: Campaign Creators on Unsplash

Fear of the first step
The article points out that even when we want to embrace our creative ideas, acting on them presents its own challenges. Creative efforts are hardest at the beginning. The writer faces the blank page; the teacher, the start of school; businesspeople, the first day of a new project. In a broader sense, we’re also talking about fear of charting a new path or breaking out of your predictable workflow. To overcome this inertia, good ideas are not enough. You need to stop planning and just get started—and the best way to do that is to stop focusing on the huge overall task and find a small piece you can tackle right away.

Best-selling writer Anne Lamott expertly captures this idea in a story from her childhood. Her brother had been assigned a school report about birds, but he waited to start on it until the night before it was due. He was near tears, overwhelmed by the task ahead, until his father gave him some wise advice: Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird. In a business context, you can push yourself to take the first step by asking: What is the low-cost experiment? What’s the quickest, cheapest way to make progress toward the larger goal?

Another example of the “start simple” strategy comes from an IDEO project to develop a new dashboard feature for a European luxury car. To test their ideas, designers videotaped an existing car and then used digital effects to layer on proposed features. The rapid prototyping process took less than a week. When the team showed the video to our client, he laughed. “Last time we did something like this,” he said, “we built a prototype car, which took almost a year and cost over a million dollars. Then we took a video of it. You skipped the car and went straight to the video.”

Fear of losing control
The article points out that confidence doesn’t simply mean believing your ideas are good. It means having the humility to let go of ideas that aren’t working and to accept good ideas from other people. When you abandon the status quo and work collaboratively, you sacrifice control over your product, your team, and your business. But the creative gains can more than compensate. Again, you can start small. If you’re facing a tough challenge, try calling a meeting with people fresh to the topic. Or break the routine of a weekly meeting by letting the most junior person in the room set the agenda and lead it. Look for opportunities to cede control and leverage different perspectives.

Fear is a major inhibitor of creativity
Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

That’s exactly what Bonny Simi, director of airport planning at JetBlue Airways, did after an ice storm closed JFK International Airport for a six-hour stretch in 2007—and disrupted the airline’s flight service for the next six days. Everyone knew there were operational problems to be fixed, but no one knew exactly what to do. Bonny suggested that JetBlue brainstorm solutions from the bottom up rather than the top down.

The article adds that, first, she gathered a team of 120 frontline employees together for just one day—pilots, flight attendants, dispatchers, ramp workers, crew schedulers, and other staff members. Then she mapped out their disruption recovery actions (using yellow post-it notes) and the challenges they faced (using pink ones). By the end of the day, Bonny’s grassroots task force had reached new insights—and resolve. The distributed team then spent the next few months working through more than a thousand pink post-it notes to creatively solve each problem. By admitting that the answers lay in the collective, Simi did more than she could ever have done alone. And JetBlue now recovers from major disruptions significantly faster than it did before.

Robin Nicholson is the Director of Corporate-911 and is a Senior Business Rescue Practitioner