How to Build a Creative Mind That Will Never Run Out of New Ideas


Do you ever think you’re just not the “creative type?” Well, it’s not true. Creativity isn’t just for artists, musicians, or filmmakers anymore – it’s for everyone.

Regardless of our lifestyle, we’re all faced with tough decisions and new problems to solve. Creativity is simply being able to think of these problems from different perspectives and discover solutions that haven’t been thought of yet.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re trying to code a new piece of software, or make a hospital more patient friendly, or improve a company’s culture – creativity plays a crucial role in finding new and better answers.

This idea that “we all have creativity” is a theme embedded throughout Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All.

It’s a very practical and insightful book by two brothers, David Kelley and Tom Kelley, who draw extensively on their work at the innovative consulting firm IDEO and Stanford’s Institute of Design (also known as the “”).

The Kelley brothers do a great job describing not only how creativity can be applied to any area of life, but also how anyone can build “creative confidence” – the belief that we can create something new that adds value to the world.

Here are the main principles behind building creative confidence no matter what walk-of-life you are from.

Create a rich reservoir of ideas

Before you can find that one good idea, you often need to start with many ideas. Creative people understand that during the brainstorming process: quantity is better than quality.

Those with creative confidence think of many ideas – and 99% of them are probably complete crap. But often you need to let your brain flow freely to find the good stuff, even if it means letting a lot of bad stuff come out too.

As a result, one thing creative people do is create a rich reservoir of ideas. This means having a place to store and save your ideas. All your ideas. Even the mediocre and undeveloped ones.

One reason for this is because you never know when a bad idea may turn into a good idea.

Maybe you’re a comedian who just has a vague idea for a joke, or a musician who thinks of a single new melody, or a businessman that just has a rough idea for a new product – record it down somewhere and save it.

You may go back to the idea and build off of it one day. Or you may not. But the point is you have it there if you ever need it.

For example, as a writer I have literally hundreds of ideas for “future articles” I’ve saved as drafts. I also have plenty of outlines for “future ebooks” and “future courses.” A lot of these I may never touch again, but the point is they are there if I need them.

The best part is when you’re feeling dry of ideas, you can also go back to your reservoir to find a new spark.

Take a multidisciplinary approach

Another common principle behind creative confidence is to expose yourself to ideas from many different perspectives.

The more angles you approach a problem, the more likely you are to find better solutions. Often times this means consulting people who are experts in fields that are wildly different than yours.

This is also why diverse groups can be more effective than homogenous groups when it comes to creativity and problem-solving.

Good teams have players who each bring out different strengths. A company designing a new product may meet with a range of different people – scientists, engineers, designers, marketers, consumers – to make sure they consider all aspects of what they are creating.

Similarly, a psychologist wanting to learning more about the mind should also consider learning more about neuroscience, biology, sociology and anthropology. The more you know about something from different angles, the more clearer the “bigger picture” becomes.

One of my big hobbies is making music where I take a similar multidisciplinary approach.

I’m constantly exposing myself to new bands, new artists, and new genres of music to keep my mind fresh with new ideas. As an experiment, last year I dedicated each month to listening to a new genre of music (Classical, Jazz, Indie, Hip Hop, Electronic, etc).

And now because of my diverse listening, I have a much broader range of musical influence to draw from.

Use the power of beginner’s mind

Experts can sometimes suffer a lack of creativity because they get so comfortable with certain ways of thinking that they begin to take them for granted.

When you have 20+ years under your belt at a career, you’re probably very confident with what you know – as you should be – but that can also block you from questioning your long held beliefs and your assumptions.

In Zen, there is a concept known as beginner’s mind that can be very useful for letting go of these old assumptions and trying to view problems through fresh new eyes.

The basic goal is to temporarily pretend you know nothing. If you were an alien that had just landed on Earth and had to solve this problem, how would you start? What questions would you ask? What would you try to do first?

One thing recommended in Creative Confidence is to find a “reverse mentor.” This means asking people who are much younger than you, or who have zero experience at all with what you’re working on.

Find a way to reframe your problem so that a 5 year old would understand it, then find a 5 year old to ask. You may be surprised what type of refreshing insights you can get by talking more with children.

Talking to children and really listening to them is a great way to tap into that “beginner’s mind” – after all, they are living examples of it.

creative confidence

Creative Confidence is a great book with practical exercises and tips on how to build your creative mind. It draws on the work and research at IDEO and Stanford’s by brothers David Kelley and Tom Kelley. I highly recommend you check it out if you want to build up your creative muscles.

Be human-centered

One very important perspective to creativity is the human-centered perspective. This means looking at your creation from the perspective of the consumer or end-user.

What type of person are you creating for? How will they interact with your product? What problems might they have with it – and how can you fix them?

To answer these questions, you need to use empathy – you need to step inside people’s minds – and see your product through their eyes.

The best way to step into your consumer’s mindset is to observe them as they interact with your product, as well as ask plenty of questions to help reveal their inner thought process.

One powerful example in the book highlights a designer at GE Healthcare, Doug Dietz, who created an award-winning MRI machine. But when he went to go see his product in action, he found that a lot of children were absolutely terrified of the big scary machine. This broke his heart.

From a technical standpoint, his design was top-notch. But from a human standpoint, it failed miserably.

By thinking more from the end-user’s perspective, Doug decided to turn his MRI’s into an “adventure” that kids could enjoy. One MRI he re-designed into a pirate ship, where children were told they were going on a journey and then receive a “small treasure” at the end.

He created 9 different “adventures” that kids could go on, and his redesign was a huge success. Patient satisfaction went up 90%, and many patients no longer needed anesthesia which allowed for more MRI’s in less time.

Brian Eno once said, “Stop thinking about art works as objects, and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences.” Perhaps we should think of everything we create in terms of the experiences they create.

Make a visual representation

When in the brainstorming phase of creativity, it can be easy to just think in words or concepts, but often turning our ideas into something visual can help us think more clearly.

One easy way to do this is to just doodle. According to visual thinker Dan Roam, as long as you can draw a line, a circle, a square, a triangle and a “blob” then you can communicate your idea in a visual way.

You don’t have to be a good artist. The point isn’t to impress people with your skills. Drawing just gives you a new way to think about your idea and share it with others. And anyone can do it.

Another way you can create a visual representation is by making a small physical model. At Stanford’s Institute of Design, students are often given a mix of materials like paper, duct tape, pipe cleaners, and foam to create prototypes of their projects.

Post-it notes are another popular tool to help visualize complex systems (like a computer program) and how different functions flow into each other.

When presenting your ideas to others, it always helps to engage people visually. This can include basic prototypes to try out, video demonstrations, or even just a well-done powerpoint presentation.

Transforming our ideas into something visual helps us think about them in new ways and enhance the creative process. It also gives others something to think about beyond words and theory, which allows for more constructive feedback from your peers.

Flex your creative muscles

Throughout Creative Confidence there are many different mental exercises you can practice to help strengthen your creative muscles.

One of these exercises is called the “30 Circles Exercise.” You start with a sheet of paper with 30 circles evenly spread out. Set a timer for 3 minutes and then try to see how many different images you can come up with using each circle.

For example, one circle you may turn into a basketball, while another circle you turn into a moon. Most people don’t complete all 30 circles within the timeframe, but the point is to exercise your divergent thinking – being able to take one thing and discover multiple uses for it.

You can do this exercise with anything. Just pick an everyday object and see how many times you can re-purpose it: a paper clip, a shoe, etc. What could else could a shoe be used for? Maybe a paperweight, or a weapon, or a doorstop.

The point isn’t to think of the perfect use for any single object, but just to see how flexible your mind can be.

Another great way to flex your creative muscles is by creating “mind maps.” In this exercise, you take a central concept that you want to build off of.

For example, maybe you’re planning a dinner party. One branch may be options for food, another branch may be options for entertainment, and a third branch may be what guests to invite.

This is a good way to visualize your brainstorming process. Each branch represents a certain line of thinking. And as you branch out more and more, you begin to think of more hidden and unique ideas.

The basic format of a “mind map” looks like this:

These are just two different exercises you can practice to help build your creative muscles. It should be no surprise that the more you practice thinking in new and different directions, the easier and more naturally it comes to you in everyday life.


Creativity is a valuable skill that anyone should work to improve.

In today’s world, we have plenty of new information being shared everyday, but the key is applying this information in new and productive ways. This is why building our creative minds is so important.

If you’re in a creative profession – or you just want to be more creative in your everyday life – Creative Confidence is an essential read for aspiring minds everywhere.

When you take these principles to heart, you’ll find yourself never running out of new ideas and new ways of thinking to explore.

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