Creative Burnout: Traction Control with David Baker

Burnout is widely felt in marketing field. So much so that every individual will face it at some point in his/her career.

Some of it stems from a propensity toward short attention spans, developed at an early age. Oddly enough, if you didn’t have access to a TV or hours of video games, you might be more creative now! (So much for the impact of your profession.)

We feel very human when we are creative. Maybe it’s because it comes from within us.

Mind Your Own Business ConferenceMaybe it’s because some of the pieces of life that we’ve observed begin to fall together and make sense. Much of life doesn’t make sense, and creativity acts as a salve.

But when something is solved, when you contribute personally to your world, there is a euphoria that is deeply satisfying.

We want to be creative people consistently because creativity is about solving problems, and heaven knows we have plenty of those. Creativity is about beating the system in small, pathetic ways. It’s about seeing things differently to make them work. And it’s about surviving in a world that keeps wanting to pull more and more out of you. Sucking you dry.

What Creativity Is

It’s degrading when people get on and off their creativity like some cheap bicycle that gets them places, usually left in the rain waiting to be used again. For one thing, creativity is internal. For another, it’s sacred.

It’s arrogant, too, to think of visual creativity as more valuable than other kinds. For example, writers are terribly creative (as in “very” creative). So are engineers and musicians and mechanics. Just honestly, some visual creative types (like designers) don’t seem creative at all. Their work seems more accidental, as if somehow planning and thought are enemies of creativity. They strive more to be different than to be creative. And they’d rather “let it happen” than be forced to explain the process…and thus the result.

Most car accidents are not creative. Many cars are. Creativity is more about unique perspectives, different arrangements, new combinations, trusting your instincts, being honest about it.

But creativity isn’t some muscle that needs to be exercised or some machine that needs to be oiled. It’s you, and nothing can tear it out of you without also taking your life. If you are alive, you are (potentially) creative.

There is no such thing as creative burnout, either. Creativity is what happens when everything else is okay. In other words, when you aren’t creative it’s because other things are wrong. Unbound, creativity is inevitable.

Creativity is sand sculpture in a crowd. It can be shaped, primped, coddled, and admired, but in the end it has to be protected.

Think about yourself for a minute. If the truth were known, you probably don’t enjoy much of your life. In your job, especially, you’ll live for those few, precious moments when your creativity snaps into place. Will it be in the shower? At the copier? Overhearing a conversation?

You will be energized by those moments, but they will be far too infrequent. And if you are distracted when they arrive unannounced, you’ll miss them.

How Management Can Kill Creativity

Some employees struggle with creativity, too. They…

  • …Lazily write down ideas without any regard for strategy or what the client is trying to accomplish.
  • …Make the process more personal and about what they’d like to do, forgetting that they aren’t creating for themselves or some hollow award show but for the client who is paying good money (or should be) for their problem-solving.
  • …Show up at work and expect to be wildly creative while outside the office they pursue selfish, uninteresting, narrowly focused lives with very little inclination to cross-disciplined learning, a cosmopolitan perspective, or even seeing things from someone else’s point of view.
  • …Don’t fight for their ideas because they are too insecure to take a stand, or fight for them in the wrong ways, appealing to personal preference instead of strategy

As they struggle personally with their own significance, they publicly inhibit creativity.

This is even worse if they neglect marketing the business. Marketing isn’t about more work, it’s about options, about who you work with, about being able to charge what it really takes to do good things. Most importantly it’s about finding clients who will let you be creative. The great majority of these firms talk big about how important marketing is, but they are really bad at it themselves. And some of them even think it’s cute. It’s not.

They get lazy, unfocused, and take the “Field of Dreams” approach to marketing: “if I can finally get my business card printed, they’ll come.” But because they let business happen to them (instead of shaping it), they are always at the mercy of sorry-ass clients who are looking for the cheapest, quickest pair of hands they can find.

And in working for these clients, they agree to hopeless budgets and schedules just because it’s either that or reading back-issues or watching reels of other people’s creativity.

Creativity has got to be protected, and if you are always worrying about things like that you won’t be very effective.

How Employees Can Kill Creativity

Some employees struggle with creativity, too. They…

  • …Lazily write down ideas without any regard for strategy or what the client is trying to accomplish.
  • …Make the process more personal and about what they’d like to do, forgetting that they aren’t creating for themselves or some hollow award show but for the client who is paying good money (or should be) for their problem-solving.
  • …Show up at work and expect to be wildly creative while outside the office they pursue selfish, uninteresting, narrowly focused lives with very little inclination to cross-disciplined learning, a cosmopolitan perspective, or even seeing things from someone else’s point of view.
  • …Don’t fight for their ideas because they are too insecure to take a stand, or fight for them in the wrong ways, appealing to personal preference instead of strategy

We shouldn’t fear being creative. Or letting others be creative. Creativity is what happens when other things are okay. Make them okay.

Keep your creative fire burning:

One thought on “Creative Burnout: Traction Control with David Baker

  1. JElizabethR

    Thanks so much for the great article. It’s such an important point that creativity can get blocked or inhibited from so many surprising directions! I find it interesting you say laziness is something that blocks creativity, but the more I think about it, I can see your point. It takes work to think outside the box!! Best, Elizabeth at http://www.sheergraphics.com/

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