This made rounds on Facebook a few months back in one of those badly designed images people use to share inspirational quotes. The kind that do their best impression of a misinterpreted idea of what a zen asthetic would look like. I passed it along there. I’m hoping I didn’t pass it along here already:
What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.
But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.
It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
Interesting to think about through the lens of creativity in advertising or in business. Unlike a creative project like This American Life, there are projects that are going to have to be done in a business setting, that by their very nature, are going to be terrible. There are clients, compelled by some sub-human evil force or business school, who are going to be predisposed to buying terrible work.
And I know that terrible is relative in advertising. Sometimes what passes as good in this business is shameful.
But there are also clients who are going to buy good work and present really interesting problems to solve.
I’d imagine that the volume of work that you do will help to develop your taste. Refining the edges of what’s good and what’s bad.
But if you mostly work on the bad does that start to erode your sense of taste? How much is too much before taste becomes compromised.
On the flip side, how many good projects will leave someone soft, prone to tantrums and ineffective in any situation that is less than perfect?
It’s probably not that simple. But I can’t help but think it must play some role in how people develop throughout their careers.