Creative Confidence, a review by Fernando G Trueba

Nothing short of an eye opening, mind expanding and self reflective experience is how I would describe the Kelley brothers’ book Creative Confidence. Having just recently begun studying my postgraduate after a couple of years away from academia labouring in a very technical position where two plus two equals four and creative problem solving wasn’t always something that we practised with consistency, my introduction to design thinking by our course leaders and lecturers was a refreshing experience to my brain. During our induction week, we were given the Creative Confidence book to read by Janja, our lecturer, and after an engaging week I was very keen on reading it.

The Kelley brothers both own a design company revolving around design thinking, empathy and human centered solutions named IDEO and also run the inside Stanford University. Their design company has been highly regarded for their unique approach to innovation. They have mastered the ways to come up with solutions that contain the perfect balance of feasibility, desirability and viability. The Creative Confidence book decomposes the different processes which are involved in achieving complete creative confidence.

One of the biggest gaps that has inhabited in my mind was successfully bridging the framing of problems I encountered each day and applying the problem solving process. What do I mean by this? I never thought that my daily problems or unconformities actually could be solved, and that I didn’t have to be an inventor or designer to solve them. A big part of design thinking and creative confidence is failure. It can even be said that failure is encouraged in design thinking. Why? Because, as cliche as it sounds, it is technically impossible to reach solutions without actually trying. As with all great inventions, it takes thousands of failure to finally reach a finalised prototype. I also learned that cheap prototyping is possible and a great way to present your ideas.

The book talks thoroughly about empathy and focusing all your efforts during the problem solving process into putting yourself in the users’ shoes. The book boasts that having a human centred approach to your solutions will almost always have a successful outcome. What I liked about the section talking about empathy is the real life examples given, especially the group of students that sought to solve the issue with the deaths of premature babies in India, specifically those born in rural areas, by designing a low cost and highly efficient incubator. Once they designed something that met their criteria, they were quickly met with failure because they forgot to brainstorm with empathy in their mind. This led them to travel to rural areas in India and actually live for a while with the families affected by infant mortality to fully understand what the problem was and how it could be solved. After pinpointing the issue at hand and living side by side with the people who they were designing for, they came up with a better product which had a valuable impact in the lives of thousands of people. Without exposing yourself to the situations and environments that your users are facing and living in, your product will never meet their needs. The importance of empathy is emphasised throughout the whole text.

Another example the book gives about how empathy helped Doug Dietz, designer for General Electric Healthcare, redesign an MRI machine to a more engaging and enjoyable one. Doug had just finished designing the machine and was eager to test his creation. The excitement of trying out his machine for the first time came to a harrowing halt after he experienced just how frightened some of the younger patients felt before a scan with the machine. He sought to solve the issue at hand and worked alongside child experts to make the diagnoses a happier endeavour. The redesign didn’t change much of the existent machines, but instead what made the most quantifiable change was the transformation of the machines to entice imagination and calm down the patients. From spaceships to pirate fleets, the MRI machines and the rooms were painted to look more like playrooms. It took the young minds of the patients and the parents to sensorial adventures. This resulted in less young children needing sedation before the scan and reduced the parents’ stress levels by making these trips easier for their children.

Another great anecdote the book poses is about the company Intuit. The company is responsible of many web services such as TurboTax and Quickbooks, which are two services I’ve been a user of for the past two years so take my word when I say that they have embraced and implemented design thinking successfully, specifically the empathy practices of it. Intuit stagnated after the initial success of the company, so they brought Kaaren Hanson onto their team to refresh the business practices. The company shifted its ways and implemented more empathy to their customer service and simplicity to their products. This has become a great success because they are widely known, at least in the United States, for being such an amazing service for corporate and personal finances. Ask anyone in the US if they know what Turbo Tax is and I assure you that if they haven’t used it, they know at least one person who has because of its ease of use and how intuitive it is. I guess they’re living up to their Intuit name.

A subject I touched but did not further develop on the previous paragraph is how important and powerful creative confidence is when practiced in groups. Anyone and anybody can be a creative individual. I am guilty of having the cliché ideology that only people with artistic talent are and can be creative, but the book emphasises that creativity is a skill that can be developed and honed through practice. The people at Intuit trained their employees to be more creative when dealing with customers directly and led to an increase in customer satisfaction. Doug Dietz redesigned his machines with a group of child experts and artists to create an imaginative trip for young patients to take.

The biggest lesson I learned from the book is the importance of empathy when designing a product or service. Users are more savvy when it comes to purchase decisions and are more informed of where they buy, what they buy and who they’re buying from. It has become such a prominent trend that well established brands are looking for ways to further practice empathy and engage with their audience. Alternatively, the fear of failure has dissipated from our team meetings with Emperatigo and it is something we now value. Critically looking at the world around me has been a bittersweet practice I’ve taken into consideration in my daily life. Sweet because it has opened the landscape for me to seek ways to improve my life; bitter because now my mind is racing all the time thinking of ways to improve my life. All in all, I thank Janja for giving us this great book.

Fernando G Trueba

Creative Confidence