Turning the Tables: Overcoming Fear and Building Creative Capacity

Fear, while often perceived as a daunting hindrance, is in fact an intrinsic element of life, deeply rooted in our evolutionary instincts. Crucial to our growth is the process of recognizing, accepting, and harmonizing with it. Imagine the vast potential unlocked when we not only understand our fear but actively engage with it. Could we, perhaps, transform it into a catalyst for creativity and innovation?

This article will explore the role of fear in stifling creativity and how we can overcome it to unlock our creative potential. We will examine various techniques and strategies for building creative capacity and cultivating a mindset that embraces risk and experimentation.

The Creativity Crisis: How Fear Holds Us Back

Fear is a natural human emotion that serves to protect us from potential threats. However, when it comes to creativity and innovation, fear can act as a barrier, preventing us from taking risks and pursuing new ideas. This fear can manifest in various forms, including the fear of failure, the fear of judgment, and the fear of taking risks.

In their book “Creative Confidence,” Tom Kelley and David Kelley explore the impact of fear on creativity and provide insights on how we can overcome it. The authors argue that everyone has the potential to be creative, but fear often stands in the way of realizing that potential.

The Fear of Failure

One of the most significant roadblocks to creativity is the fear of failure. This fear can be paralyzing, causing people to avoid taking risks and trying new things. In the book, the authors share the story of a young designer named Doug Dietz, who developed a new MRI machine for children. However, when he saw a young girl crying in fear before her scan, he realized that his design had failed to consider the emotional needs of the patients. Instead of giving up, Dietz used this failure as motivation to redesign the machine, ultimately creating a more child-friendly and effective product.

The Fear of Judgment

Another common fear that stifles creativity is the fear of judgment from others. This fear can lead to self-censorship, preventing us from sharing our ideas and limiting our creative potential. The authors recount the experience of a successful entrepreneur named Brian, who was initially afraid to share his idea for a new business with his peers. However, by overcoming this fear and opening himself up to feedback, Brian was able to refine his idea and eventually launch a successful venture.

Building Creative Confidence: Strategies for Overcoming Fear

To unleash our creative potential, we must learn to overcome our fears and build creative confidence. The authors offer several practical strategies for doing so, drawing on principles from design thinking, a problem-solving approach that emphasizes empathy, experimentation, and iteration.

Embrace a Growth Mindset

Developing a growth mindset is crucial for overcoming fear and fostering creative confidence. A growth mindset is the belief that our abilities can be improved through effort and learning. By embracing this mindset, we can view failure as an opportunity for growth rather than a sign of inadequacy.

The authors share the example of a student named Claire, who struggled with math in school. Instead of giving up, she adopted a growth mindset and sought additional help, eventually excelling in the subject. This mindset allowed her to overcome her fear of failure and unlock her creative potential.

Practice Empathy

Empathy, or the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is a critical component of design thinking and creative confidence. By putting ourselves in the shoes of others, we can gain valuable insights that can inform our creative process.

The authors tell the story of a team of designers who were tasked with creating a new shopping cart. By observing and empathizing with shoppers, the team discovered that existing carts were difficult to maneuver and often led to spills. This insight allowed them to design a more user-friendly cart that addressed these issues.

Iterate and Experiment

One of the core principles of design thinking is the idea of rapid iteration and experimentation. Instead of striving for perfection from the outset, we should be willing to create multiple prototypes and learn from each iteration.

In the book, the authors share the story of a group of students who were challenged to create a low-cost incubator for premature babies in developing countries. Through a process of rapid prototyping and iteration, the students were able to develop a highly effective and affordable solution.

Cultivating a Culture of Creativity

To truly unlock our creative potential, we must also foster a culture that supports creativity and innovation. Here are some key strategies for cultivating such a culture:

Encourage Collaboration and Diversity

A collaborative and diverse environment can lead to more innovative ideas and solutions. By bringing together individuals with different perspectives and backgrounds, we can create a rich pool of ideas that can fuel our creative process.

Embrace Risk and Failure

To foster a culture of creativity, we must be willing to take risks and embrace failure. By celebrating failed attempts and learning from them, we can create an environment where people feel empowered to take chances and explore new ideas.

Provide Opportunities for Learning and Growth

Continuous learning and development are essential for building creative confidence. Providing opportunities for skill-building, mentorship, and professional development can help individuals unlock their creative potential.


Fear is a natural human emotion that has a place and value in life. In terms of design thinking, it can inhibit our creativity and innovation. By understanding the role of fear in our creative process and adopting strategies from design thinking, we can overcome these barriers and build our creative confidence. By embracing a growth mindset, practicing empathy, iterating and experimenting, and fostering a culture of creativity, we can unlock our full creative potential and create a brighter future.

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