As creatives, we spend a lot of time substantiating our choices, our seat at the table and, frankly, our existence. This takes shape in lots of different ways: clever explanations of our process, impressive titles for ourselves that effortlessly mesh incongruent words with Creative like Problem Solver, Disruption and Breakthrough—and then for good measure, we add a chaser of corporate hierarchy: Officer, SVP, Executive. Our titles are certainly creative and probably deserve their own awards category at Cannes. We throw words around like “value” or “eco-system” so people listen and nod while we speak as though the absence of these words would start the inquisition. And just when we think the we’ve swung the pendulum too far the other way, we pop by central casting to pick up a uniform of agency au currant to make sure they know we are the “Creatives”. Because nothing says knowledgeable, cool, and slightly aloof like denim. Check. Existence substantiated.
To be clear, this isn’t meant to be a derisive or divisive creative call-to-arms. Everything written above is a first-person account. I do and have done it all, and while I can’t say we all do it, many of us do.
So why am I writing this?
To point out the complex—and very confusing—environment in which we’ve chosen our grand moment of self-actualization. Our careers, like our daily lives, take place at the intersection of art and commerce. Our very own crossroads of what we laud and often lament. Ironically, it’s also the intersection of our deeply personal intrinsic motivations and the business world’s unmistakably powerful extrinsic motivations. To be honest, I’m not sure there’s another industry that struggles with this as much as ours.
This brings me to the choice between conception and carrot. Conception being the process of taking a thought or notion and translating it into a rich creative idea. Carrot being the reward structure that focuses on attaining some outcome separate from the activity itself – Financial, opinion of others, positive evaluation and the like. As a reminder, our industry is predicated on focusing on the former.
Conception and carrot. Often, they are too intertwined, too grey, to even see a choice. But, as with any junction, a decision must be made in order to continue moving forward. The call is ours. Do we lead with our authentic self and the intrinsic motivations that brought us to this very moment? Or, do we submit to the if/then extrinsic motivations that light our homes and keep us safe (thus, avoiding disincentives like fear, shame, or humiliation)?
It’s doesn’t feel like a fair trade, and that is precisely why it’s easy to forget our authentic self. We often think the price on our deeply personal passion is day-to-day acceptance and stability.
At this moment you might be pretty disheartened, maybe even looking for a new career, but here’s the silver lining: as creative leaders, we’ve somehow figured it out because we’ve made it this far. Despite all the things that come with leadership and the modern world—email, meetings, team dynamics, tough conversations, carrots, demeaning evaluations, threats, sometimes even sticks—we achieve the seemingly impossible. We make something of value to us (and to the client) that reflects our personal commitment. And as with anything that is intrinsically motivated, we are personally satisfied. Creatives don’t need hobbies like accountants because we have an outlet for our authentic self. And if we are smart (and we are), we learn that staying true to our authentic self actually yields a better outcome for our clients. We don’t need carrots because we have the scientific theory of self-determination. Intrinsically motivated pursuits lead to deeper understanding, richer experience, more creative results, and improved problem solving. And these are the exact reasons brands need us in the first place.
So, remind yourself and remind your clients, that deep down inside you truly know the right way to do this. The very things that started your career path are the same things that ensure you can make the most of it. When we lead from our intrinsic creative motivation, we are invaluable.