Stupidity allowed. The importance of building confidence in a creative team

Posted by Loli 14/01/20

It’s my turn to write something, hopefully, design-related. From my always-junior without-any-area-of-expertise that can-do-a-bit-of-everything perspective.

I’d like to write about a topic I’m not an expert in – actually the opposite – an issue I’ve always struggled with: self-confidence.

From my very first project at uni, up to the last one I’ve been working on today, I’ve always suffered from a strange yet I believe not rare ‘show and tell anxiety’. I work hard. I overthink and prepare more options than I should. One with a thinner line, one without a line, one with a slightly different green. Just to confuse me, and my client even more. What if they don’t like it? I just think about it and my heart rate increases, my hands start shaking and my voice quivers.

How come this happens when I know that I have the skills needed for the job and that my proposal has solid foundations? Is it because design will always have a subjective component? Even though we are providing a solution, we are always doing it from a personal perspective. We feel we are showing part of ourselves. We feel naked.

Bare naked self

What’s the real problem behind this? When we are not confident enough, we shoot ourselves down, we limit our own potential. If we think we are not good enough, we just won’t be. We’d stop ourselves from exploring, from creating. And the worst enemy of creativity is fear. Fear of failure.

Therefore, if while expressing our ideas we feel naked, then we may wanna show ourselves to people we know and feel comfortable with. And this doesn’t usually happen from one day to another – trust needs to be earned.

In my time working at BlueMelon, I’ve discovered the power of a friendly and ego-free work environment, where you can just relax and be yourself, like at home. Where being stupid and funny is allowed, and where we trust the process as the best way to achieve quality. A diverse team that plays, that trusts each other and can talk without a filter, I believe is the secret for creation.

The underestimated power of making mistakes 

So many great achievements came out from what seemed to be a stupid idea in the first place, like using computers without a keyboard or taking pictures we know that will be erased. And so many inventions were actually a mistake in the first place, like the failed attempt to make a super-strong adhesive leading to the creation of post-it notes, or the lack of cooking skills ending up in the first baking of unexpected yet delicious chocolate chip cookies (wish that happened at home, hey?) – just to name a few (and irrelevant) examples. 

If we don’t make mistakes, we won’t learn. If we don’t learn how to laugh at ourselves, we’ll always stay safe. If we don’t speak, nobody will listen to our thoughts. 

When we find a place where our voice is heard and our work is appreciated, that’s when we give our best. We share our ideas to then improve them through collaboration. And maybe we end up doing more than we thought we could, like designing an infographic from scratch on topics we didn’t know about, creating content in our second language, or writing a blog post for our agency’s website.

A two (or more) way street 

To sum up, I think confidence is an underestimated value that needs to be part of every working environment. But trust is a two-way street. Therefore, we all need to work on this both individually and as a team.

As designers, we need to look away from our computer screens every now and then and work on our self-confidence as part of our professional development. We have a voice – we need to shout out, relate, be stupid, make a fool of ourselves and have fun.

And as a team, we need to be empathetic and make each other feel comfortable. We should be human and transparent and show appreciation towards each other. We need to share more than just a brief – like going out surfing or swimming together – and most importantly, build a family. 

External resources (people that know better): 

Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All – Tom and David Kelley

The Importance of Confidence in Creativity – Tanner Christensen

Tales of Creativity and Play – Tim Brown, TED (Serious Play 2008)

Loli is a creative at BlueMelon, where stupidity is allowed and fuels creativity. Find out how we can help you with creative solutions – no egos attached.