How To Crush Your Fears, Innovate And Hug a Snake


Say what?!

Turns out, ophidiophobia is one of the most common fears people have. It’s a fear held by Justin Timberlake, Matt Damon and even Indiana Jones. In fact, it’s a fear held by an estimated 30% of the population!

Ophidiophobia is the abnormal fear of snakes. And an ophidiophobe isn’t just fearful when they’re in the presence of snakes – they’re pretty much terrified even when just thinking about them.

And of course it’s not just snakes that large percentages of people fear. A similarly large percentage of people fear heights. Or public speaking. Or even change itself.

And of course, there are the fears holding you back from doing your best creative and entrepreneurial work.

Brothers David and Tom Kelley can tell you a lot about those fears holding you back from your creative confidence. They have decades of real-world experience building their creative confidence and helping thousands of others do the same.

David Kelley is the founder of the design firm IDEO, founded the Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design and has taught design classes for nearly four decades. His brother, Tom Kelley is a partner at IDEO and teaches at Berkeley. Together the Kelley brothers have written several books on creativity and innovation.

Their firm IDEO has done work for some of the world’s most highly regarded brands, and their work has led the way for thousands of innovations, many of them revolutionary and across a wide-variety of industries. IDEO designed the first useable computer mouse, grown-breaking non-profit programs and digital tools to help people with schizophrenia.

The Kelley brothers, and their several hundred colleagues at IDEO, know about the fears inherent in creativity.

Here are four fears they’ve identified that all too often hold people back from their creative confidence.

1) Fear of The Messy Unknown

It’s an understatement to describe venturing into new territory as uncomfortable. The truth is, venturing down a new path is stressful – whether developing a new product, exploring a new line of business or pursuing a new career. The unknown is messy and often painful.

Gone is the certainty (real or imagined) of “business as usual.” When you’re in pursuit of something new, whatever thrill existed of the unknown fades and you’re left with uncertainty. And the subsequent stumbling and mistakes heading down blind alleys or dead ends.

2) Fear of Being Judged

This is something we’ve feared since we were kids – being judged. Of not knowing the answer, failing or fumbling – and looking foolish as a result.

We’ve taken those experiences of criticism and internalized it to the extent that we can imagine the criticism before we’ve even made an attempt. And the fear stops us.

3) Fear of The First Step

It’s easy to delay getting started. For one thing, things aren’t fully planned out. What’s more, it’s easy to come up with a bunch of reasons as to why today is not the right day to get started.

4) Fear of Losing Control

When we apply our creativity into a new venture, when we take a creative leap, or try something new – things get messy. The new work feels disordered. The new process seems haphazard.

By comparison, what we used to do seemed well-ordered, and provided the feeling of something we could control. The customer, offering and means of measuring success were understood. But when we’re creating something new, the instability is palpable.

So, the question becomes, how do we overcome those fears that are inhibiting or arresting our creative confidence?

Well, that brings us back to Ophidiophobia (the fear of snakes) – and Professor Al Bandura of Stanford University.

Professor Bandura is regarded as one of the greatest figures in psychology for his work related to social cognitive theory and self-efficacy. He’s the fourth most-frequently cited psychologist of all time, and one of the most influential psychologists of all time.

And he is able to take people that were completely terrified at the very thought of a snake, and help them become comfortable handling a live one within just hours.

One of the therapy factors in helping people overcome their fear of snakes (ophidophobia), was by simply having them observe other people with ophidiophobia who had become comfortable handling snakes. The patients in treatment internalized the information that if others who were like them handled snakes with no ill effects, then they could do the same.

Bandura found that these observations were more effective in treating their phobias than persuasion and observing the psychologist handle the snakes.

In addition, Bandura also had his patients imitate and model this behavior.

More importantly, Professor Bandura has shown how the same techniques of observing others, imitating and modeling – can be used to overcome essentially any fear. Even those fears holding you back from doing your best creative and entrepreneurial work.

So, how does the work of this preeminent psychologist apply to building your creative confidence?

We can start by recognizing what fear may be holding us back from applying our creativity – whether it’s the fear of the unknown, being judged, taking that first step or losing control. And then observing others who overcame those same fears, imitating their behavior and modeling their processes.

In fact, what we fear is likely indicating exactly that which we should be working on overcoming. After all, the future is ahead – in those unchartered and unknown territories.

Here’s an excellent talk by David Kelly on “How to Build Your Creative Confidence.

Nobody said it better than Tom and Dave Kelley of IDEO – “Don’t get ready, get started!” And getting started is probably why the vaudeville comedian W. C. Fields said, “I like to keep a bottle of stimulant handy in case I see a snake, which I also keep handy.”


Tom loves building meaningful businesses and technology (with people who care). Follow him on LinkedIn. Reach him at or on Twitter @thomastriumph

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