Creative Confidence  | 4 MIN. READ

How to Overcome “Unlearned Creativity”

Luke Brodie, September 12, 2018

How to Overcome “Unlearned Creativity”In the business world, problems emerge every day, and solving them often requires creativity. Whether you are brainstorming a solution or tackling a new obstacles, creativity is a key way to find answers. But too often business people dismiss the need for creativity — and their own ability to deliver it.

When I lead design thinking workshops for ExperiencePoint, there is one phrase I hear over and over: “I’m a terrible artist.” It doesn’t matter if I’m working with engineers, marketers, or c-suite executives, as soon as I hand them a drawing pad and pile of markers they feel compelled to explain why their work won’t be the best.

It is (sort of) understandable. These are people who hold advanced degrees, have built successful careers, and can command the attention of a room to make their opinions heard. They haven’t spent years honing their drawing skills and they hate the idea of looking foolish.

It is a classic and common example of “creativity unlearned.”


Think Back…

In design thinking realms people talk a lot about whether creativity can be learned or whether it is just something you are born with. I tend to side with the former argument — creativity can be learned, through habits, but it can also be unlearned, and it happens all the time.

Imagine handing a classroom full of kindergarteners a box of markers and asking them to draw their best idea for a new rocket ship. They would all dive into that task with enthusiasm, and present their drawings proudly, no matter how abstract. And not one of them would apologize for how it turned out.

We were all that kid once, yet somehow over the course of our lives we have lost our creative confidence and now feel the need to let everyone know that our artistic capabilities are not up to par. That fear is holding us back.


Ambition And a Pen

If companies want to create a corporate culture where people are excited to innovate and to share their ideas, they need to help them get over this lack of creative confidence. In my blog series on the six habits of highly creative people, we talk about the many of opportunities teams have to sketch, build, and brainstorm ideas when they are using design thinking methods. To get the most value from these activities, participants have to stop worrying about how their finished product will look and what people will think of their artistic skills.

When we draw or build in design thinking workshops, we are not trying to create art. We are trying to give people a visual representation of what’s in our head – even if it comes out looking like a messy blob on a piece of paper. That process helps us bolster our capabilities.

As Tim Brown of IDEO has often explained, drawing forces us to use a different part of the brain, which is an important step in the creative process. “To draw an idea accurately, certain decisions must be made that even the most precise language can overlook,” he says. “The result of making that series of small decisions (is that) you’re able to get to novel solutions more quickly.”

It also helps teams identify problems with their designs. Consider the example from my prototyping blog, when a digital team only realized their new app was missing a vital button on every screen after they drew it out on post it notes. The lesson is clear: if you want to use design thinking to its fullest extent, you have to be willing to draw without apologizing for the outcome.

The good news is that everyone can do it. If you are still not convinced, check out the book Creative Confidence: Unleashing The Creative Potential Within Us All, by IDEO founders David and Tom Kelley. It explains why everyone has the potential to be creative, and provides innovative strategies readers can use to tap into their own creative capabilities. One of the most important tips I learned from this book is that if you can draw simple shapes you can draw anything.

Another great resource is this 15-minute TEDxTalk by Graham Shaw, called Why people believe they can’t draw - and how to prove they can. Shaw argues that the only thing you need to draw is an open mind and a willingness to try. Then he proves it by teaching a room full of “non-artists” how to draw perfect cartoons in less than 60 seconds.

Both resources can help anyone get over fears about drawing, and prove once and for all that there is a little Monet, Andy Warhol or Walt Disney in us all.

 Learn how to enable innovation skill-building at scale here or download our free ebook Kickstart Innovation: A Guide for Organizations.



Luke Brodie is an enthusiastic Master Facilitator with ExperiencePoint. He energizes groups of business leaders through spirited deliveries of award-winning ExperienceInnovation and ExperienceChange workshops for Fortune 500 companies. He also empowers training partners to scale their impact around the globe. Luke holds an MBA from the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University and has worked internationally in a variety of professional roles including airline management and as a professional musician.

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