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Creative confidence and the eternal student

In school, I was informed by a professor that creativity and originality was dead. Or rather, they no longer existed. Ideas we considered new are just recreations of something we’ve already experienced. This is how you kill imagination. What was the point of trying to produce something new if it had all been done before?

I recently joined Wolff Olins as an intern and two weeks into the company, I was invited to attend an Alley event where Tim Allen, our North American President and Jules Ehrhardt, co-owner of the digital product studio, Ustwo would speak on the topic of “Creative Confidence”.  

The talk was designed to feel like an intimate conversation between old friends albeit ones who happen to be leaders and innovators in their fields. In addressing the topic, both Tim and Jules stated their relationship with creativity and confidence was a result of their extensive work history, which happened to be an extension of their personal growth into leaders.  It was insightful to hear about their backgrounds and in particular, the language they used and the key moments of their careers they chose to highlight. The two most important takeaways I left with were:

1) Environment is key
2) Craft & courage go hand in hand

In discussing creative confidence, Jules emphasized the importance of creating the right environment because environment sets the tone for the type of work people feel inspired to produce. He believes it is crucial to create an atmosphere where people are free to be creative, to be human, and to feel safe. If you can manage to have that ambiance, the work you receive from your employees is of  high value.  They know they can take risks without repercussions and those risks can be amazingly executed. Jules emphasized that creating the right environment is all encompassing and includes things such as a fight for better policies that create the best workspace like compensation, team coaches, and more.

For Tim, he defined creative confidence as craft and courage. He explained that initially, it is about finding and perfecting a craft and being passionate about it until you reach a level of excellence. Then, you must have the courage to puncture it. Tim stated, “Make your ceiling your floor.” And the best way to accomplish this is to stay humble and self-aware. The beauty in Tim’s definition is that it focuses on eternal growth so you will never really “make it”; you should never be too comfortable. It’s about being a forever student because you should always be looking for the opportunities to develop a new skill to make your craft stronger.

Tim and Jules are exemplary leaders because they are progressive in how they manage and inspire their teams. They encourage other leaders to do the same, to create a better environment where people learn and lean into their limitations and can therefore grow.  And for people apart of teams or organizations that lack “creativity,” Tim believes courage can take two forms: leaving or staying. It takes strength to leave a job and go in search of a new path. It takes another type of strength to stay and find a cohort of people around you that believe similarly.  

Creative confidence is not easy to attain. Finding the “right” environment can be difficult and pushing boundaries requires demanding a lot of yourself.  But through a rigorous process, you can stumble on something completely your own. While the inspiration might not be unique, it’s building on that inspiration that allows your own ideas to grow.

Creative confidence helps people be better leaders and individuals be the best version of themselves.  And isn’t that all we can ask for?

Illustration by Kate Rinker

Natalia Garcia is currently interning at Wolff Olins New York. You can follow her @NGS_1295