Chutzpah, pluck, or just blind faith in your creative idea – whatever you call it, self-confidence is essential if you’re going to put yourself out there. But confidence alone won’t mean your idea will see the light of day – you need it in just the right amounts.
In the early 1900s the industrialist Sakichi Toyoda developed the concept of the ‘5 Whys’ – an iterative process of asking a series of ‘why’ questions with the objective of finding the root cause of a problem.
It was a process car giant Toyota successfully used to weed out faults and problems in its manufacturing processes and it’s a process creative companies like Pixar uses today.
Succeeding and Stumbling
At Write Track, we run a startup which uses persuasive technology to help people become more persistent writers – because whatever you write, developing a regular writing practice is essential to improving.
As part of our user research we used a simplified version of Toyoda’s ‘5 Whys’ to help us understand why writers succeed or stumble in their creative endeavors.
We developed 10 different personality types based on around 500 writer surveys and interviews. These ‘archetypes’ set out some of the typical reasons why people write, why they don’t – and what excuses they make.
The lessons learned from analyzing the personalities of writers don’t just apply to writers – they apply to anyone who wants to get their side project off the ground but who struggles to stick with it.
Let’s introduce you to two creative types who for different reasons, struggle with confidence.
Harvey the Grasshopper
First off, let’s meet Harvey. He’s a 21 year-old digital native who works in a busy creative agency. He’s sick of producing corny promo films for clients. He wants to make his own work – films he’s proud of. So why doesn’t he?
Ideas aren’t a problem – his head’s buzzing with them. He finds inspiration round every corner and has notebooks crammed with ideas. But Harvey has a grasshopper mind: he jumps from one idea to the next. He starts projects but never sees them through and with every idea he abandons he doubts his own abilities further. He loves his creative pursuit but it never gets off the ground. Why?
If asked, Harvey might say his hectic job or social life gets in the way – that’s why he never finishes the projects he starts. But is that really the reason?
Harvey might abandon his work, but that’s because he judges its quality too soon. Harvey watches maker videos online and becomes demoralized. But never seeing a project through means his skills don’t improve. Harvey’s stuck in a negative spiral with lack of confidence at the centre. Harvey shouldn’t blame his job or his Facebook friends, he needs a confidence boost and to fall in love with his film making passion again.
Jess the Super Achiever
Next meet Jess. She’s 34, an talented architect who's sailed through her career so far but now has hit a ceiling. She needs to up her professional profile if she’s going to move to the next level. So, she decides to write a guru book that will showcase her experience. She’s already got a file full of ideas and a structure in her head. No problem – at least in theory.
But Jess finds it unexpectedly hard. Writing doesn’t come naturally to her and she finds it tough. She’s a high achiever – not used to struggling or asking for help. She buys countless gadgets to help her write. She reads blogs on writing rather than doing any herself. Frustration kicks in and over time, her dreams of writing a book are put on the backburner. Why?
Jess would probably admit that she finds writing difficult – but she might blame herself for not working hard enough. But digging a little deeper we might ask why she thinks that writing should be so easy?
Perhaps Jess finds writing tough because she’s used to things going her way. Her confidence is sky high and that’s great but this means she’s underestimated how hard the writing process can be. Her overconfidence is now getting in the way of her creative progress. Jess doesn’t need to put in more hours, she needs mentoring and feedback to help her improve.
Just the Right Amount
So, two creative people being held back by the same thing – confidence – but for entirely different reasons. Harvey because he lacks it, Jess because she has too much. And it certainly doesn’t stop with our creative duo.
When we applied a similar questioning process to every writing personality in our list – each one struggled to create because they either had too little self-confidence – or they had it in spades.
So, if you’re like Harvey or Jess and you’re on the verge of quitting your creative pursuit – stop. You first need to find out where on the creative confidence scale you fall – then you can take action.
If you’re prone to over-confidence be kind to yourself! Give yourself more time and don’t set your sights too high. If under confidence is your challenge think of ways you can reward yourself for you’re creative achievements – give yourself a small boost every time you achieve a goal.
Don't Quit - Just Ask Why
1. Why can’t you stick with your creative pursuit?
What reasons do you typically give – both to yourself and to others – to explain why you’re not progressing with your project?
2. But is that really true?
Now dig a little deeper. For example, let’s say you blame a lack of time. Now is that really true? It might be that you’re just not prioritizing.
3. So why aren’t you prioritizing?
Creative people often put off the thing they love doing because they fear it. Writers often procrastinate because they find it difficult to sit down and write.
4. Why do you find it so hard?
Many people become demotivated when they think they should be further on than they are or when they believe others are better.
5. And what’s behind all that?
Confidence! Too little and you’re held back by self-doubt, too much and you overestimate your abilities and become de-motivated when your goals aren’t quickly achieved.