creative-confidence-book-coverWhat is your definition of creativity? Are you innovative? Can doctors be creative and innovative? The authors Tom and David Kelley set out with their book “Creative Confidence” [Amazon link] to convince you of the importance of creativity and how to harness its power. For anyone who is looking for a little inspiration, “Creative Confidence” will not only change your perspective but also inspire you to go out and change the world through the introduction of Design Thinking.


Tom Kelley and David Kelley open “Creative Confidence” with tremendous insight from their life experiences and drive to change the world. Tom opens with the story of David’s cancer diagnosis and how this monumental event in their lives made them consider the mark they wanted to leave in the world. In addition to this emotional experience, the book is filled with examples and vignettes that illustrate their points throughout all the chapters and is a foundational text to explain the process of Design Thinking. With the pearls revealed in each chapter, the reader learns how to use Design Thinking to spark creative ideas and then translate those ideas into tangible outcomes and products that can revolutionize the world.


  1. Flip: From Design Thinking to Creative Confidence
    In this chapter we are introduced to “design thinking”, known as the process to utilize empathy to create personal connections for those for whom you are innovating. The authors emphasize that design thinking is a process that involves “inspiration, synthesis, ideation/experimentation and implementation.” They use the example of a redesign of an MRI machine to no longer be intimidating for pediatric patients.
  2. Dare: From Fear to Courage
    Don’t let failure stop you, in fact failures lead to the best ideas. “Failure sucks but instructs”. The authors use the example of gaming to convince us of the concept of urgent optimism. Gamers continue playing a video game because they believe an “epic win” is possible despite losing hundreds of times. The Kelley brothers encourage constructive failure and for us to own our failures and the valuable lessons that can arise.
  3. Spark: From Blank Page to Insight
    The authors immerse us into a course called “Extreme” and as powerfully describe the Design Thinking process by describing the fieldwork experiences of the students enrolled in the class. They learn that the only way to develop a solution was actual fieldwork with those they were hoping to help. This develops a chain reactions of innovations that lead to real life solutions. “Let go of what you know”. This allows you to tackle problems with new insight.
  4. Leap: From Planning to Action
    Make a “bug list”. Look at the obstacles you face on a daily basis as inspiration. People with creative confidence are not “passive observers”. Tom and David refer to this as the “do-something mindset”. They use the example of John Keefe at WNYC who takes a daunting problem and develops a solution in a day. If you think of a problem, the authors encourage to think like John Keefe, “maybe I could finish it by the end of the day”.
  5. Seek: From Duty To Passion
    David Kelley draws a seesaw with a dollar sign on one side and a heart on another. Find work that is “intrinsically rewarding”. Tom and David moved away from lucrative jobs and find more meaning with their ventures at the Consider both money and the heart with decision making.
  6. Team: Creatively Confident Groups
    A group is more innovative than its individual parts. An important and essential part of innovation is teamwork. In addition to encouraging creativity in individuals, we have to create a culture of creativity. “What we say and how we say it can affect a company’s culture”. Using the right language and embracing innovative culture leads to better ideas.
  7. Move: Creative Confidence to Go
    Move! Get started on your ideas. Here the authors give you challenges or tools you can implement right now. Use mind maps, increase your creative output, observe other human behaviors, make an empathy map, embrace constructive criticism, and deconstruct hierarchy. Overall, all these tools involve taking action.
  8. Next: Embrace Creative Confidence
    Most people are more creative than they believe. Be extraordinary! In the end, embracing creative confidence means trying new things and taking action. “Work can be more fun than fun.”

Background on the authors

The brothers Tom and David Kelley worked together for 30 years at the “forefront of innovation.” David Kelley started his career as an electrical engineer, a job he describes as one he did not enjoy. Through a detour at Stanford’s Joint Program in Design, he gained immense success through founding IDEO. At IDEO he was involved in many successful innovations including the first mouse for Apple and the first Palm Treo. Tom is David’s brother, and partner in the immensely successful IDEO and is a renowned speaker in innovative thinking and the author of multiple best sellers. Their collaborations and works are well known in the world of Design Thinking.

Why this book?

As educators in emergency medicine our role is to be what Tom and David Kelley call “multipliers”. We are where innovation begins in our field because we train the future innovators of the world. We could either be dissipaters who let creativity crumble or encourage leaders in our specialty who are not afraid to try something new. In addition, to inspiring us as individuals to pursue “wild and improbable” ideas, Tom and David Kelley teach us to facilitate those we educate to do the same. We can nurture innovation and creativity in those who we are tasked to teach. Whether you are an educator or not, we think this book inspires you to do what you may have been scared of doing or to try something new that could potentially have an amazing impact on your small emergency medicine community and potential the larger community. Let’s teach those we educate that “Work can be more fun than fun.”

Book Club Questions

  1. How did this book change your perspective on a project you may have been working on? Were you more encouraged putting a plan on paper?
  2. What was your biggest failure? How did it inspire you? Would you be brave enough to create a failure resume?
  3. What is a creative idea you thought of this week?
  4. Who is someone at your job or in your community that you find creative?
  5. When you have made decisions regarding your career how have you balanced money and the heart?
Simran Buttar, MD

Simran Buttar, MD

Medical Education Fellow
Department of Emergency Medicine
Thomas Jefferson University Hospital
Philadelphia, PA
Robert Cooney, MD MSMedEd

Robert Cooney, MD MSMedEd

Chief Strategy Officer, 2018-20 ALiEM Chief Resident Incubator
Director of Faculty Development
Department of Emergency Medicine
Geisinger Medical Center
Robert Cooney, MD MSMedEd


Dad of 3, Part time adventurer, Emergency Medicine Doc and Director of Faculty Development for @GeisingerHealth
Daniel W. Robinson, MD

Daniel W. Robinson, MD

Assistant Professor of Medicine
Division of Emergency Medicine
University of Chicago
Antonia Quinn, DO

Antonia Quinn, DO

Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine
Associate Director of Clinical Skills
SUNY Downstate College of Medicine
Joseph Mattingly, MD MBA

Joseph Mattingly, MD MBA

Joseph Mattingly, MD MBA

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Adaira Landry, MD, Ed.M

Adaira Landry, MD, Ed.M

Harvard Affiliated Emergency Medicine Residency
Assistant Program Director
Department of Emergency Medicine
Brigham and Women's Hospital