I end each of my Saturday stories with two words of encouragement. Stay creative. Why? Because your creativity is under attack. Tell me you don’t feel it. It takes tremendous determination to defend your best ideas day after day. Isn’t it tempting to take the easy path, to accept mediocrity, to produce work that is safe, approvable, and forgettable? Is it forgivable to buckle within the wind tunnel?
The hardest place to stay creative that I ever experienced was a company in the medical device industry. You would be amazed how much resistance a toothbrush has to overcome to make it to the marketplace. How closely does the following scene mirror the attack your creativity is enduring?
Friday at the Umbrella Corporation was review day. Ten soldiers filed wordlessly into a stuffy conference room. Supposedly we were all on the same team. Theoretically, we all had the best interests of the company in mind. But the truth is it was war. Each of us was a chosen representative from our tribe and we attended these meetings to strike each other down.
Regulatory. Legal. Marketing. Engineering. Product. Design. The wildcard CFO. The door would close. Attendance would be taken. Then the grenades would fly.
We debated the legal implications of claiming our toothbrush had 4,576 bristles.
We estimated the financial risks associated with headlines.
We scrutinized the ugly tiny labels hidden on products that protect companies from lawsuits.
We grappled with arcane regulatory nuances buried in dusty binders.
We argued about every comma and semicolon.
But the joy, the brief moments of ecstasy, the climax of our meetings came when someone found a typo. Oh, the glee!
Ding, ding, ding. We have a winner.
Our CFO kept a tally of every typo and the person who spotted them. Each checkmark by your name corresponded to the award of a donut. It was supposed to be a motivation for us to proofread the dense pages of disclaimers that accompanied every product. It worked. Bribe someone with a donut and you can inspire more passion for grammar that you can find in entire English departments.
Every week I entered with a stack of designs ready to be produced. If I was lucky, one or two items would survive the gauntlet blessed with the precious approval of the committee. All it took was a minor error, one donut-worthy quibble, to send me back to the drawing board.
Have you been there? Your best work reduced to rubble? Your art destroyed because it couldn’t withstand the opposition’s craving for donuts? Take hope, my friend. You are not alone. Stay creative.
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