Do you really need to be creative to define yourself as a success?

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Back when I actually thought I could have a corporate career, I believed companies were eager to innovate. I swallowed the party line: “Your company will reward you for being creative.”

I was the one who rushed in to make suggestions. I was praised for my creativity.

It wasn’t till long after I’d been far removed from corporate life that I understood why my creativity had no chance to flourish. Now I believe we make mistakes when we encourage people (especially at entry-level) to anticipate creativity in any job.

We make an even bigger mistake when we encourage others to become entrepreneurs to be more creative. Successful business owners don’t base their success on their creativity. They develop systems, follow proven paths, and always ask the question, “Is this working?”

Look for opportunities that will allow creative expressions.

When I hire someone to fix some code on my website or go through the steps for a teleseminar, I want them to do exactly what I ask. When my cleaning service gets creative, I can’t find anything for weeks. Airline pilots follow very specific “company” policies for everything from checklists to landing on windy airport runways to “mayday” emergencies.

When you’re in one of those jobs, or your business feels stifling, make time for leisure activities…even if you feel you don’t have ten minutes to take a break. Many business owners take courses in art, music, or dance. Some write novels (although I’ve found that writing, even fiction, feels too much like work to me).

Inevitably, you’ll find that you’ll return to work with new ideas to grow your business. It’s not time lost — it’s prep time for problem-solving.

Creativity flourishes when you impose constraints.

More than one web designer has advised me to remove the sign-up box on the top of my website. If I have time, I say, “Sure, that box may not be aesthetically pleasing, but that’s how I earn money so I can pay you.”

A really good designer will rise to the challenge. How can they. create an appealing website that includes all the must-haves?

When you impose restrictions, you usually turn out a higher-quality product.

Many literary classics were written as serials in popular magazines of the day. Some musical compositions were written on demand for particular sponsors or even for institutions, such as schools or churches. Many of our most famous paintings were created within restrictions imposed by sponsors, who would be dedicating these works to a church or cathedral.

Creatives pay their dues to learn what works.

Once I was a party when someone asked what I do in my business. When I said I work on copywriting, one fellow guest said, “I bet my nephew would be a great website copywriter. He’s very creative.”

The truth is, I’ve invested large amounts of time and money to learn what works and what doesn’t. Sure I get creative when I apply time-tested principles to specific client situations. But I don’t sit down with a blank piece of paper and just write.

Authors follow a surprisingly long list of rules when writing novels. Some authors grasp these principles instinctively. Others learn them successfully. Still others never “get it” and, as a result, rarely attract readers and followers.

And while artists have a wide range of options, they study and apply principles of color, composition, and design. I once took a drawing course, where I was surprised how much technique is involved.

Successful creatives find ways to appeal to their audiences.

Recently an author sent me a book to review. She had chosen to defy the conventions of the book world by mixing genres. Her book combined memoir and how-to. Alas, readers expect one or the other. Memoir readers expect a very different reading experience than self-help enthusiasts. And bookstores won’t know how to classify this book.

Of course, if you’re a big picture thinker, and if you have the drive and access to resource to implement your ideas, you can end up like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or the others who changed the landscape of business. But I have a hunch that before they thought out of the box, they invested a lot of time studying the inside of that box in all four corners.

What’s more important than creativity?

When most people — especially those in corporate jobs — seek opportunities for creativity, they usually want autonomy: control over their own time. When business people seek creativity, they often seek freedom from drudgery tasks that we all have to do.

Creativity thrives only when it’s welcome. Imposing creativity on a resistant environment will only lead to frustration.

When you find yourself looking for opportunities to be creative, ask yourself, “What do I really want to do?” Then look for the best place to make it happen.

Want some help finding a career where your creativity will be welcomed? Set up a consultation here:

Originally published at on November 13, 2020.

Helping entrepreneurs and independent professionals grow their businesses one story at a time.

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