We are ALL creative!

A Context Review

I chose Creative Confidence: Unleashing the creative potential within us all to dive into and I’m very glad that I did. While I have a background in Graphic Design, it’s been a while since I’ve been immersed in design thinking and I am inspired to put these ideas to use in libraries.

The book is written by Tom and David Kelley, two brothers that work together at the International Design firm IDEO. Their main premise is that we ALL have creative potential and that many of us had someone, likely in our childhood, tell us that we didn’t have creative talent. After that we stopped allowing ourselves to be creative and labelled ourselves as not creative. We have to overcome these fears surrounding creativity and realize that creative skills are just like any other kind of skill, they improve with practise.

Kelley & Kelley argue that using Design Thinking combined with a Human-Centered approach can bring innovation to all different kinds of businesses as well as organizations like healthcare and education. Though this book is aimed at a business audience, these methodologies would certainly benefit libraries to be better equipped at developing innovative products and services.

The authors break down lofty concepts into smaller, easier to identify with traits: “Design thinking relies on the natural–and coachable–human ability to be intuitive, to recognize patterns, and to construct ideas that are emotionally meaningful as well as functional” (Kelley & Kelley, 2013, p. 25). With an explanation like this, it’s easy for the reader to envision their own participation in this process.

Similarly, Kelley & Kelley have broken down the design thinking process they engage in at IDEO into smaller, achievable steps: inspiration; synthesis; ideation and experimentation; and implementation. They start by looking for inspiration with real people’s behaviors. They go and seek out experts and extreme users to research how people are actually using products and find points for improvement or challenges to be addressed.

The next phase is synthesizing the research to find where to focus. Sometimes the question needs to be reframed to address an underlying issue. For instance, “how might we reduce customer waiting time?” might become “how might we reduce perceived waiting time?” (Kelley & Kelley, 2013, p. 23). Reframing the question in this way can lead to more innovative solutions to a different but key issue.

Next comes ideation and experimentation. This phase involves generating a lot of ideas and making the most promising ones into rapid prototypes: “early, rough representations of ideas that are concrete enough for people to react to” (Kelley & Kelley, 2013, p. 23). The point of these prototypes is to present the idea with just enough detail to be able to get feedback in order to iterate the idea and move it forward. Kelley & Kelley insist again and again that the best way to present an idea is to show it to people, get feedback and move the idea forward or morph it into something new.

Once an idea has been iterated and refined through prototypes, it’s time to implement the idea and get more feedback through testing. There can be many rounds to the implementation stage with further refinements and improvements made to the product.

Kelley and Kelley provide a rich guide to all the elements that go into making an innovative organization such as creating an environment to foster creativity to a variety of exercises that the reader can engage in on their own or part of a group to make use of those design thinking muscles. From using a mind map to explore an idea, team building exercises where one pulls a new nickname out of a hat to the dream/gripe session where participants can share their dreams and critiques to start a conversation; the authors provide a whole tool kit to get the reader started in sparking the creative process at their organization. They are open enough to work in any kind of organization for a multitude of situations and would integrate well into libraries developing or revamping their programs and services.

The entire process is centered around humans. Kelley and Kelley emphasize that the human perspective is important as it “can yield some of the richest opportunities for change” (Kelley & Kelley, 2013, p. 19). Seeing how people actually interact with an organization, service or product can lead to an entirely different perspective on it.

Keeping humans at the center of the process is also reflected in our readings. K.G. Schneider advocates for a human-centered approach when she says, “meet people where they are–not where you want them to be” (2006, para. 17). Libraries collect all kinds of data around how collections and services are being used. If we pay attention to what that data is saying, there can be some clear messages to inform future development processes. Bryan Kennedy illustrates this point by recounting how his library adapted their help with e-reader program into a program to help with all kinds of devices in response to users’ dramatically reduced interest in e-readers (2014, para. 24).

Using the blueprint that Kelley and Kelley provide would integrate library users into the entire process of creating or revamping library programs, products or services. They call for users to participate in the very creation of what they use in their everyday lives, like the library.

Here is a Ted Talk that David Kelley gave related to creative confidence (about 12 min):

Or if you have more time to explore the topic, here’s an author talk that Tom and David Kelley did at Google (about 50 min):


Kelley, T. & Kelley, D. (2013). Creative Confidence: Unleashing the creative potential within us all. New York, NY: Crown Business.

Kennedy, B. (2014, January 27). The user is (still) not broken. Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/libraries/article/60780-the-user-is-still-not-broken.html

Schneider, K. G. (2006, June 3). The user is not broken: A meme masquerading as a manifesto [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://freerangelibrarian.com/2006/06/03/the-user-is-not-broken-a-meme-masquerading-as-a-manifesto/


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