The Art of Being Too Creative For Your Own Good

Why leaving the artistic rat race behind was the best thing for my career

There is a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt that goes like this: “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” I think the key to becoming a better creative would be to amend the quote as follows: “Great creatives are inspired by ideas; average creatives are inspired by tools; small creatives are inspired by people.”

The true nature of ‘being a creative’ is found in immersing yourself in humanity — in culture, politics, science, sociology; the things that impact us as people, as individuals. The things that really move us.

From my experience, creatives are too close to their industry — they are constantly on top of the latest trends and tools, they seek approval from their peers, often other creatives.

They think this is the path to inspiration, the way to becoming a better writer or designer, when in reality it cultivates groupthink, tunnel vision, and more often than not it causes us to close ourselves to those ideas which may prove contradictory to our own creativity.

If the person has become more important than the idea, that is the first sign of trouble.

Is a certain artist your favorite because of their art? Or is the art your favorite because of the artist?

If your answer is the latter you are in danger of being a small creative. Here is how I escaped this dangerous trap.

My Reason

I write for myself.

That’s it. Different businesses call it different things: your ‘why’, your motivation, what have you. A few will say some reasons are better than others, but in the end if you’re not writing for yourself, you’ll never make it to where you want to go. It doesn’t have to be a big reason (i.e. having your article featured online), but if it’s anyone’s reason besides your own, it just won’t fit.

My Medium

My medium, or my brush, is more a long list of things to avoid, or bad brushes.

I stay away from the trending design challenges, or challenges on creating the perfect grid, or the latest prototyping tool that will “change the way you think about design” because, well… I find them boring. I could find notoriety by having the best solution, but I’d just be one among a million others all writing about things we don’t care about.

Why bear the burden of being a creative if I’m not even going to write about things I enjoy?

New tools and techniques are important, but they don’t make you a better creative. If you have created something incredible with a new tool, your focus should be on what you achieved, not on what buttons you pressed to achieve it.

The old adage “Cameras don’t take good pictures, photographers do” holds just as true for writers and designers.

My Paint

As creative, we naturally create bubbles for ourselves–we attend creative conferences with other creatives, read books and blogs on design–the bottom line is that we narrow our view.

We’re human, after all; it is natural. We avoid ideas or beliefs that are contradictory to our own–it makes us feel comfortable, even successful, but it creates an inspirational trap.

In truth, however, nobody has figured it out (including me) so I personally don’t put a lot of stock in design books or blogs. Theirs is only one in a sea of opinions and professional advice.

I do try to stay current on the trends, the new styles, but far enough away to avoid being biased by them. I’m a creative because I believe my way of doing things is new, unique, and important, why would I want to try to be like everyone else, then?

I became a better creative by looking beyond my own field. Just because I may be right, does not mean that you, or experts in other fields, are wrong.

From what I’ve seen, the great creatives are able to collect the best parts of other aspects of life, other businesses, and connect those dots into something new and beautiful–once they accomplish this, design as a skill just provides the tools and framework for their ideas–the instruments that allow them to make sense of the information they collected.

The idea guides the brush, the brush does not guide the idea.

My Key

In the end, the key to becoming a better creative is becoming a better human. While this may sound cheesy, it’s the secret that the most successful creatives understand: filmmakers, authors and designers alike.

As humans we seek to connect with others on a personal level, we want to relate to what we watch, listen to, or read.

By drawing from a personal reason, creating something I care about, and drawing inspiration from real sources of life, I can create something imbued with feeling. We face all manner of obstacles during our design process as creatives, but all our work will eventually cater to us at a human level, regardless of the aspect ratio, the colors, the style of the work.

And if we can’t overcome the obstacle of being human in our art, then no tool, no technique, no process, will be able fix it.


Jonathan Speh is an award-winning designer and Art Director at Idea Booth, a creative think tank specializing in disruptive ideas.

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