What’s Stopping You from Being Creative?

September 19, 2013

Brett Myers (center) and his team at State Farm Next Door; A chalkboard calendar of events at Next Door's bustling Chicago café and co-working space

“In our experience, everyone is the creative type.”

So true. The quote comes from Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All, the new book by my good friends and colleagues, Tom and David Kelley. The book comes out on October 15, and I’ve been lucky enough to get a sneak peek at the manuscript. It’s an engaging collection of personal and professional stories about people who have overcome their fear of failure and rediscovered their creativity.

Reading the Kelley brothers’ inspiring anecdotes reminded me of a conversation I had recently with Brett Myers, the jovial Program Director of Next Door, State Farm’s design-savvy café and co-working space that offers financial coaching and classes free of charge. Friendly and approachable, Brett exudes creative confidence, but that wasn’t always the case.

“I grew up in a small town in southern Illinois. I was the second of nine kids and was super-quiet and shy,” Brett told me. “I would say I had ideas as a child, but I wouldn’t have described myself as capital ‘C’ creative.”

This is a common belief. “Many people equate being ‘creative’ with ‘artistic.’ It’s a myth,” Tom and David Kelley write. “Creativity is not a fixed trait, like having brown eyes.”

Brett was good with numbers and wanted to run a business, so he went to school for accounting and eventually landed at State Farm. He was working as a research analyst there in 2010 when he was put on the Next Door project.

The hands-on experience of prototyping the new retail space, service, and brand, getting feedback from consumers, and then quickly iterating left a lasting impression on Brett. He started thinking like a designer.

“The whole idea of aiming for progress, not perfection, was incredibly liberating,” Brett said. “I learned you didn’t need to solve everything before trying stuff out. Sure, there were failures along the way, but we learned from our mistakes and our ideas got better because of it.” The Kelleys would describe this as having “permission to fail” and cultivating a “do-something mindset.”

Three-and-a-half years later, Brett continues to apply this approach to his work. He tells his 15 Next Door employees, “not every idea is going to be great, that’s why you have to have a lot of them.” Tom and David call this the “surprising mathematics of innovation.”

When I asked Brett what his biggest “a-ha” moment was while working on the Next Door prototype, he said: “I used to think creative was a type of person. Now I know creativity is a way of being.” The Kelley brothers couldn’t have said it better.

What’s an example of creative confidence from your own life or workplace?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)