What does creativity have to do with snakes?
I remember going to a drawing class when I was 6 or 7 years old. And I clearly remember feeling afraid of not being good at it. I know that sounds ridiculous. My father was an artist, so I was exposed to & conscious of art at a very young age. I constantly saw people who excelled in it with little realisation that they had also put in years of practice to get where they were. But this feeling grew in me over time where creativity felt like an aspiration. Not an ability you have innately. Worst of all I had stopped having any expectation from myself of being creative.
It took me years to realise how stupid I was.
In Tibetan language there is only one word that comes close to the idea of creativity. And that word is natural. But we know how society at large lives with this feeling of creative inadequacy. We term certain professions as being ‘creative’ and others as not. Subconsciously we assign ‘looks’ to someone who is creative. So if you are an accountant, wearing formal boring clothes, it doesn’t matter if you saved your company a few billions. You are not seen as creative. Or an engineer making models of a new machine that can save time and cut costs for an industry and even save lives, sorry you are also not the creative types. Fighting the stereotypes of creativity is definitely a universal one.
In 2013, we were working with Asian Paints on decoding people’s relationship with colour and the process of choosing a colour for their home. We realised that only a small proportion of the population was colour confident. As in, they had a sense of adventure and play in doing the same. They were making bold choices, also open to making mistakes in the process. But what really gave us a surprise was the large majority of customers who were suffering through the process of making that choice. There are a lot of social risks involved in choosing a colour. And now in retrospect, it looks quite obvious why. We all have imprints from our childhood that we carry throughout life as our beliefs about ourselves. Not being creative apparently tops the list. There is a story of a customer who painted the house with a certain purple. He had a sense of humour while he narrated this incident. But the story was the same- how the family, neighbours and random strangers who passed by the house made comments that became too complicated to handle. In the pressure, he was willing to bear the cost of repainting and changed the house into a subtler lavender!
If you reflect enough, there would be many incidents of social embarrassments like what this customer went through that you have encountered in life. And all such incidents cement our belief and identity as being not creative.To realise and unlearn these beliefs is perhaps the first step in the direction of being original and creative. But since it’s mostly well hidden and doesn’t really disrupt life like a handicap, why is it then even necessary to go through all the trouble of unlearning?
It is in this context that we can celebrate the work of Albert Bandura, a renowned psychologist at Stanford University. He did a unique experiment in 1969 which later became a behavioural therapy exercise to combat phobias. He brought people with severe snake phobias into a room and within a span of say a few hours cured them of their phobia. How is that even possible, you may ask. He called the process ‘guided mastery’.
‘Guided mastery is a therapeutic method of assisting clients in raising their self-efficacy (i.e., perception that a task can be accomplished) so they are motivated to attempt, and subsequently accomplish, progressively more difficult tasks that are involved in the implementation of behavioral therapies.’
He made the person with the phobia first watch a live snake in the adjacent room, slowly bringing the snake to the same room. And finally getting them to hold the snake themselves. The beauty of the process of going through Guided mastery is that while it is attempting to solve one issue, it invariably solves many. It creates a sense of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is a person’s belief in his or her ability to succeed in a particular situation. It gets you to explore life with a lot more richness and in probability helping the person journey into exploring his or her highest potential.
Now imagine the potential of a world that is well nourished with people carrying within them a feeling of self-efficacy. And actively chasing everything they have believed they can’t do.