Vulnerability, Creativity, and Prototyping

Vulnerability is still highly stigmatized in our society, particularly in business. If you want to be successful in life you better be brave and don’t show any signs of weakness. And vulnerability is such a weakness. At least that’s what many of us are being taught from a very young age. Brené Brown, a Research Professor at the University of Houston and author of five #1 New York Times best sellers, has been studying vulnerability for years. Her TED talk “The Power of Vulnerability” is one of the top five most viewed TED talks, with over 38 million views. Recently, I listened to a very interesting interview with Brené from 2014. In her conversation with Chase Jarvis, she said something that is as true as it is often overlooked:

There is no creativity without vulnerability.

What she means is that whenever you create something important and put yourself out there and show it to the world, you make yourself vulnerable. You expose yourself to criticism, especially if your work challenges what is considered best practice or “normal”. Yet it is this type of work, the truly innovative and creative work, that has the most potential to invoke change. It is this work, the work that you are most scared of, especially when you are doing it for the first time, that has the most impact. And it’s also important to recognize that people don’t do this work because they are free from fear, they do it although they are afraid. Courage is not the absence of fear, it is acknowledging your own vulnerability and doing something despite feeling uncomfortable – and although you might fail.

But far too often, we avoid being vulnerable. We hesitate to speak up when we disagree because we fear rejection. We postpone sending that important email or making that necessary phone call. We forgo telling a client that this crazy idea won’t work because we don’t want to be seen as a complainer or fear to even lose the client if we disagree. To avoid vulnerability, we also often go for the safe solution, the one that promises a more predictable outcome. All of this leads to less robust and less innovative work, though. So taking a stand and advocating for a specific solution – whether it is the clear and robust, yet seemingly boring or the bold, daring, and unique – will truly make a difference. And it’s part of our job.

This is even more true if you are working in a modern design workflow with a lot of prototyping. You have to be comfortable with sharing rough, early prototypes with stakeholders and users. You have to be comfortable with live-editing that raw Codepen of your component in a meeting. You have to be willing to not take things for granted but to constantly challenge your assumptions – and the assumptions of others. All of this makes you vulnerable. But it is the only way to push your work beyond the expected.

There is no prototyping without vulnerability. For a monthly update on the latest articles, tools, and other resources about prototyping for the Web, sign up for my free newsletter


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