How to build your creative confidence | David Kelley

DTALE Design Studio
Mar 2, 2017 · 5 min read

We as humans get inspirations from a variety of sources, it can be something we saw, heard or felt during our journey through life. And if you ask people what inspired them the most, they are most likely to surprise you by citing a person’s name as their source of inspiration. David Kelley is one of such personality, a source of inspiration for many people, not just in the design community but to everyone who listens to his speeches.

David Kelley’s guide to building “Creative Confidence” is one of the most watched TED Talks in history, garnering around 4,058,636 views till this date. Let’s take a look at the key lessons to learn from the talk


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Madagascar 3, Afro Circus

David believes that our ability to be creative is restricted only by our own self-inhibitions. We fear the harsh criticism and judgement people throw at us on our creative efforts. To demonstrate this point, David Kelley walks us through his childhood memories about his best friend, Brian. How Brian found a lump of clay and started to mould a clay horse, and seeing this, one of Brian’s classmate criticised him on the looks of the horse. Hearing such a negative feedback from his peer, Brian threw the clay into the bin and never embarked on any creative processes from then on.

Similar tales of “” moments were echoed by Kelley’s students at his classes. He recalls that on many workshops and collaboration with clients, executives would simply walk out of sessions either because they felt they are not the “creative” type or fear they would be judged. This lack of confidence and fear of judgement is what David Kelley wishes to eradicate through conducting various workshops and toolkits.

“If they stick with the process, they end up doing amazing things and they surprise themselves just how innovative they and their teams really are”


David Kelley met Dr Albert Bandura to find a solution to help people out of their self-imposed inhibition on creativity . Dr Bandura is the world’s 4th most important Psychologist, and specializes in helping people overcome their phobias/fears. David recalls how Dr Bandura coxed a particular patient who was terrified of snakes through a series of small steps and got him comfortable with each step before moving on to the next.

David was very impressed by this methodology called “guided-mastery”, a term coined by Dr Bandura himself. The people who underwent this process showed remarkable progress, not only did they manage to overcome their phobia but were less anxious about other aspects in their life. They preserved longer and showed more resilience in facing failures. This new gained confidence is called as “self-efficacy”, the sense that a person can change the world and attain what they set out to do by believing in themselves.


In the next part of his narration, David Kelley walks us through one of the success stories of his “guided mastery” process. This is a story about Doug Dietz, a medical equipment designer for GE and works at a hospital. Doug was a student of Kelley at his when he encountered a particular problem at the hospital he works in. A little girl was crying, terrified at the prospect of undergoing a MRI scan. Doug was emotionally affected seeing how kids feared a machine he helped design. On further research, he found that 80% of kids had to be sedated before being scanned, this huge figure astounded Doug and made him come up with a solution.

“Doug was learning about our process, about design thinking, about empathy, about iterative prototyping. And he would take this new knowledge and do something quite extraordinary”

Doug with the help of his hospital team, transformed the whole experience of getting scanned. He, along with his team, re-painted the machine and the room into a pirate ship at the sea. He retrained his staffs to explain to the kids about the noise and movement of the MRI scan as if being in a pirate ship. The kids were told to keep still while in the machine or risk being caught by the pirates. As a result of this re-designing of experience, only 10% kids were in need of sedation, down from the previous 80%. This super dramatic results goes to show that having empathy and applying creative solution to everyday problems can actually bring a quantifiable change. Doug, however, is only happy that kids enjoy using his machine, especially when he heard the little girl say “Mommy, can we come back tomorrow”.


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David Kelley’s own bitter hospital experience after being diagnosed with cancer has made him realise his life’s goals and mission. He recollects those painful memories where he had many questions on what he wants to do with the extremely short period of time left. The doctors treating him only gave him a 40% chance of survival. This feeling of urgency helped David Kelley choose and focus on only one task, to help people regain their creative confidence.

Teaching his students through the “guided mastery” technique he adopted from Dr Bandura, he noticed that people quit from the normal ways of doing something and find a new direction or approach to achieve a better result.

He believes that this is his way of changing the world, by making people believe in themselves and understand that they are born naturally creative. He wants people to regain their lost confidence and let their idea’s fly. As Dr Bandura first demonstrated, he wants everyone to achieve “self-efficacy”, to do what they set out to do, and reach a place of creative confidence.

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