‘Creative Confidence,’ by Tom and David Kelly

This book is one that I’m really excited to talk about today because although this book is not specifically intended for graphic designers, it will leave you feeling braver and more willing to take risks. So, let’s get in to it!

Who wrote this book?

Tom and David Kelley.

Tom is the best selling author of a book called ‘The Art of Innovation,’ and David is the founder of the global design and innovation firm IDEO, and the The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (referred to as the d school). The design school is incredible because it invites students across all disciplines to work together in teams to solve real world problems.

Tom and David have worked together since 1987, with David as the CEO and Tom in leadership roles such as marketing, business, development and story-telling at IDEO.

Needless to say, they are both incredibly, and intimidatingly impressive people. 

What is this book about?

This book is about building your creative confidence and unleashing your potential.

Wait, what does that mean?

The core idea is that while many people think you are either creative or not, we are in fact all creative. We all have a huge amount of creative potential and we simply need to first recognise that to be true, and then believe that we can use this creativity to be a force to change the world around us. This confidence in our own creativity ability lies at the heart of innovation.

Tom and David teach that creativity broader than what we may consider “artistic fields,” but they define creativity as ‘wherever you have the opportunity to generate new ideas, solutions or approaches.’

This is a fascinating read because it changes your mindset about how you can be creative as an individual, but also in a team, and gives you practical tips and techniques to do just that.

The book has useful diagrams, pictures that help illustrate the points that Tom and David make and the book is full of inspiring success stories that reinforce the points.

People who believe they can effect change are the ones that do. People who have creative confidence are more likely ‘to set sights higher, try harder, persevere longer, and show more resilience in the face of failure.’ P10

This book is not strictly for graphic designers, but I guarantee that when you get to the end of this book, you feel pumped to design, and you feel braver.

3 biggest take aways from this book?

There are so many take-aways that I could share with you that I think are valuable for anyone but especially for graphic designers, but if I had to narrow it down to 3, I would say these points:

1) Adopt a growth mindset vs Fixed Mindset.

This is a crucial and fundamental idea to become a confident creative person. Tom and David quote a Stanford psychology professor called Carol Dweck who explains that individuals with a growth mindset “believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil and training.”

The idea is that regardless of initial talent, aptitude or even IQ, we can improve exponentially through consistent effort, and experience. A lot of people believe they are simply not good enough, or are maybe embarrassed to expose their weakness in front of others, or perhaps think they can’t improve, so they don’t try. This thinking applied to all areas of life becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think you aren’t good enough to become an athlete, you won’t even start training to become one so obviously you will never become one.

Choose a growth mindset, and have the courage to pursue your goals knowing you will improve.

Here is a link to a 2 minute video by Ira Glass who explains why you must persevere and accept that for the first couple of years, you may not like what you’re making.

Link to:

2) The Failure Paradox.

The fear of failure is crippling but actually statistically, you are more likely to succeed if you are prepared to shrug off failure. Tom and David explain that famous creatives such as Thomas Edison are prolific when it comes to failing. He invented the incandescent light bulb but only after thousands of failed attempts previous to that break through. By believing that every failed attempt is a step closer to success, if you learn from it, means that it’s not really a failure at all. Know that you are moving forward despite the setbacks. James Dyson, who invented the dual cyclone vaccum cleaner, took 5136 versions before he got to his final version. JK Rowling was rejected by 12 publishing houses after spending 7 years on her first book before finally being accepted. If you are prepared to shrug off failure, you are much closer to succeeding.

Going on from that, it is important to continue trying even if you feel like giving up despite not achieving success. One of my favourite quotes is by James Dyson ‘ When you feel like giving up, it’s precisely the point when everyone else feels like giving up, so it’s at that point when you must put in extra effort. You do that and then success is literally just around the corner.’

Below is a link to the ‘How I Built This,’ podcast where Guy Raz interviews James Dyson. Incredibly inspirational!


3) Take Action, and do a huge volume of work!

Don’t get stuck in the planning stage and start doing! Tom and David explain why it is necessary to get to the doing stage by comparing it with Isaac Newton’s first law of motion: ‘A body at rest tends to stay at rest: a body at motion tends to stay in motion.’ Learn by doing. You will learn so much quicker by taking action and iterating on the way. In the words of Professor Perry Klebhan at Stanford’s Design School, ‘Don’t get ready, get started!’

Squeezing in a 4th point here but I think this one is equally as important as the others so I wanted to include it…

Produce a huge volume of work and you will be much more likely to create something great than meticulously planning. By creating a HUGE VOLUME rather than perfecting individual pieces of work, it means you are constantly practicing your craft.

One of my favourite stories in the book is about a ceramics instructor who divided his pottery class in to two groups – one side of the class were judged on the quality of one piece of work, and the other half was to be judged on the quantity of their work. The group focussed on creating quality meticulously crafted one piece of work while the other group churned out pots, vases, mugs, plates etc. At the end of the course, all the best pieces of work came from the group whose goal was quantity. Why? Because they were the ones actually practicing their craft. From a graphic design perspective, whether you are a logo designer, a UI/UX designer, a motion graphics designer. Stop planning, stop being a perfectionist, stop waiting until things are just right. Just take action and make, and make a lot.

Who should read this book?

If you are in a creative rut, this book helps you transcends whatever is stopping you from being creative.

If you don’t think of yourself as a creative person and wish you were, this book will give you the confidence to believe that is simply not true.

If you think you are creative and already know all the techniques that being a graphic designer requires, read this book.

If you would like to buy this book, here is a link to the book on Amazon:


Hope this is helpful to anyone who needs to unlock their creative confidence!

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