Trends and Insight in association withSynapse Virtual Production

Nick Cummins: Creative Confidence in a Period of Turmoil

Advertising Agency
Sydney, Australia
By Nick Cummins, creative partner, The Royals

The world as we knew it has been turned upside down in a matter of months. We are now governed by emotions of anxiety and fear.

Humans don’t deal with uncertainty well; we like to have a plan, a timeframe and be able to see a light at the end of the tunnel. When we lose our confidence, we shut down. The Covid-19 shutdown has seen markets crash and business stall. Our industry’s clients are in a rabbit-in-the-headlights state and many don’t know what to do or how to proceed.

This, of course, is understandable but many brands will use this time to kick in to gear and steal market share. I personally believe this pandemic will last for at least six months or more, but I also believe humanity will start rebooting in the next couple of months. Once the initial shock has been processed, new ideas and ways of doing business will start to emerge, just as the small green shoots are starting to come through from our recent devastating bushfires.

These new ways of thinking are going to take another kind of confidence – creative confidence. David Kelley, one of the founders of IDEO, a company I have a bit of a crush on, describes creative confidence as the natural ability to come up with new ideas and the courage to try them out.

We are all born with creative confidence. Even if you don’t label yourself as a creative person, you were born with it. Think of the confidence a five-year-old has in their art or their ideas and the amazing results this creative confidence produces. They have no fear of failure and aren’t hindered by the opinions of others. As we get older this confidence becomes more elusive. Just take a look at the art of many teenagers as they lose that confidence and start to conform.

In so many pursuits we keep making mistakes until we get it right and often aren’t embarrassed by these mistakes. But in our working lives, we feel like we can’t make mistakes – and this results in a lack of creative confidence, which in turn results in mediocrity and commonplace ideas. Now is not the time for mediocrity.

Never has there been a time where creative confidence has been more important. We need new thinking and fresh problem solving. Our industry is structured and has always been structured to be able to help deliver fresh, creative and insightful solutions to our clients and the broader community. At The Royals, we call it ‘unnatural change delivered through undeniable creativity’.

So as a creative industry we need to embrace our creative confidence more than ever and avoid creatively playing it safe in these tumultuous times. How do we do this?

David Kelley suggests it is about developing strategies to get past four fears that hold most of us back: fear of being judged, fear of the first step, fear of losing control, and – the one we are currently slap bang in the middle of – fear of the messy unknown.

Taking that into account, here are some things to consider or practise.

Self belief like a child

Albert Bandura, aged 93, is one of the most renowned living psychologists. His theory is that when people believe in their own ability, they tend to encounter more success. In this way, self-efficacy becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

He also states that people with low self-efficacy may give up sooner than people with high self-efficacy, and we all know that in our industry great ideas take a lot of hard work and hustle. If we lack self belief, we tend to censor our ideas out of fear of what our peers or bosses may think.

This self-censoring creates safe predictable solutions that are unlikely to create change. You can’t truly be creative if you are constantly censoring yourself. We also need to harness group efficacy. What does a group believe it can achieve in terms of a common goal?

Bandura puts it like this: “People’s shared belief in their collective efficacy to achieve desired results is a key ingredient of collective agency. Human well-being and attainments require an optimistic and resilient sense of efficacy. This is because the usual daily realities are strewn with difficulties. They are full of frustrations, conflicts, impediments, adversities, failures, setbacks, and inequities. To succeed, one cannot afford to be a realist.”

Now more than ever is the time to believe in your creativity and yourself.

Self belief leads to positivity

A healthy amount of self belief, either as an individual or a group, leads to positivity – and positivity is a great fuel for creativity and unnatural change.

Of course, it’s hard to muster up positivity at a time of all-consuming bad news. Especially considering that our natural state gravitates towards negativity – or negative bias. Criticisms often have a greater impact than compliments and bad news frequently draws more attention than good.

It may sound like a cliché, but positivity – even if it is manufactured – greatly helps creative confidence and the ability to come up with brilliant new solutions.

Positivity promotes action

IDEO’s David Kelly suggests that to come up with truly unprecedented ideas we need to get over the fear of the first step and avoid sitting around planning and pontificating. Instead, we need to leap into being creative. Obviously robust strategies and a clear brief are important for creative confidence, but don’t overthink it.

The art of giving feedback

Lastly, how we give feedback is important. At a time when it feels like everybody has been given the talking stick, we need to make sure we don’t shut down brave or unexpected or even crazy ideas too early.

Knee jerk we-can’t-do-that reactions are way too easy in times of uncertainty. So let’s pause and think about unexpected solutions and give them a chance. Even the language we use when giving feedback can impact creative confidence – negatively or positively. At IDEO, they like to use the language of ‘I like’ and ‘I wish’ when listening to new untested ideas.

Coming up with brave unconventional ideas is often not the hard part. Having the confidence to share them, nurture them and back them is the difficult bit.

Recently there has been a lot of talk about Burger King’s Mouldy Whopper ad. A lot of people celebrating it, and rightly so. But would they have been the same people who had the creative confidence to back the idea? Interestingly, a few local agencies have said they had that very same idea, which doesn’t surprise me. So why didn’t we see that idea executed locally? My guess is that a lack of creative confidence at some stage in the process was partly responsible.

These strange times we are in right now have affected many of us dramatically and will continue to do so for quite some time. It could also be a time for our industry to showcase how clever and creative we really are.

But that’s going to take a fair bit of confidence.