Book List of the Week

The Book Lists of Tom and David Kelley: Creative Kids

By Steve Kroeter December 16, 2013
Tom Kelley, Product Design Commentator
View Tom Kelley’s Book List
David Kelley, Product Design Commentator
View David Kelley’s Book List

IDEO partners, and brothers, Tom and David Kelley talk with Designers & Books about being lucky kids, why they started the hashtag #creativeconfidence—and what it really means, as explained in the new book they wrote together: Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential within Us All (2013, Crown Business).

Designers & Books: Your book is dedicated to your Mom and Dad. What’s the first specific thing you can remember they did that gave you “the freedom to express creative ideas, and the confidence to act on them”? 

David Kelley: We were lucky kids—tinkering was tolerated in our house. I don’t know about the first specific thing, but I can remember one Christmas where I was given a perfectly good new bike, and a few days later I had sandblasted it and painted it a different color. Not that our parents understood why we were always ripping things apart and putting them back together, but they tolerated it. I wish more kids had a chance to tinker like that.

D&B: In the introduction of your book you cite an IBM survey that says “creativity is the single most important leadership competency for enterprises facing the complexity of global commerce today.” What’s the dead give-away for you that you are in the presence of someone who’s operating at full creative capacity?
Tom Kelley: People operating at full creative capacity really multiply the creative potential of people around them. They bring out the best in others.

DK: Especially when people who haven’t previously thought of themselves as creative first “flip” into a state of creative confidence, it’s magical. Their faces light up with newfound optimism and courage. Their energy and enthusiasm is so contagious.

Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential within Us All, by Tom Kelley and David Kelley, 2013 (Crown Business)

D&B: Your book is filled with interesting examples of the practice of creative and innovative thinking. Could you give an example of how that sort of thinking had an impact on some aspect of your book?

DK: We really believe in the idea of creative confidence far beyond the book. We started the hashtag #creativeconfidence as a way to open up the conversation, and so far #creativeconfidence has attracted hundreds of examples. That encourages us that creative confidence is already there in the world and that more is happening.

TK: We’re also inspired to learn that the OpenIDEO Creative Confidence challenge has attracted more people than any other challenge in the history of our open innovation platform, starting with more than 1,000 people offering inspiration and examples of creative confidence. The OpenIDEO challenge is currently in the idea-refinement stage, so we encourage people to contribute their insights here and help strengthen the 22 shortlisted ideas, helping them achieve even greater impact.

D&B: Today if you Google “creativity and innovation” you get over 39,000,000 results. Our guess is that if you had been able to do that 20 or 30 years ago, there would have been a small fraction of that number. What do you think accounts for the immense rise in the attention these concepts are getting?

DK: While creativity is timeless, trends like “maker” culture open up new opportunities to unleash creativity. Our great friend and IDEO co-founder Bill Moggridge strongly believed that most people were vastly more creative and capable than they knew. We agree, and we’re glad more people around the world are starting to agree, too.

D&B: In your view are creativity and innovation synonyms? Or is there a subtle or significant difference?

TK: Creativity means using your imagination to create something new in the world. In the business world, creativity manifests itself as innovation. As we say in the book, belief in your creative capacity lies at the heart of innovation.

From Creative Confidence, chap. 8, by Tom Kelley and David Kelley. Illustration by Alyana Cazalet


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