OKAY, I’M ABOUT TO sound a bit self-contradictory, but bear with me.
I love creative people, in all their wacky, whimsical, wavering ways; I am one after all. But I’ll also be among the first to acknowledge how troublesome their – our –wacky, whimsical, wavering ways can be.
Perhaps the stereotypical trait that troubles me the most is the whining. Any of my former charges, those writers, designers, and photographers who’ve had the misfortune to have me as Creative Director, can tell you how uncharitably I react to complaints that sound like victimhood. That may be because I grew up among people who lived through much more troubling life events, so now, in the context of the workplace, over a relatively minor disappointment, that charge can sound hollow to me.
But even in the case of a legitimate complaint, the “poor little me” angle lacks Studs Terkel-like gravitas, especially when it’s coming from someone who is in the enviable position of getting paid simply to come up with ideas.
So you might understand how my eyes rolled and rolled again when I read a recent promotional email from iStock, the online, royalty-free stock image house of Getty Images. Under the headline, “Why Your Job Is Harder Than Ever,” were these sobering words,
“It ain’t easy being a creative these days… A new study of your industry colleagues shows that creativity is in fact under threat. So take a deep breath and look at what’s going on in the hearts and minds of people like you. People who have to deal with requests like “make the black darker.”
I clicked the link to find an infographic titled, “STUDY: CREATIVITY UNDER THREAT.” (below)
“60% had “great ideas” in the last year, but not enough time or support to complete their masterpieces.” Yes, it actually says that.
“10 Things Clients Asked That You Wish They Hadn’t: (No.1) Make it viral.” Oh, the humanity.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve done my share of complaining about clients, marketing managers, and assorted philistines. I’ve ranted. I’ve walked off in a huff. I’ve even invoked an unconventional spelling of “philistine” that starts with an “f” and then has some other, different letters after. But whenever I’ve peeked back around the corner to survey the impact of my emotional reactions, I’ve seen there really wasn’t any. So, while I realize iStock is simply deploying good, old-fashioned pandering as they pat the heads of us sensitive creative folk (there, there), I wish they’d just stop it. As creatives, we don’t need that behavior encouraged.
But here’s the truly self-contradictory sounding part: get used to it. Get used to the whiners, the emotional reactionaries, and the self-immolationists. They will always be with us. But also recognize that the very emotional make-up that makes them set themselves on fire is what drives that creativity. Sorry.
Or, at the very least, if you can’t get used to it, try this little trick taught me by Andrew Newsom, the president of Wisteria, which when I was there, I would sometimes sarcastically refer to as Whysteria, in this case the “w” being silent.
Anyhow, Andrew told me a story about a group of friends with which he would get together regularly for a little sport (whether golf, tennis, ping pong or Canasta, I won’t say, to protect Andrew from retribution). One member of the group actually seemed to think that nobody noticed his repeated cheating. Still, they felt no need to call their friend on it, and instead adopted a system of surreptitious hand gestures to indicate to each other the count: the first time one of them observed him cheat, that person might fake a yawn and stretch, indicating with an extended index finger that they just saw the first one; the second time he cheated somebody might raise a hand to scratch their head and hold up two fingers, etc. This allowed these friends to acknowledge the offense, file an informal, silent complaint with each other, and then having vented in the only way they could do so, graciously, to let it go.
So the next time a graphic designer slumps in his chair in dejection, or a photographer throws up his hands in frustration, or a writer like me gets creative with the spelling of “philistine,” you should simply smile and make your secret gesture. We’ll all be just fine.