UCLA Anderson School of Management recently teamed up with TED to produce “TED takeover,” an exciting partnership that resulted in a week of enriching events for the Anderson community to experience – live streams, panel discussions, and even a mini TED-like experience, all in the spirit of “ideas worth sharing.” The series of panel discussions followed a unique improv-like format. Each discussion began with a live video feed from the 2012 TED talks going on simultaneously in Long Beach, and consisted of a curated panel of experts whose work fits into the general realm of the specific TED speaker.
I was happy to be invited by Amanda Flegal, co-founder of Design for America, to sit on the panel that would discuss David Kelley (IDEO). Kelley’s 2012 TED talk is titled “Creative Confidence.” It is a reflection on the origins and ideologies behind his passion to unlock the creative potential of people and organizations to innovate regularly. The talk opens with a story far too familiar to many of the so-called “analytical” types: the moment in which a person has created something – perhaps a piece of pottery in elementary school – and is told, in response to their art: “that’s terrible.” This shut down on ideas, Kelley claims, is the root of the lack of creative confidence that much of our society is crippled by in their daily lives.
During the course of the live-stream, us panelists were all expected to, of course, take copious notes so as to be prepared to respond and further the ideas raised by Kelley. To be perfectly honest, however, I quickly zoned out throughout much of the rest of the talk (oops), because I got quite caught up on this initial phrase that Kelley brought to the surface: “that’s terrible,” because it resonated with me so deeply.
veryterrible verynice design studio
My company, a verynice design studio, has an extremely (seemingly) impractical business model – we give 50-60% of our work away for free. The initial idea, even more impractical, was to give 100% of the work away for free. Needless to say, when I was starting the company, and seeking advice from professors, friends, and industry professionals, I often heard the phrase: “that’s terrible.” Instead of listening to the lack of confidence others had in my vision, I ignored them, walking away knowing from that point on that I would be on my own in this endeavor.
The words “that’s terrible” unfortunately leads entrepreneurs to lose their core idea that contains the true breakthrough. Being told that your idea is terrible, will cause compromise. Compromise leads to “sameness.” Compromise is the reason there is a new social network for the 20-40 demographic every week. Compromise is the reason I can count more SNUGGIE knock-offs than I have fingers and toes.
I would argue, however, that being told “that’s terrible” is actually not cause for concern. This reaction, instead, is a sign that your idea is disrupting a familiar system. It is a sign that you are taking the world out of it’s comfort zone, an action that is the space that true progress comes from. Being shut down is a sign of true innovation.
Creative confidence is to the “analytical” as analytical confidence is to the “creative.”
One of my biggest passions is to help artists and designers understand that business and entrepreneurship are not boring math equations, but instead a new medium of creative inquiry and subjective representation. This new medium, I advocate, can allow a creator to make their idea accessible, something that is easily shared with the world to create true impact and change.
What is interesting to me about Kelley’s identified lack of “creative confidence” amongst the “analytical” types, is that the same (but vice versa) can be said about the “creative types.” Creative people (though they would never dare say this) do not start businesses because they lack “analytical confidence.” This, I would argue, is the very reason that art school produces artists and designers that become a cog in the ad agency machine – because they (designers) are bred to perceive business as something to be critical of, instead of something to embody. Unfortunately, it is this destructive mindset what will fuel and encourage business to continue to solely exist as a medium for the analytical and profit-minded as opposed to a medium for something else, something new – something creative.