Mustafa Kurtuldu’s Designer vs Developer series seeks to foster greater understanding between the two camps. Released every two weeks, each episode deals with a different issue, from effective collaboration to whether too much testing and data ruins the creative process.
In this latest episode, Kurtuldu discusses creative block, recognising and being confident in your skills and tackling that nagging inner voice of self-doubt:
For each episode, Kurtuldu writes an accompanying essay inspired by the discussion:
How do we know that we’re good designers or creatives? This is a question we often time ask ourselves. Self-doubt rears its ugly head every time we come to a blank canvas to start a new project. This in turn causes <insert skill> block – that condition where we can’t focus on the task at hand because we are too busy dealing with our inner demons telling us that we are fake and phony.
We compare ourselves to others in our field and judge their creative achievements against our own. Because we only see their end result we feel that they must just be naturally good at doing this work and we are faking it.
But what is creativity?
To break down these walls, the first thing we must do is define what creativity is, or rather what it isn’t. Creativity is a process that you go through when you are in a playful state of mind. It’s through this play that you discover things that you could apply to your work.
John Cleese once said: “Creativity isn’t a talent, it’s a way of operating…”
He cites the often repeated story of a sculptor being asked how they sculpted a marble elephant. The sculptor replies, “I just knocked away all of the bits that didn’t look like an elephant…”.
[As Tanya Livesey writes here for CR] if we’re stressed or suffering from anxiety, this will block us from actually doing anything. By thinking, “I’m not good at this, I’m an imposter…” we end up in this vicious cycle of never making anything and instead complaining about how we’re not good at what we do because we never make anything.
Whenever I am designing something I don’t like, instead of feeling uncomfortable with that feeling, I treat that as an instinctive sign telling me that the task is not finished. So experiencing that feeling is usually a good thing. If the work you are creating is making you feel sick, then it means you’re exploring something out of your comfort zone and evolving as a creative person.
Being creative is just a process and a state of being.
Beating the imposter
There is a bit of research known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, which says that individuals can’t access their incompetence in a skill in a particular area if they don’t have a degree of skill in that field. Equally, they wouldn’t be capable of assessing other people’s level of expertise due to their own cognitive bias. Interestingly, the opposite is also true. If you think you’re terrible at say design and creativity, then paradoxically it shows that you probably are good at it, or at the very least, have a degree of skill because you can assess your skill critically.
So if you think you’re a terrible designer, chances are you’re not that bad. So when someone tells you they’re very good at doing X, just smile because the opposite could be true.
Judging ourselves by our peers is just not a healthy thing to do, though it can be a motivation to progress. If you need to judge yourself, then it should be against the past things you created. Look at old work, notice how you have improved with time. Just looking back into your creative history is a great form of therapy because it allows you to acknowledge past achievements and improvements at the same time.
So to beat self-doubt, we need to acknowledge that we don’t know everything and that is fine. The chances that anyone would know every facet of design is simply not realistic. Next, write a list of all of your achievements and improvements. You’ll start to see that actually what you’ve done isn’t as bad as you think. If you feel that some things listed need improvement, then highlight the skills you want to improve.
Now you can start planning a way to develop that skill, simply by letting go of your self-doubt. The creative process is just that, a process and anyone can do this design stuff if they let themselves just do it and forget what everyone else is doing.
Designer Vs. Developer is a Google Chrome Developers YouTube series. You can also listen to a longer version of the conversation by downloading or subscribing to the podcast on iTunes or Google Play Music.You can learn more about design and UX at Web Fundamentals