Seth Godin, the creativity genius who has received more awards than I can count on both hands and has been dubbed “the father of permission Marketing”, has recently released a new book on creative work.
Creativity here is loosely defined and carries a much wider meaning than you might think. In fact, it may even apply to your own job, though you may never call it “creative” or see yourself as such.
In this book, creativity is considered as any activity involving elements of uncertainty in a professional context. Something that needs to go out into the world (i.e., to get shipped) in order to have the impact intended by its creator.
This book is a mine of insights, and less than halfway through, below are some of the golden nuggets I’ve extracted so far…1. What defines creative work is its uncertain outcome
Therefore, anything that follows a “tried and tested” recipe for success is anything but creative.
No matter whether you’re in an obvious creative field such as the arts, design or (to an extent) Marketing, even in such roles, you may be engaged in repetitive work, merely following pre-existing patterns and simply copying from the masters of the craft.
Anything we do which is secure, predictable — in other works, sensible according to societal norms — is not creative work, call it what you want.
The challenge is following predictable patterns for success is much more comfortable and reassuring, as opposed to learning from them yet blazing your own trail and charting your own course into unknown territory…2. Process does not equal outcome. Don’t confuse the two
Don’t fall into the “input x leads to output y” trap. That’s corporatism — office desks, cubicles, ducks in a row, predictable recipes — not creativity.
Any creative pursuit is creative preciselyin that its outcome cannot be guaranteed; it cannot be predicted; it cannot be predicated upon.
Rather than getting caught up in chasing outcomes, chase the practice.
The process of sitting down to do the work is the one and only thing you have within your control.
- Process: you can control.
- Outcome: you sure as hell can’t.
- Therefore: focus on the process and let go of the outcome.
As a writer, this means that once I’ve written, edited and pushed my work out into the world, my job is done.
No point fretting about it. No point ruminating on what-ifs. No point in turning around. There’s no 30-day money-back guarantee here.
“Effective goals aren’t based on the end result: they are commitments to the process.
That commitment is completely under your control, even if the end result can’t be.”
In an interview with Tim Ferriss, Humans of New York creator Brandon Stanton explains his obsession for the daily practice of going out to photograph people — consistently, for months on end — instead of getting distracted by learning the theory from “how-to” books sitting on dusty shelves.
Brandon chose to follow his own process over getting bogged down in theory and worrying about the results. And it paid off.
Obsess about your process, not about your outcome.3. Don’t seek external validation and guarantees when producing creative work
Seeking constant reassurance and validation in the form of approval from others is a symptom of our social media-ridden, dopamine-fueled times.
Yet the greatest pieces of creative work often emerge out of the blue, and at the amazement of their critics.
Feedback is a gift when used correctly, constructively; but confusing external validation for any kind of guarantee your work will find its path to success is nothing short of a mirage, an illusion of safety.
As Seth Godin put it:
4. Process beats good intentions any day of the week
“The search for a guarantee is endless, fruitless, and the end of possiblity, not the begining.”
A process, routine or methodology is a clear structure you have consciously defined that gives you the space (physically as well as mentally) to practice your craft without distraction.
Once you have defined and committed to following your own process, no matter what, something beautiful happens.
Regardless of whether you “feel” like it; regardless of whether you’re motivated or not; you will carry on and do the thing you’re meant to be doing which moves the needle in the right direction.
“Don’t wait for inspiration. Just do the work and reap the rewards later.” — Sinem Günel
Whatever that thing may be (writing a blog post every day; practising your presentation skills; writing a new creative brief for your Marketing agency), it’ll be much easier to stick with it once you have a well-defined process to follow.
Intentions don’t yield much power. Will can only take you so far. But process never lets you down.
In his book, Seth Godin calls on world-famous sculptor Elizabeth King, who expresses it elegantly:
5. Favour following your own path over following someone else’s
“Process saves us from the poverty of our intentions.”
When engaged in creative work, walking in the footsteps of someone else can only get you up to a point in the journey.
Although Picasso famously remarked that “good artists copy; great artists steal”, even when they “steal”, they make the thing they have borrowed their own: adding their personal touch, angle, and story to it.
So copying and merely replicating others’ work is not creative work.
As the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita, declares:
“It is better to follow your own path, however imperfectly, than to follow someone else’s perfectly.”
In brief, creative work involves the following criteria:
- Producing something that is uncertain and has no guarantee of success.
- Encompasses pursuits where you can only control your own inputs, but never the outcome.
- Requires a robust process and dedication to it — rather than relying on goodwill or “motivation”.
- Following the herd and merely replicating others’ work; or doing repetitive, predictable work; is by definition not creative.
Seeing your work as “creative work” may open up new possibilities for you.
Equally, if none of the above applies, picking up a creative pursuit can be a fantastic outlet to express yourself in new ways. This is what writing has done for me.
Whichever your pursuit, I will leave you with this one insight from Richard Bach:
“A professional writer [or creator — replace with your own creative outlet] is an amateur who didn’t quit.”
So don’t quit, and keep shipping your work out into the world on a regular basis. Good luck on your own creative journey!