- Artwork by Eli Jorgensen
Don’t miss Part II after this!
Denise Jacobs teaches us how to banish our inner critic. She motivates us to realize what we’re capable of creatively. She encourages us to overcome the fear of the unknown by turning that fear into curiosity. She also guides us into how to ask for feedback in a way that’s healthy and beneficial to us.
Banish Your Inner Critic
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Denise Jacobs is a Speaker + Author + Creativity Evangelist who speaks at conferences and consults with companies worldwide. As the Founder + CEO of The Creative Dose, keynote speaker, and trainer, she helps individuals in companies unleash their creativity through banishing their inner critic and hacking their creative brains. Denise’s keynotes and trainings give A Creative Dose™ – an injection of inspiration and immediately applicable tools to help people do their best work. Through working with Denise, people become engaged contributors, synergistic collaborators, and authentic leaders. Denise is the author of Banish Your Inner Critic, the premier handbook on silencing fears to unleash creativity. A web and tech industry veteran, Denise is also the author of The CSS Detective Guide and co-author of the Smashing Book 3 1/3 and Interact with Web Standards. She is also the founder of Rawk The Web and the Head Instigator of The Creativity (R)Evolution.
- Why did you write “Banish Your Inner Critic”? (8:27)
- We’re all born creative…what happens to us? (27:11)
- Creativity > public school (35:04)
- Do you have Dunning Kruger effect? (39:49)
- The value of a creativity cheerleader (49:25)
- Listener question: How do I assure my self-worth is not dependent on external sources? (57:05)
Jason Ogle: Welcome to User Defenders, Denise, I am super excited to have you on the show today.
Denise Jacobs: Thank you so much. I am super excited to be on the show today. So it works out.
Jason Ogle: It’s so great! Yes, that works out well for all of us and you know, I can tell you this for a fact that the Defenders listening, at least the ones on my email list are really, really excited about this topic because I put it out there and an email recently and it really resonated, and I asked for questions and I got several questions which was really awesome too. So I’m going to actually be reading a couple of those today.
Denise Jacobs: Oh, I love it. I hope can answer them.
Jason Ogle: I have a feeling you can. And Defenders listening, this is completely unscripted. Denise doesn’t even know what I’m going to ask her. Sometimes I’ll script some of my comments or my questions even and I really don’t have a lot of that today. So we’re just going for it and I’m excited about that. So let’s get into flow, shall we?
Denise Jacobs: This is User Defenders unplugged.
Jason Ogle: Ooh, I liked that. Yes, unplugged. I always think of Kurt Cobain when I think of unplugged, how sad.
Denise Jacobs: I think of Mariah Carey for some reason. So, you know, in MTV unplugged they used to have their thing and she had a really great album that was her MTV Unplugged session. So, she was with MTV…
Jason Ogle: But she has a little more cognitive kind of sanity. I’m sorry, that was insensitive.
Denise Jacobs: Fame can kind of mess a person up like, you know, lots of thing like early on. And she’s like incredibly, I mean her voice is unreal. And number 1, remember when she was, when she first came out, she was like 20 something like super-duper young, 19, 18, 20, 21 or something. And like she saying I had a vision of love and I was just like, oh my – wait, what is happening?
Jason Ogle: And it gave you one!
Denise Jacobs: And now it gave me one!
Jason Ogle: Yeah, that’s great! Now, I absolutely agree she is incredibly talented. So speaking of talent, which is kind of interesting because I think that a lot of us, when we see somebody who’s truly excelling in their work, we can immediately go, wow, they’re talented, they have a God-given talent, they must have been born that way. Mariah Carey must’ve just been born with a great voice. And now, although there’s probably a little bit of truth to that, I have a feeling that Mariah Carey has worked her butt off to be an incredible singer. So I think that’s an interesting kind of unplanned segue into this topic we’re going to discuss. You wrote a book, Denise, and it’s an incredible book. It’s called “Banish Your Inner Critic,” and we’re going to talk just really all about that topic today. And in the inner critic is aka “In the Imposter Syndrome”. That is especially creative people really suffer from. I think it sort of haunts all of us.
And I think it goes beyond that, I don’t think it’s just creative people, but I think especially creative people suffer from this. I think probably because we put so much into our work and then when we share it publicly, there’s always that fear that we’re going to be rejected or told we’re no good. And so, could you, Denise, let’s start off, tell us about why you wrote this book. Tell us about what the books about why you wrote it.
Denise Jacobs: As a matter of fact, what had happened was and I honestly really like the impetus for me writing this book or to even start dealing with this subject is when I started writing my book, “The CSS Detective Guide.” And you know, I’ve told this story and in some of my presentations, but the first day, like I had established that June 30th or June 29th, one of those days was going to be the very first day that I sat down and started writing my book. And the sun rises and it’s June 29th and I get out of bed and I am in a panic. I am in such a panic that I literally cry for like 4 hours. Like I can’t stop crying and I’m just freaking out and I’m like, I can’t do this and who am I to do this, and then everybody’s going to find out that I don’t know what I’m talking about and this should have been somebody else’s book, and I gotten in over my head and like, I mean, like I’m just, you know, my brain was just like having a feel – my inner critic, which I didn’t even know that’s what it was called at the time, was having a field day. It was just like, let’s just go for it.
And so, after 4 hours of crying, you can imagine it’s pretty exhausting. So, I didn’t really get anything done that day. And so, I was like, it’s okay. I am going to pull myself up by my bootstraps. I’m going to put on big girl pants, tomorrow is the day, tomorrow. And you can only imagine what happened the next day, which is the exact same thing. So, next day, I’m sitting there and I’m sitting on my couch and I’m just blubbering and crying and sobbing and drooling snot out of my nose onto the couch arm and then I would get up and I would kind of get myself together and I get up and I’d kind of stumbled towards the computer and then I’d sit down and then I just start crying again, and just all of the fears and the voices in my head about how I can’t do it. And so I think what I finally did was I got myself together and I wrote – it might either that day or the next day I got myself together, I had this women in tech networking group that I was part of that was like a listserv. This is back in the day of list serves.
And so, I sent out a missive, like an email and was just like, you guys, I’m totally freaking out. I got this book deal and I’m just thinking all these things and I just need like some words of encouragement. And so super sweet, people wrote back. You can do it, totally believe in your ah-ah. I’m like, that’s okay, that made me feel a little better. And then I also reached out, just sent out an email, like a personal email to all of these women in tech that I knew that I had met at south by southwest and other conferences and stuff and said basically the same thing. Like I’m freaking out, I just need some support people are like do it, go Denise, go girl, woo-woo. And I was like, okay.
So, then the next day, I sat down, I was like, let’s do this. Now, the irony of it all, I only find the thing that I find ironic at least is that, you know, what do you do when you write a book? Like seriously, I mean or if you’re writing an article or if you’re writing a blog post, like what are the steps. The steps are you figuring out what you’re going to write about? Maybe you make an outline or maybe you do some research first. You read some articles, you get out some books, you read some books, you figure out what you want to say out of that stuff, you make an outline and then you start writing, which all those are all skills that I already had possessed the ability.
But in spades to be honest, to have an idea about something, to go and do some research on it, to take everything that I had in terms of research, to kind of formulate some additional ideas, put it together and make a structure out of it. I had created classes, taught web design and web development classes, but I developed all of them from scratch for 5 years when I was teaching at Seattle Central Community College. It’s not like I didn’t have the skill set, but for some reason or another this idea of writing a book was like somehow, so dramatically different than writing an article or writing a series of articles or creating a course or you know, all of the number of things that I had already done in the past.
So, it was very funny. It’s funny the way your brain or the way the inner critic when I finally figured out that that was the inner critic, but it’s funny the way the inner critical totally fool you into thinking that you were completely out of your league. In situations where you completely are, you’re more than in your league. Like you are like, so in your league, it’s not to be funny, you know. And then to this thing about being afraid of what people think. So, every time I had – so then we progress in time, now it’s like 6, 4 months down the road or 5 months down. May have 3, 4 months and I’m at the part where I start making, doing writing chapters where I have to have like design a website and like an example website and build it, write the code for it and all that stuff. And then I basically, I designed the website, I built it from scratch because it’s back in the old days before, like responsive design and all that stuff and making websites with a lot easier.
Jason Ogle: Did you use frames?
Denise Jacobs: No, God knows. I was frames so against my religion. You know, I was teaching, I was doing like web standards face design way back in like 2002. So, I was like in stark contrast with a lot of the instructors that were teaching HTML and stuff like that. Like I was only, I was doing tables design. I was doing CSS based designs and DIVS and floats and all this stuff, which was pretty cutting edge at the time.
Jason Ogle: No, absolutely. So were you on Eric Meyer’s CSS-Discuss list, by the way?
Denise Jacobs: I think I was actually, although like intimidated the heck out of me, so I kind of was like such I was a lurker. But yeah, I think I was actually on that. So anyway, I would have to that, and so, then I’m panicking, then I’d start panicking again and I started thinking, what if like this designs aren’t any good and what if they don’t hold up and what do people look at it and think that I’m like a sucky designer. So like every chapter, every time I designed a website, it was like I was trying to prove to myself and prove to the world, I was trying to prove to this like, you know, like fantasy team of judges, like committee of judges that were going to be judging my website and my web designing skills. And so like every time, I would be like, is this good design? Is this like every single freaking chapter – every chapter. So, can I just keep telling you the story because; it’s like actually there’s a happy ending.
Jason Ogle: Yeah, definitely!
Denise Jacobs: So, the kind of how this all happened. Like this all kind of contributed to first of all, me like being so deep in my own insecurity and my self-doubts and stuff that I actually took time off of writing my book to do research about how to silence self-doubts. Like how do you deal with self-doubt? Like how do you get rid of like, I actually stopped, I was like, this is ridiculous. I feel like crap every day and I’m battling with this stuff every day. Maybe I can get some tools to deal with, to figure out how I can deal with the self-doubt.
So, I stopped and read some articles and stuff like that, and something in those articles like, like planted a seed and that seed started sprouting. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was what was happening. And then probably a month after I was, I read those articles. I like woke up actually the day after my birthday, kind of a significant day. I woke up actually a day out on my 40th birthday. How about that? I woke up and I thought I want to teach a workshop about how to get rid of the self-doubt, and like how to silence the inner critic, and I had this whole thing about like giving your inner critic the pink slip and firing your inner critic and like all of this stuff and like that’s when it started, right? And so, that’s kind of liked, but it was still simmering and all this stuff.
And then fast forward to 5 months after that, 4 months after that, when I finally finished the book that had submitted the final chapter to my publisher and I was right about, it was like four days or 3 days or 4 days before I was about to get on an airplane and go to Austin for South by Southwest, and you know, that I was not about to show up at South by Southwest, without a website for my book, that would have just been patently ridiculous. So I had drawn up a sketch like a couple of weeks before, but obviously because I was trying to finish my book, I didn’t have time to do anything with it. And so, I sat down again before the days of responsive design, sat down and did a mock up in Photoshop, and that’s when everything changed.
So, I’m sitting there and I’m doing this mock up in Photoshop and I’m having the best time. I have music on. I’m like totally in the flow of things. I’m like laughing, giggling, sing along with the music, playing with the colors, playing with the thing. And it’s the first time I realized afterwards it was the pep and the first time in 9 months that I didn’t question myself, that I didn’t doubt myself, that I didn’t wonder what our people are going to think is this good design, are other people going to think this is good design, what is this look like, like I wasn’t thinking about any of that. I was just having fun with it, I was enjoying the process, I was totally in the flow and I trusted myself. It was a first time that I trusted myself creatively and that I liked what I produced and I wasn’t self-critical.
And in the morning, I finally went to sleep. I was up until 5:30 in the morning, and I went to sleep for like 2 hours because I was like, ‘’if I keep this up, I’m going to get a migraine and then this is not this whole experience is going to be tainted by having a migraine’’. So, I went to sleep, but I went to sleep, I couldn’t sleep, I was so like riled up and so jazzed, and so like, just so much energy was flowing through me. I woke up 2 hours later and I was like, this is the most amazing feeling I’ve ever had in my life. This is better than being in love. This is better than eating a delicious food. This is better than other things that are team sports that I’m not going to talk about, but you know what I’m talking about anyway. It was like this is the business, the best feeling and the thing that was so great about it was that it was coming from inside of myself. It wasn’t dependent upon anybody else. It was just dependent upon me. And I thought to myself, I wish I could help other people feel like this. I just want to help. I start get emotional when I talk about this every time. I want to help other people feel this good about themselves, about what they’re capable of, what they’re capable of creating. If I can help other people feel like this, that’s what I want to do with my life. That’s it.
And I called my mom in tears. My mom was like, what’s happening? What’s wrong? And I was like, mom, I know what I want to do with my life, I want to help people get in touch with an embrace and express their creativity. That’s what I want to do. I want to like spread the gospel of creativity. I want to be like an evangelist of creativity. And then I was like, like a creativity evangelist. And I was like, hope please, when I’m on ‘’GoDaddy’’, sounds like ‘’creativityevangelists.com’’, it’s available. I was like purchase, but it was like…
Jason Ogle: I was about to go buy it if had?
Denise Jacobs: If they had I’ll go way, that mine, mine, mine, mine, mine. And that’s when, like I said, that’s when it all changed, that’s when I felt like I knew what I wanted to do with my life and I knew that the main part of it are really key part of the process was getting to the point where those doubts and those fears were silent. That’s a main part of the process was getting to the point where your inner critic was no longer there. And so, when I started doing research on creativity probably about a year later, that’s what I started really looking at, okay, like, how do you unblock creativity, how do you unleash creativity, how to do this?
And all of these signs, all of this stuff kept pointing to the inner critic and how the inner critic and then, even there’s this great “TED Talk” by Charles Limb. And he actually puts people in an MRI machine and he has them do improvisational jazz or he has them do hip-hop, and like freestyle hip-hop and he measure, he records their brain activity. And it turns out that the inner critic actually lives, like actually can be pinpointed to a part of your brain, part of your prefrontal cortex, which is part of your brain that’s in terms of self-evaluation, self-judgment, behavior modification, all of this stuff. When that part of your brain is really active, guess what, you can’t be creative or you can’t be as creative. It’s only when that part of your brain starts to power down that you can let all of your ideas go through and you start making all the associations and you start doing all this stuff. And I would argue that that’s when we become more of who we are. So that was a long explanation to get to it, but I covered a lot of points.
Jason Ogle: And I’m glad you did, because that is a powerful story. And I love how you got emotional. I have a feeling you get emotional every time you tell that story.
Denise Jacobs: Every single time, it never fails and I’m always surprised like I was just like, I’m going to be able to tell the story. I’m like thinking in my head. I’m going to be able to tell the story without like getting, and then I start getting teary and I’m like, ‘’well, it’s still there, it’s still 8 months’’.
Jason Ogle: I want to be going to the Bryant Gumbel of podcasting. I want to be the Bryant Gumbel. I want to make my guests cry…
Denise Jacobs: Make them cry. Yeah, like it’s been 8 years since that event happened, and it’s every time I tell that story, every time I get emotional, it was that profound.
Jason Ogle: You know, what else that means to me, that means that you’ve found your purpose, like what greater joy can come from life and actually finding, discovering what your purpose is, and it just like going all in on it like you have, I think that’s just incredible.
Denise Jacobs: Doubling down.
Jason Ogle: Yes! And you know, I was thinking about creativity and I mean I’ve been thinking about it a lot, especially after, you know, diving into your book. I feel like you were all born creative.
Denise Jacobs: Amen brother. Preach it.
Jason Ogle: All of us, right? Come on, like we’re all born creative. I have children now. I have a lot, agree. And I love it.
Denise Jacobs: How many children do you have?
Jason Ogle: We have 7, one’s in heaven. So, that’s kind of how I explain things. Our eldest is 16. I’ll just try to run through it in, it might take me a second. And we have 6 now. Here living there, we have a 16 year old boy, we have a 14 year old girl, we have a 12 year old girl, we have a 9 year old boy, we have a 5 year old girl, and a 2 year old girl. And so, we have one in pretty much every stage of life, which keeps things interesting, and my kids, oh my goodness. Yeah, the Brady Bunch, we’re the Brady Bunch now. So, that kind of makes it easy to explain things. But we have, I have noticed with my little ones like you know, even like after church like in one day or one night, they’ll show me like what they’ve colored and they’re so dang proud of that. And when you look at it, you know, like as an adult, you look at it and some of it looks like a Smurf suicide and if I’m being honest. Like some of it looks just…
But by God, they’re proud of it and put a lot into that. And they’re not afraid to show you. They’re not afraid to show either. They’ll put or hang it up on their wall. They’ll put it on a cork board or something. It’s like, you know, or we will, you know, because; we’re proud of them are being so proud of it. And so, you know, we’re all born creative. What happens to us?
Denise Jacobs: We get shamed, we get judged by other people because they’re not in touch with their own creativity. And so they’re like, you know, or they think they’re helping you by, you know, being super uber-critical and you know, it’s not long before you know, your kids are going to be in school and somebody’s going to come up and say, actually, somebody said this to me when I was 12. I drew a picture of a mermaid and this girl who like, literally I wasn’t even like, we were like chummy or anything. Like this girl in my Girl Scout group, Girl Scout camp rose up from behind me, looks over my shoulder and goes, it looks like a frog. And I was like, I’m sorry, did anybody ask you anything? Were you asked? Where were you invited to like wait in and give your opinion? No, he just rolled up and like that happens from a really early age.
And a teacher who, you know, kids are super sensitive to nonverbal communication and you know, cues and stuff like that. So, a teacher could even say that it looks good but can give some kind of indication that it doesn’t. And then the kid would be like, well, wait a minute and you know, like there’s all sorts of stuff or I mean there’s so many things. And this is actually, interestingly enough, this is how the inner critic gets created, right? As a young person you end up taking in all of this information that’s given to you from other people which may or may not have actually anything to do with you or the thing that’s the item in question, and you take it and you internalize it and then you’re like, okay, I’m never going to have that situation again, so, you know, this part of myself is going to protect me from ever having to have this kind of criticism again or this kind of thing. I’ll do it before anybody else can get to it. You’re right. And that’s how the inner critic starts.
And then by the time we get into our adulthood. And then here’s the crazy thing. So, we spend all of our time as children and young adults, you know, all the way up until the age of 18 being told that we need to do something a certain way. Like if we go through a standard school system, not like Montessori or anything groovy or not homeschool or anything like that. But if we go through a traditional school system, we’re told that we need to know certain answers, it has to be done a certain way, you know, here are the facts that you need to know, don’t try to stand out, don’t try to do this, don’t try to, you know, don’t try to draw attention to yourself, don’t try to be too weird or too different. And then you go to college or you go to art school or you go to, you know some program or something like be you, express yourself, just lit all around, just think outside of the box. And you’re like, yeah, like, seriously, really. You do like, you literally said, 15 years of my life telling me to think in the box and now all of a sudden I’m supposed to have the tools to think outside the box. You’re kidding, right.
Jason Ogle: And you land or you land at an ad agency and get your creative director for the first time.
Denise Jacobs: Oh, God bless.
Jason Ogle: And you feel like nothing that help you.
Denise Jacobs: Yeah. So, like the creative director is like…
Jason Ogle: It takes you several years after that to realize that unless that person is just really cruel, they are actually trying to help you.
Denise Jacobs: Yeah! But there’s a lot of times they’re also cruel. Like a lot of times they haven’t reconciled with their own creativity. Somebody tried to push them down. You know what I mean, its gift. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Jason Ogle: It’s like a generational curse.
Denise Jacobs: It really is. And then if you think about it too, I feel like thankfully this is starting to change and stuff like that with millennials and then whoever the generation is after millennials. God, what are the –what is the generation after me like, what are your kids?
Jason Ogle: Some have said it’s zillennials, which I think is not that creative. I think it was kind of let’s just add a (Z) to, you know, but there’s other terms their toying with, but it hasn’t been officially named yet.
Denise Jacobs: Okay! So anyway, so what, you know, millennials and people younger, I feel like in a lot of ways this kind of traditional route and stuff like that that has been touted and the kind of party line that’s been told for so many generations is starting to – people are starting to like, yeah, nope, not doing that. Oh, do I have to go to college? No, I actually don’t have to go to college, I can start a business. Actually, I want to do so and so, and I really welcome that kind of attitude because, you know, there’s been so many times, I mean, you know, I’m going to be 50 in November, which is just doesn’t even seem humanly possible, but it’s true.
So, I was born in 1968 and grew up in the seventies and you know, even when I graduated in 1987, which seemed like a modern time and stuff like that, you still have people saying things like, well, you know, what kind of job are you going to get with an English degree? Well, it turns out that the people who set that didn’t know, strangely enough they didn’t have a crystal ball or they didn’t consult their crystal balls, but that the web was going to happen, that they internet was going to happen, and that people who had English degrees and all kinds of an anthropology degrees and sociology degrees and all of this stuff, we’re going to be able to find jobs. Not only find jobs, but actually create companies and create companies and create jobs for other people with that background because they needed people who could write content or they needed people to understand how people behaved or they needed to, you know, online and yeah.
You can get a job actually not too many years after I graduated from college with an anthropology degree or if you wrote well or whatever. And so this kind of standard of, you know, well there’s a limited option and you can’t do something, or how are you going to do something if you’re creative or an artist? And it’s like, wow, there’s actually a lot of opportunity, like tons, more opportunity than you even can imagine, just from being able to be creative or to have a visual eye or to write well or to, you know, creatively problem solve, lots of opportunity.
Jason Ogle: I couldn’t agree more. I love how, I love what you just said, Denise, and I think that you’ve hit the nail on the head and in a lot of ways and I think about creativity. Like a lot of times, it’s just sucked out of us by those who we are surrounded with, by the environments that we happen to be in, and you mentioned school. And I have to agree with you and also Seth Godin, he’s been preaching this message for a while too. He wrote a book called “Stop Stealing Dreams”, which was really, it’s a free eBook and I recommend checking it out and he did some very provocative ideas about how public school is actually repressing creativity in people. I highly recommend checking that out. And he makes some really interesting associations with the public school system and why it was created.
He makes some really bold claims as to, I think it was Rockefeller or one of these like assembly line people that kind of started the whole factory system. The whole idea of public school was to teach compliance, was to teach kids to follow rules, to color inside the lines, to make sure that, you know, to not express themselves as much. Just so they can, you know, obey and take orders, and kind of just do mindless work and that’s just the booze that benefit, well, it benefits the business owners, right, it benefits, you know, it’s all for money, and then, and so, I feel like…
Denise Jacobs: And I think it only benefits business owners in the industrial age, but we are like out of industrial and the digital age, and it doesn’t benefit any business owners in the digital age because we need people who are able to creatively problem solve. And we don’t have enough of that, people don’t have that skill. Or not enough people have that skill or they don’t trust the skill of that that they have. It’s been beaten down and suppressed everything. And so, it’s a latent skill, and a lot of people are even afraid to, even, like you said, there are a lot of people are even afraid to identify themselves as creative or to recognize their creativity. Most people will be like, oh no, I’m not creative, I’m analytical. Oh No, I’m not creative. I’m technical. Oh no, I’m not creative, I don’t have a creative bone in my body. I’m just like, hmm, that’s interesting, I beg to differ. Anyway, I cut you off. What were you going to say?
Jason Ogle: No, please. No, that’s good. And again, I think a lot of it is just our environments around us and, and it’s kind of how we’re brought up and sadly there’s I know that there’s times where our family members, they can see something we’re trying to do even later in life or maybe we’re trying to do a musical like we’re trying to sing or, you know, like, and unfortunately and/or fortunately, it just depends on how you look at it. I think there’s times too when like an authority figure, like a parent can really just like steal the absolute joy, and right out of us by making a comment, maybe even like, you know, not intentionally to hurt us.
But I think of the story, there’s a story about Hillary Clinton that I’ve heard on other podcast, that said where, you know, she was like, she was studying so hard and trying to pass this you know, important you know, like a test to get into college or something, like it was an SAT or something like that, and she studied just day and night and day and night, and when she passed and she got like she passed with flying colors. She brought the results back to her dad and was so excited to show him that she achieved this and you know what he said? “It must have been an easy test.”
Denise Jacobs: Waooh!
Jason Ogle: Yes, right? Not cool! He was probably trying to be funny. He was probably trying to be funny, but that wound has stuck with her throughout her whole life still and still that she’ll mention it sometimes still that that wound just, you know, I think what she did something good with that. She could have easily gone the absolute opposite direction and just let them become, you know, just something entirely opposite of what she was trying to achieve in life. But I feel like that can happen sometimes, you know and it’s just words are so powerful, you know, of death and life are in the power of the tongue and those who love it eat its fruit. You know, I mean, so we can really build up with our tongues or we can really tear down.
And that was just an example where that can happen. But then on the other side of the coin, we may have a well-meaning individuals that love us, that are afraid to hurt us, when we were actually aren’t really doing well or we’re not self-aware of the fact that, maybe that’s not that thing that we’ve chosen is just not the right thing for us. And so that’s kind of the other side of the coin. I think this might be an interesting discussion to kind of veer into when we have, you know, and I think of the “American Idol contest”, right? I mean, how many, and it’s funny, like, and I’ll be honest with you, like, and I feel bad saying that, but I think some of us like really funny how good some people think they are and they’re just not. So, we kind of veer into to kind of that “Dunning-Kruger Effect”, which I’m sure you’re very familiar with in your research.
So, we have that other side of the coin and where we have, you know, loved ones telling, you know, trying to encourage this, because they don’t want to hurt us that, you know, where we just don’t have that metacognition, we don’t have that self-awareness, and know that maybe, you know, maybe we’re really good at other things, we’re just not good at this thing. So, I want to kind of talk about the “Dunning-Kruger Effect”, for example, for now, for a second, and just kind of talk about. Defenders, what the Dunning-Kruger effect is? It was a couple of the guy’s name, last name Dunning, and then last name Kruger, David Dunning and Justin Kruger.
Yeah, David Dunning and Justin Kruger’s who they were. They did some research on kind of on some folks that thought they were really good at something and then they actually took tests and they ended up in a really low percentile. So, it’s kind of, the idea of that is, we just don’t, we lack the skills to know we’re not skilled at something. We lack the skills to be aware that we’re not actually skilled at something. And so, it again kind of goes into the metacognition, we’re not aware that we’re not aware kind of thing. So, on that side of the coin, like what are your thoughts on that, on kind of the Dunning-Kruger effect as it relates to creativity and kind of, you know, helping or your some folks, kind of guiding some folks on this pathway.
Denise Jacobs: That’s, I mean, you know, so the interesting thing is that I feel like, okay, American idol notwithstanding. I feel like the problem that most creatives have is not Dunning-Kruger. I feel like most creative, most people who are actually good at what they do suffer, not from thinking they’re so much better at it than they are, but they suffer from not understanding or not being able to see how good they are at it, right? I feel like most creatives are suffering from imposter syndrome, like you were saying earlier than they are from Dunning-Kruger.
Jason Ogle: Thank you for clarifying that. I agree with you.
Denise Jacobs: I’ve seen it too many times, right, where people were just like, do you think it’s any good, and you’re just like, I’m sorry, this is like the “Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel”. Are you kidding like, this is amazing? Or what are you like, how are you even doubting yourself? Well, I just don’t know, I’m like, okay. And so, I mean Dunning-Kruger does exist. I think there are times at, first of all, I don’t watch American Idol because I don’t have the stomach for it, but I feel like most of the time if it’s a situation, I think most people have more of an awareness than, you know, have a good awareness of where they are in kind of in relationship with other people. I mean, I think, somebody who’s suffering from Dunning-Kruger is really somebody who’s in a lot of ways could seems like they would be oblivious to kind of where people like where their peers are at and where people who surround them are to come to a place where they’re like, I totally nailed it. You’re just like, yeah, no.
And then the other thing that I think what ends up happening kind of like you said is that a lot of people get Dunning-Kruger because people around them kind of, what’s the word like enabled him, right. Like, I mean I’ve had, I can think back to a situation where I worked on a team in a company and the first director of the team, either he was bluffing or he had Dunning-Kruger, like nobody’s business because; he’s like, I mean he was definitely like a politician. Like, he went, like he made the rounds and talk to everybody and you know, had everybody knew who he was and stuff and then he just started hiring people. It was like he hired like a guy to change the light bulbs and then he hired like a person to like, you know, hold the towels and then like he hired a person to like shuffle the papers. Like he just kept hiring these people where you’re just like, why do we need this person? Like I don’t understand why is this job open?
Jason Ogle: 80/20 rule to the extreme.
Denise Jacobs: And oh no, he was crazy. And he like was trying to build this team as I used like to call it he was building his fiefdom. And he finally, you know, after several months, like basically somebody was like, this is ridiculous, no, and they basically put them in a role where he didn’t have anybody underneath him, like nobody ever, he had no direct reports and then he ended up leaving the company.
Jason Ogle: They moved him to the basement.
Denise Jacobs: They basically like, they were like, oh sure, you’re the director of so and so, you don’t have any direct reports and your job is to like do this teeny-tiny tiny thing and not talk to anybody. But you’re the director, absolutely. And so, I feel like he is a great example of Dunning-Kruger, right. Like, and everybody was, you know, when he had the position, he had the title director or maybe in some ways people have a case up to him, right. And if he doesn’t look good then it makes the group look bad, then makes a team look bad. So then where, you know, the team is trying to like, you know, support his decisions and trying to make him look good, even though we’re going like, ‘’why is he hiring another person?’’ You know, and finally, it was somebody who was hire up who kind of saw through his thin veneer, and then ended up letting him go or demoting him and then he left on his own accord.
So, I mean I think, you know, kind of like you were saying that American idol, like where the families like, yay, go you, you’re amazing, your voice is so good, and it sounds like a record scratching. But I think, I mean I don’t really know how to manage that. Like I said, most of the people that I deal with, most of the work that I do is not a case of people thinking that there are so much better than they are. It’s more of a case of people not recognizing how amazing they are. Not recognizing their talent and not taking ownership of it, and then not leveraging that and you know, really sharing their gifts with the team or with the world or you know, using that to do some good. And that’s where I’m focused.
Jason Ogle: And I love how you touched on this in your book, you talk about the creativity cheerleader. And I really liked that, like finding a creativity cheerleader that’s close to you but maybe not too close. You know, somebody who will be like a trusted individual, who is not afraid to tell you the truth, but in a way that’s tactful and loving. So, I really liked that encouragement, and I think that’s another way like Defenders a figure, like wondering like do I have Dunning Kruger? Like, you know, here’s the thing, you probably don’t, if you have imposter syndrome, right? You, which most 99.9% of every creative person has it. Okay. I would say like a truly creative person. So, I feel like you don’t have that, if you’re concerned whether you have it, you don’t.
And that’s the good news because this kind of like veers in the growth mindset. And I love Dr. Carol Dweck’s book, “Mindset”. I always, am a big cheerleader for that book too, because it shows she does so much research that reveals that, you know, like we don’t have to be stuck. Like if we feel like we’re not good at something and we truly are passionate about learning it and wanting to be better and if we can do it like she has so many, she’s to have science that proves that. And frankly, if you really dive in and you start going headfirst into something that you really want to learn. And thankfully, we have like the canon of the world’s knowledge in our pockets now, and that’s why I kind of like, you know, a call back to what you said, Denise earlier about how this is a new generation, this is a new age where we don’t have to have a $200, $300,000 college degree in our hand that we’re going to pay back the rest of our lives potentially to get a really good job anymore, and that’s exciting to me.
So growth mindset, that’s another thing. So, I recommend Defenders listening if you’re struggling with, which you probably are, because; I do, Denise does, I mean all of us do. You know, you’re in good company, you know, for one, you’re in good company and we’re all making it up as we go along, so take heart there. But also, try to find yourself a creativity cheerleader. Try to find yourself, someone who will give you good feedback, you know, and honest and constructive feedback. That’s my encouragement. What do you think, Denise?
Denise Jacobs: Exactly! And that there is a way then you can actually tell the person to look, I need and I needed to be structured in this way, because the other thing is that a lot of times people don’t know how to give good constructive feedback. They just start kind of riffing on the way that they’ve been given feedback, which was incorrect. And so, if you can say, you know, I need specifics, I need you to focus on. You can tell somebody I need you to focus on the topography or I need you to focus on how the transition from this to this. Like, what do you think about that? Or how do you think I can improve this? Or I’m not feeling good about this part or you know, this part I’m still trying to work out, I need you to give me feedback on this particular thing? And then that way you guide the person and help them be able to help you. Instead of just like, so what did you think? And then people are just like, and then they just go, you know and then have a, knows if it’s actually constructive feedback or not.
And then I actually have a part in the book that talks about how to receive feedback as well, because that’s the other thing, not only do people often not know how to give feedback well, but then people also don’t know how to take feedback. So, you know, one of the things is that when people give you feedback is to take notes, and to like really do active listening and to ask questions against specific questions for specifics, and then to take notes. Almost as if you’re taking notes on somebody else, like, it’s not really about you, it’s about some other person and you’re trying to get all of the information that you can get.
And then you can also really focus on what’s relevant because; also the thing is that not everybody’s going to be completely on task and on point. So, to focus on what’s relevant out of the all the things that they said, what are the things that really are meaningful and you know, relevant to what you need at that moment. And then you know, to be open that you may learn a new perspective, you may discover a new perspective and a new way of looking at the thing that you’re working on that you didn’t have before, but because you were too close to it, right.
And the other thing is to realize that when you get feedback from people, especially feedback that you’ve even either asked for or that’s constructive and you’ve got it structured in a certain way, that it actually saves you time and enables you to grow and kind of progressed faster than if you hadn’t gotten the feedback. I mean, how many times have you done something you know, Defenders, how many times have you done something and then later on said, oh, God, if only I had known, blah, blah, blah blah earlier, right? Like, I’m actually just recently had a conversation with a conference that I was asked the keynote and ended up having kind of a conversation about, you know, speaking fees and budgets and all this stuff, which was, you know, for all intents and purposes has never ever been my favorite part of the conversation, right? Like, you know, I have underpriced myself more times than I can imagine more times than you can shake a stick at, I have caved in where they’re like, okay, oh, we can pay you 2 pennies. And I’m like, ‘’okay, I can take 2 cents work’’. And you’re like, ‘’no, you can’t make cent. You can’t pay your mortgage with 2 cents’’.
Jason Ogle: That’s the imposter syndrome.
Denise Jacobs: You can’t. That’s not, you know, this is my job, I can’t do it. And so, I was kind of panicking because I was just like, okay, like I don’t want to fold, I don’t want to like underprice myself and all this stuff. So, I talked to a friend of mine who is like a sales, like God, like I mean this man is just, he’s unreal when it comes to sales and structuring sales conversations and stuff. And so, he gave me like a quick kind of coaching like intensive, like 20 minute coaching session before a grand on a conversation. And so, one of the things that he said was, you know, like you can have fun with this and you can go into those process learning something new and learning a new skill and like having, making the conversation enjoyable for yourself. And I was like, oh, and then when I was done getting the coaching, I was like, Oh my God, I wish I had known you and we had been able to have this conversation like 3 years ago, 3 or 4 years ago, would have made like all the difference in the world in my business.
And I’d be in a totally different place with my business and everything right now than I am, but then it gives me heart that, okay, 6 months from now and a year from now, and a year and a half from now, 2 years from now, you know, this is an inflection point and this information that I’ve got now is going to inform everything that I do from this point forward. And so, you know, being open to those kind of new information, this new way of doing thing, this new kind of practice in showing up in the world is going to make a huge difference. So, it didn’t come 3 or 4 years ago when it would’ve been really beneficial, but it came now and I’m going to make the best of it now.
Jason Ogle: I love that. And I think that the other lesson that you just mentioned this too, it’s like maybe that would not have stuck as much if you had known it you a few years ago. You are like most of our greatest lessons learned are basically from like our little failures or big ones especially. So I feel like failure is a friend, you know, it’s not as bad as it as it used to be framed. I feel like, especially in today’s knowledge working industry, failure is our friend, and I think I learned some great lessons too.
Denise Jacobs: I like that attitude. I mean, I like that approach and that attitude where it’s like failure isn’t, I mean, you can even change the terminology, you can say it’s not failing, it’s learning. Like all you’re doing is learning. This is just lessons and learning. That’s it. It’s just definition.
Jason Ogle: So, I have an interesting question that’s actually a listener question. And it’s yeah, this is great. And this is from – this actually, this person emailed me a while back and kind of started getting me thinking about touching on this more on the whole. This is an important topic and I’ve never addressed this until right now with you, Denise, which I’m honored that you were the one on the other side of this conversation addressing this. So, she is the one that inspired me to go, wow, I need to talk about this some more. You know, I’ve admitted at many times in earlier episodes about how I suffer from this, but we’ve never really talked about how do we kind of overcome this. So she, you know, she basically asked this question. Her name is Nadienka if I said that right?
Listener Question: Hi, Jason and Denise, thank you for taking my call. So as the new UX designer in the field, I often experienced imposter syndrome. I have noticed a rollercoaster phenomenon where when I’m faced with challenges, I don’t even know, I feel very insecure about my work and begin questioning myself. On the other hand, I feel amazing when I get good feedback or kudos from clients or team members. My questions would be, how can I stabilize this experience where my self-worth is not dependent on external sources?
Jason Ogle: What a fantastic question.
Denise Jacobs: Well, I think it is the question of the ages. So, one of the things I talk about in the book is being self-referential, instead of being externally referential. Now, I’m not saying that this is necessarily an easy process, but this is something to potentially to strive towards or can be kind of like, like, you know, like meditation is like your work, you know, like you just, you show up, it’s like your practice or like yoga is a practice, right, you show up to it every day and you’re present to it and everything. So, being self-referential I think can help you stabilize things when you basically only compare yourself to yourself, right. And so that instead of, you know, you’re in the unknown and you’re in that roller coaster, like I don’t know what I’m doing and blah, blah, blah, that you can have these moments of clarity where you say, well, I’m learning a new skill. This is something that I wasn’t able to do 6 months ago or a year ago or last week or whatever, and I’m growing and expanding just by having the experience, what other people say about what comes out of this experience isn’t as important as having the experience itself, right.
And so that you shift your focus from externally, like how is this going to be perceived by other people to how is this a challenge and a growth opportunity for me on my own, just in and of itself. And I think when you can do that and that you can really, really just keep pulling yourself back to that focus. You’re starting to shift out and looked out and the, Oh nope, let me just shift back, shift my focus back to like what’s directly in front of me.
And then the other thing too is that when you’re in the unknown is actually a really interesting. I had this wonderful opportunity to give a TED Talk in Germany back in 2013, and the theme of the conference was “Curiosity”. And in the talks that I developed for it, I talked about how to basically overcome the fear of unknown by transforming that fear into curiosity. So again, like, you know, in the midst of being like, okay, where am I now that’s different than where I was before and how this is going to make help me move forward and become a more expanded and, you know, kind of grown growth experience for myself, but that you can also say, I’m so afraid of what I don’t know, but instead of being afraid about it, saying, well, let’s see, what is it, what can I learn in this?
Like, what’s the thing that’s like, okay, I don’t know how to do this. Well, like, let’s see, like how do you do this? How can I make this work? How can I solve this problem? Instead of being afraid of, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to solve this problem. I’m not going to be, I’m not going to come up with anything, oh my God. To turn it into, okay, well let’s just see. Because as soon as you become curious about something, you lose the fear, right.
So that could be a way to kind of, you know, have the – even out the rollercoaster a bit to focus more upon yourself and focus about like what internally, what kind of change internally you’re embarking upon by going through this process, and then being curious about the process and being curious about what you’re going to learn.
Jason Ogle: So good. And Denise, I have to confess that we are – I actually need to go to a physical therapy appointment and I am so sad to break right here. I want to ask you, would you be willing to do a part 2 because; I’ve only asked you two questions and one of them was from a listener. So, this has been incredible, that just shows you how like deep we’ve gotten and how spontaneous this has been and I love it, but would you be willing to do a part 2 of this?
Denise Jacobs: Of course! I love talking about this stuff and I love telling stories obviously, and you know, it’s great, I’m like, ‘’this is a good thing that I’m a professional speaker where I get to tell stories’’.
Jason Ogle: I love it! And you’re a wonderful storyteller and I am sad. I am actually really sad that I had to kind of break the flow again and do this. But I really want to do a part 2. I know you’re going out of town to do your wonderful speaking for a little while, but I’m going to – we’ll communicate about this afterwards. But, if Defenders listening, if this makes the edit, which it will I think, I want to tell you, this is my fault. Denise was ready to go right at our appointed time, and then I have these chickens right next to me that were squawking because; they’re dying of thirst. I’m like, I can’t have a recording where the chickens, I have a condenser mic, it will pick up every squawk because; you know, they need to be – they need water. Any living organism needs water.
Denise Jacobs: That’s true!
Jason Ogle: So, this is my fault and I’m sorry Defenders. But the good news is; Denise is going to do a part 2 with me. And so, that it that we all win, we all win on this. So, thank you so much Denise. This has been an incredible part 1, and I cannot wait to dive even deeper, I think into part 2. Thanks so much for being here. To be continued indeed. Thanks so much for doing this part 1 with me, and as of course I always want to say, and I’m going to tell you again in part 2, but for now just keep fighting on my friend.
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