The Three Struggles of Creative People

Podcamp Nashville
Podcamp Nashville is local meetup of geeks, creatives, and entrepreneurs.

Tomorrow, I’m speaking at PodCamp, an “un-conference” in Nashville for local creatives, geeks, and entrepreneurs. My speaking topic is: “How to Lead and Motivate Creative People (Including Yourself).”

I’ll be sharing some lessons that I’ve learned from building and leading a marketing team and being a creative myself.

In the talk, I explain how creatives are:

  • Nonlinear
  • Imaginative
  • Introspective

The shadow side of each of those characteristics is that most creatives struggle with the following:

  • Productivity
  • Authority
  • Insecurity

Three Creative Struggles

1) Productivity

Because creatives often nonlinear, they tend to not be “process” people. Therefore, they don’t usually think in terms of cause-and-effect as much as they think in terms of raw potential. Possibilities. Dreams. Aspirations. These are the lifeblood of a creative.

The unfortunate result of this is that it is quite feasible for a creative to come up with a bunch of ideas that don’t connect to each other at all, causing you to spin your wheels without gaining any traction.

I’ve heard this confession from countless creatives that I’ve interviewed: It’s hard to be creative and productive.

2) Authority

Most creatives struggle somewhat with submission to authority or with adhering to bureaucracy. Because they are imaginative and visionary, they can often see a better way of doing something, or simple a different way.

If the “powers that be” are not open to change or being questioned (and not all are), then a creative will most likely struggle in such an environment. Most creatives don’t make good soldiers.

3) Insecurity

Most creatives struggle with insecurity at some point in their lives. Because they’re introspective and often sensitive, they are prone to identifying closely with their work. They tend to be their harshest critics.

While this can be overcome through experience and maturity, the natural tendency of a creative is to be hard on themselves. At the same time, they may be somewhat defensive and not receptive to feedback. It’s hard for creatives to separate their identity from their activity.

Do you want to learn more about creatives? Take my survey on managing creatives, and I’ll send you the summary of the results. If you’re new to this blog, see my subscribe page and read more about me.

You may also be interested in connecting with me on Twitter and Facebook.

Recommended reading: 9 Attitudes of Highly Creative People [Problogger]

19 thoughts on “The Three Struggles of Creative People

  1. Loved your presentation at PodCamp. I am definitely a creative and I get he insecurity part for sure! I am trying to wrap my head around a ministry idea right now. Between insecurity and the resistance that Kenny talked about I am a mess! LOL But this weekend inspired me to get over it all and just go with it.

  2. I totally agree with you observations, but when I apply them to myself, I think that my particular lack of productivity cannot be explained by by your theory, as I clearly am a very linear person in my approach to things. Maybe the productive parts and the creative parts within myself are just constantly battling it out with no clear winner, and that stalls the whole process…? Same difference? Interesting article anyway.

    1. everybody is at different levels, and there are certainly hybrids. i appreciate the feedback. your struggle is one that i’ve heard other people struggle with. thanks for sharing.

  3. Love this blog. totally agree with all the things you have pointed out here. I have struggled with all 3 on a semi regular basis. My struggle now is to define what I am most passionate about and stick to it. With so many issues and ways my heart breaks I find myself doing way too much of everything instead of being most productive and successful at one or two things. I say yes to everything and dream big about everything which is totally exhausting. will your talk be recorded somewhere so I can listen to it?

  4. Hey Jeff, Just read this article and am wondering if that survey is still open on managing creatives.  If closed, is it possible to get the results?  Thanks!

  5. Jeff, I think you nailed it. On the issue of authority, I don’t think the design schools do a very good job preparing students for the real world. My son is in a graphics and animation course in high school and has complete creative freedom over each project. 

    I’ve tried to explain to him that in the real world, he’ll have a creative director  (or client) telling him what he doesn’t like about his work and what he wants him to change. Similar to your point on insecurity, this takes experience and maturity to deal with properly. No one likes the temperamental artist that can’t take criticism. 

    Yet, it’s not completely inappropriate to take a stand and defend your work (so long as you don’t do so defensively). Knowing when to do so and when to back down, again, takes experience and maturity.

    Good article. Thanks!

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