David Kelley: How to build your creative confidence

I’ll admit I have a tear in my eye as I write this post about this super touching and powerful talk about the loss of creative confidence that happens in childhood given by David Kelley at Ted earlier this year.  Kelley discusses his battle with cancer and how it inspired him to consider his purpose in life to which he explains:

“the thing i most wanted to do was to help as many people as possible re-gain the creative confidence they lost along the way.

I really believe that when people gain this confidence… they actually start working on the things that are really important in their lives. We see people quit what they’re doing and go in new directions. We see them come up with more ideas so they can choose from better ideas. They make better decisions.”

To help him on his quest, he asks:

  • Don’t let people divide the world into the ‘creatives’ and the ‘non-creatives’.
  • Have people realize they are naturally creative and let their ideas fly.
  • Achieve self-efficacy; Do what you set out to do to reach a place of creative confidence.

The last point: achieve self-efficacy. Seems a little easier said than done, I’d say. According to Psychologist Albert Bandura whom Kelley references in his talk, four factors affect self-efficacy (according to Wikipedia).

1. Experience – Success raises efficacy, while failure lowers it. However “children cannot be fooled by empty praise and condescending encouragement”.  As parents we need to most definitely be aware of that. Instead, children benefit from consistent recognition of real accomplishment.

2. Modeling – When we see someone succeeding, our own self-efficacy increases; when we see people failing, our self-efficacy decreases.

3. Social Persuasion – Manifests as direct encouragement or discouragement from another person. Discouragement is generally more effective at decreasing a person’s self-efficacy than encouragement is at increasing it.

4. Physiological Factors – Perceptions of physiological responses to stressful situations can markedly alter self-efficacy. For example getting ‘butterflies in the stomach’ before public speaking will be interpreted with someone with low self-efficacy as a sign of inability, thus decreasing self-efficacy further, were high self-efficacy would lead to interpreting such physiological signs as normal and unrelated to ability.

Seems to me that as parents there is A LOT WE CAN DO to promote positive self-efficacy in our children. My thoughts are:

  1. Drop the empty praise altogether. Instead give recognition for good work and better yet allow the child to feel good about mastering particular experiences for him or herself before jumping in to say ‘Good Job’!
  2. Provide opportunities for kids to see others succeed. Perhaps it’s as simple as taking them to the park and watching other kids succeed at the monkey bars or spending time at the pool with a relative that’s a good swimmer.
  3. If you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all. That’s my commentary with regards to point #3 above – social persuasion. Keep positive with encouragement.
  4. Recognize when your child is experiencing stressful situations (say the first few weeks of school or before a dance recital) and talk about it. Let them know that it’s okay to feel butterflies. It’s normal and natural.

Last thing I want to mention in relation to this video is that the subject of creative confidence reaffirms my blog title “Keeping Creativity Alive”. For a while now I’ve been contemplating changing the name.. to something more positive, more unique and more, well.. creative. But this video reminds me of my ultimate mission and passion: to help parents help kids grow creatively with confidence and has me thinking that my name might be appropriate after all… for now anyway. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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