I recently organized and facilitated Women in Design: Creative Confidence event, featuring top women design leaders: Kate Aronowitz from Wealthfront, Dana Cho from IDEO, Amanda Linden from Asana, and Kristen Spilman from Dropbox.
In an intimate and candid conversation, these women shared some of their tips to increasing creative confidence, as well as their personal challenges with taking risks, dealing with negative feedback, and managing stress. Below are a few of the stories and insights that emerged.
How to take more risks
Research suggests girls outperform boys in school in large part because they’re better at doing their homework and following instructions (1). This presents a unique challenge for women who graduate and begin leading, which requires risk-taking and questioning the rules we're given.
I asked the panelists to share stories of breaking rules and taking risks. Dana Cho from IDEO shared a time when her team co-opted a luxury suite and turned it into an art gallery during a meeting with a potential client. “We kept asking ourselves,” said Dana, “‘What’s the worst thing that could happen?’” We might get fined, it might get awkward, and when we went through the list, we realized it wasn’t that bad.” Taking the risk initiated an interesting dialogue and her team ended up winning over the client.
Other key insights:
- Propose an exploration when you feel resistance from others on a certain direction.
- Be transparent about the risk you are taking and the measures you will take to mitigate it.
- Rules are a starting point, but with any good reason, you can break away from them!
How to deal with negative feedback
As creatives who pride ourselves on what we create, receiving negative feedback can be difficult. Being a creative woman may add some extra challenges: women are more likely to receive negative performance evaluations ((2); often for the same performance) and are also more sensitive to criticism (3).
Two of the speakers shared times when they received negative feedback. One was told she didn’t have enough vision and the other was called “polarizing.” In both cases, the feedback hit hard and the women did their best to understand where it was coming from. A main take-away: it’s possible to counter feedback with small steps over time, instead of expecting you or others’ perceptions to change overnight.
Other key insights:
- Create space around negative feedback by staying curious and talking to a lot of different people about it.
- Don’t assume negative feedback is bad, but an opportunity to grow and learn.
How to manage stress
Our leadership potential relates to how resilient we are in preventing and treating stress. In the world of business and innovation, stress is rampant. What’s more is that women are more likely to report feeling stressed than men are and use completely different coping strategies (4).
When asked about stress, Kristen Spilman from Dropbox mentioned the importance of learning to say no when you have a lot on your plate already. Though stress and deadlines motivate, it’s not a sustainable way to work in the long-term. For her at Dropbox, she’s been learning to empower and trust her design team to make decisions without her. She shared: “When you feel like it’s all about you, you can’t scale.”
Another antidote to feeling pressure is to remind yourself that you are part of a team. Dana shared, “I’m most stressed when I think it’s all about me and feel an individual pressure to perform.” For a high-stakes project, she had to present to the CEO and the board. She looked around the room and realized the board was on her side and rooting for her success. She also saw how proud her team members were of the work they had all done together. She realized it wasn’t about her, but a greater vision they were all aligned with.
Other key insights:
- Manage your energy levels throughout the day (e.g., meditate, eat well, exercise).
- Locate your stress-venting buddies and confidants in the workplace.
I so appreciated the vulnerability of the speakers, who were willing to be genuine examples of creative confidence. The point here is that you don't have to have it all figured out in order to lead. You'll learn as you go. “Don’t be afraid,” Kristen concluded for us, “We’re all just figuring this out together.”
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Check out the original article at Designer Fund here.
- Why Girls Tend to Get Better Grades Than Boys Do. The Atlantic.September 18, 2014.
- The abrasiveness trap: High-achieving men and women are described differently in reviews. Fortune. August 26, 2014.
- Learning to Love Criticism. The New York Times. September 27, 2014.
- Stress and Gender. American Psychological Association. 2010.