Hard Work Isn’t Enough to do Great Work

My favorite quote about creativity is from the great Mark Fenske:

Hard work is a waste of time if your idea sucks.

As with most things he writes, it says a lot without having to say very much.

Yes, work ethic is important. And being able to work hard is an important component to making great work. But there’s a lot more to great work than hard work.

Hard work doesn’t always lead to creative ideas.

Sometimes an idea will come in 20-minutes. Sometimes it might take 20-days.

Sometimes an idea will come while sitting at a notebook, but often an idea will strike while in the shower or waiting in line at the DMV.

We see students come into the Brandcenter from some of the best schools in the country. And UVA.

They got to those schools by working really hard in high school.

They got excellent grades at those schools by working even harder.

Then they got into Brandcenter by working hard on their applications.

But when they get here they have to learn The Hard Lesson — hard work isn’t enough.

Which reminds me, are you currently a student at a school, college, or university?

Sometimes, balancing your workload with tight deadlines can seem impossible. This is especially true where written assignments are concerned.

However, did you know that there are resources out there that can make the writing process a little easier?

A friend of mine recently recommended www.collegepaperworld.com to me. Check out their website to learn more about some of the latest essay and report writing solutions that are changing the game.

Teams are how the world works, and how great works are made.

Working with ideas in teams is something that many haven’t experienced. Even those who have done group work in undergrad struggle in a more realistic and pressure-filled setting.

They haven’t had to learn how to let ideas go, or yield to an idea from someone else, or how help make a group member’s idea better.

Many of them don’t even understand what a good idea is when they first get here. It’s not because they aren’t smart or because they aren’t creative. It’s because they don’t have any real experience.

This can be a struggle. And some of them get frustrated. But this is the way of the world. There are precious few careers worth having that allow for the lone genius to hide in a dark room and change the world on their own.

This isn’t something that can be learned in a few days or even a few months. It takes time and experimentation. It takes seeing what works and suffering for what doesn’t.

But at the end of it all, at the other end of the program, they are better for it.

Better you, or worse them?

The Brandcenter kicked-off our Friday Forum series last week with Wendy Clark, the recently hired CEO of DDB.

She was really good. Watching her present, it was easy to see why she has been so succesful. She’s clearly playing on another level.

She spoke about the work that DDB is doing, and what it’s been like to take over as CEO there. She also spoke about her time at Coke, including the call she got from Matt Weiner when he wanted to use Hilltop in Mad Men. No spoilers.

She also had some great advice about going through life and career. This bit stuck with me:

“You can be a worse them or a better you.”

This is great advice for anyone in creative business. Advertising in particular is filled with a wide variety of extremely talented people who are broken in their own unique ways.

Trying to mimic someone’s particular and personal genius will only get you so far. The secret lies in finding your own peculiarities and learning how to use them to be the best version of yourself that you can be.

Which is why I like to drink coffee at the gym.

Give it a minute.

From a New York Times interview with Louis CK:


You have the platform. You have the level of recognition.


So why do I have the platform and the recognition?


At this point you’ve put in the time.


There you go. There’s no way around that. There’s people that say: “It’s not fair. You have all that stuff.” I wasn’t born with it. It was a horrible process to get to this. It took me my whole life. If you’re new at this — and by “new at it,” I mean 15 years in, or even 20 — you’re just starting to get traction. Young musicians believe they should be able to throw a band together and be famous, and anything that’s in their way is unfair and evil. What are you, in your 20s, you picked up a guitar? Give it a minute.

This is important.

Blogging is fun again.

Today will mark the 16th consecutive day of posting here. Easily my longest streak. And you know what? It’s fun again.

Each day I post. Each day I feel good about it. Then I look forward to posting again tomorrow.

All of my favorite procrastination techniques have become null and void:

  1. The pressure to Win the Internet is gone. There’s no time to wait around for an industry changing idea to write about. You’d better pick a topic and then figure out how to write about it.

  2. I also can’t spend hours indulging myself with workflows or platforms or fiddling with different notes apps. There’s writing to be done. No matter how ridiculous or small or silly.

  3. When I’m posting to my own site, I only have to worry about what I think. I don’t have to think about algorithms or recommendations or any of the other nonsense that only proves you know how to dress for whichever dinner party you’re attending.

This is all good. Progress! Defying the odds. Sharpening the grey-matter. All of that…

If you can’t play to a small room, analytics can’t save you.

We have never been more easily tracked (think technology provided by the likes of Luth Research and the MANY others.) The wake of data that we leave behind as we work our way through the world has made it easy for large organizations to lump us all into larger buckets of ever-bigger data. Seeing patterns of behavior from that viewpoint makes it possible to incrementally change things to affect that behavior, one way or the other.

But for most of us, big data is much less important. What matters is creating value for small groups of people. If you can’t move a dozen people, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever get to the point where big data will be helpful.

I’ve experienced this as a musician. Getting a room of 5-20 people to transform from individuals to an audience is incredibly difficult.

Emily Haines, the incredible talent that fronts the band Metric, put it really well in an interview (about fashion, of all things):

…the moments I’m most proud of are those first shows where we managed to get 15 people in a random bar to be committed to what’s happening with the music. I know it’s hard for people to imagine that would be the hardest shows we’ve ever played. I’ve played with Lou Reed, I’ve played to tens of thousands of people, I’ve played for the Queen, but nothing is harder than those moments when you have the conviction to play in front of those 15 people and own it.

If you can’t move a few people, it’s going to be hard to move thousands. It might be because of the Herd effect. It’s difficult for people to get on board with anything until they see other people doing it.

Nobody wants to be the first person on the dance floor. It’s not always easy to get a buffet line started. To be the first one to open a beer at a professional event.

But it’s also difficult to get yourself to fully commit in such an intimate setting. It can feel like stepping in front of a firing squad. Your feedback will be instantaneous, and it might be unfiltered. You might feel silly or self-conscious in a way that is much different than standing in front of a large crowd. If you’re in Texas, there might be beer bottles exploding against the chicken wire protecting the stage.

If you are bombing, you’re still committed. You have to finish whatever it is that you set out to do. That follow-through can be incredibly difficult. Especially when things start-off badly.

Learning to read a room is important. Learning to remain committed in the face of a room that may or may not be buying-in is critical. You might have to make adjustments as you are reading the room, but It’s ultimately staying committed that is going to get people to buy in.

It’s scary. People have a hard time doing it. But having the grit to put yourself back in that position again and again is how people learn to master a small room.

It’s how comedians learn to be great. It’s how musicians learn to be great. And it’s how creative people learn to be great.

If you can’t play to a small room, analytics aren’t going to save you.