On Killing Your Darlings.
The Creative Professionals [Edition #1]
There’s a fairly common exercise in design school: put your heart and soul into a project, identify the strongest or most compelling element of the piece, then remove it.
As a creative, it can be really easy to fall into complacency. After all, the single biggest quality that separates a professional from an amateur is the ability to clock in and make something you’re proud of (or at least comfortable shipping) every single day. Having go-to techniques, creative heuristics, help make it so every project isn’t starting from scratch. In the words of Chuck Close:
“Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.”
There is a point, though, at which a go-to tool in your intellectual toolbox becomes a crutch. And I hate to break it to you, but the processes, style, and methods that you think make you a good creative today are likely the things that will hold you back tomorrow.
You don’t have to spend too much time on Instagram before you start running into photographers with a 50k+ following whose entire body of work is of the same subject, shot from the same angle, with the same lens, and processed the same way or a designer who seems to exclusively rip off what Supreme was doing a couple years ago. These folks have built a fairly substantial following by delivering the same product with rigid, unwavering consistency every day—good for them—but would fall flat if a client asked for deviation from their trademark formula.
To be a competent creative in the most generous of terms is to grow as the industry grows, to stay up to date on the zeitgeist. To be an industry leading creative is to be a force pushing the form forward, to bend it to your will, and engage in a truly meaningful conversation. You’re not going to do that by locking down a secret sauce as a 20-year-old and vowing to never deviate because it’s what your followers have grown to want.
Kill your darlings. Challenge yourself. Take the thing about your process that you’re most comfortable with and turn it on its head. Photographers: change your lighting. Musicians: change your arrangements. Designers: change your type kit. Work with new pallets, discover new methods, push yourself forward. Paradoxically, removing the quality of a work that you felt was strongest may weaken the work on a micro level or from the perspective of an individual piece while yielding dramatic changes to the body of work over time.
Innovation was never born from repose—it’s a product of strife, of something to push against, of something to rebel against.
Like what you read? Head on over to thecreativeprofessionals.com to sign up for our weekly newsletter for, you guessed it, creative professionals. It’s free.
Until next time,