Creative Integrity & The Challenge Working With Others

Sometimes I don’t work well with other people. Maybe it’s my creative personality or maybe I’m just an asshole.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Sometimes I don’t work well with other people. Maybe it’s my creative personality, or perhaps I’m just an asshole.

Welcome to The Reflectionist, a daily dose of reflection on the nature of the self, personal reality, creativity, life and work, submitted to the public record for posterity. Read personal essays and articles on the psychology of creativity to help you nurture and broaden your creative prowess.

When I lead an important project, the result and the route to that result is not necessarily clear to me. Regardless, my intention is one hundred per cent focused on finding it.

I am committed to producing the best result I can, whatever that looks like, and if others are with me then great, they simply need to be up to speed.

Alone or with a team, not everything I start achieves a good result or even gets finished at all, because skill and experience will play a part. As such, I might not always have what it takes, and I recognise that. I’m human, and some things don’t work out.

However, when I pick the right project, I’m going all in.

Burn the boats!

If I am serious and focused on a piece of work, you’ll know it. Anything less than the feeling accompanied by focus just doesn’t produce good results. When the feeling is right, I am drawn in; I want to go there.

But there is a downside.

In the interim between start and finish, I can become quite impatient, irritable, and often blunt with others who are not up to speed. I try to hold back but I usually can’t. As you can imagine then, there is a tendency at times to get under people’s skin, make them uncomfortable, frustrated, upset or even angry.

Yeah, perhaps not a great work environment, but I can’t work successfully with others who are not plugged in, engaged and willing to go to work. I can forgive lack of skill, but I can’t stand lack of application.

So my occasionally abrasive approach has caused me problems. And although inside my skull is not a pleasant place to be at these times, I’ll take it above the monotony of trading hours for cash.

I won’t go where they are. I won’t compromise and resign myself to mediocre.

For all my faults, I’m glad I’m me.

It has been this way for me forever; in sport, in work and even at home washing the dishes. My wife calls me a perfectionist, and I must admit, I take some pride in that label. I realise I can never get it perfect, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t go in that direction with all my conviction.

It’s different with family than with non-family. I can walk away from my teammates and work colleagues, but I can’t walk away from family, so at home, I’ve had to recalibrate.

It doesn’t always work, but I’ve gotten better.

It’s a particular challenge when my young sons come working with me. They are at that age now, where I can begin to introduce them to my work and the standards I set for myself.

It’s enjoyable for me to do so, and it allows me to bond with them in such a way that I cannot otherwise do. There is something special about father and son working together, and I hope that I can pass on to them my work ethic — that’s my only wish.

They are eager to spend time with me also, and of course, earn a few quid in the process. And even if the work will not be on their particular career path, they should reap a long-term benefit.

If I’m honest, I’d prefer they decide what they want to do rather than follow me.

Irrespective of their career, I have encouraged them from an early age to go where they are drawn, to follow their curiosity. I told the boys no to worry about money, that money will follow.

I tell them; if it’s not a YES!, then it’s a no. I think that’s a good philosophy.

So as they work along with me, I am conscious that they are very young and not yet emotionally mature — they are children. I need to be careful that I explain the thrust and purpose of my insistence on standards in such a way that they feel encouraged, not criticised. But I also want them to feel uncomfortable sometimes.

I think that’s very important.

Too many kids these days, millennials, are too soft around the belly, in my opinion. They have not been stimulated by sufficient challenge. They don’t know what it’s like to have to think laterally and find solutions. They’d rather immerse themselves in Instagram and read inspirational stories from Gary-fucking-Vaynerchuk about how they can dominate social media and become famous.

Not to go off on a tangent here, but life is not about launching startups, becoming an influencer and selling an online course on how to be successful. I realise I’m generalising here, but this is what I see.

Parents; please stimulate and challenge your kids. Don’t support them so much that they become weak and incapable. Push them around a bit like the wind pushes trees around because if you don’t, they won’t be worth a damn to themselves or anyone else when things get complicated.

So, back on track.

Offering my kids balance is not always something I get right, but between Joanne and I, I think we’re doing ok.

With adults, however, outside an agreed teacher/student situation, I’m not so forgiving. I take it for granted adults already have what it takes, and if they don’t, things generally don’t remain pretty for long.

We’re working now, and I want focus.

The Misunderstood Artistic Temperament

The standards I set for myself are high, and I expect others I work with, sometimes unfairly it can be said, to meet me there. I say unfairly because not everyone is at the stage where they can move up to where I am.

I know that sounds arrogant, but it’s true. It’s true of me too. The work is never finished, you see, and never will be, but that doesn’t mean we should settle for lower standards than we are capable of achieving.

One of the most significant challenges of the creative mind is that we always push ourselves beyond the sameness and mediocrity that most of society lives and promotes. It is this continued pursuit of complexity that drives the evolution of art, science, sport and humanity as a whole. So if you and I do not always push ourselves, life becomes stagnant and unfulfilling.

Too many people in the world live like this.

It’s a repetitive cycle of mediocrity and dissatisfying work devoid of challenges. Shortcuts are what they’re after, and short-term gratification is their only destination.

As these people look at you and me, they often misinterpret what drives us. They grossly misunderstand you and me.

In their need to have our attention and compliance, often see the creative temperament as rude and unsociable, but that’s not what’s going on.

The Truth Behind The Creative Temperament

In the book; Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery & Invention, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi claims that attention is a limited resource. He suggests that we cannot devote ourselves to more than one domain of knowledge sufficiently to obtain an expert level of execution.

In other words, multitasking is for dopes.

He also suggests, that as society evolves to more complex levels, generalised knowledge is less favoured than specialised knowledge. Therefore, an advantage is to be gained by specialising.

But as the author points out, there is a sacrifice for you and me in this pursuit. Here’s an extract;

Another consequence of limited attention is that creative individuals are often considered odd — or even arrogant, selfish, and ruthless. It is important to keep in mind that these are not traits of creative people, but traits that the rest of us attribute to them on the basis of our perceptions. When we meet a person who focuses all of his attention on physics or music and ignores us and forgets our names, we call that person “arrogant” even though he may be extremely humble and friendly if he could only spare attention from his pursuit. If that person is so taken with his domain that he fails to take our wishes into account we call him “insensitive” or “selfish” even though such attitudes are far from his mind.

Similarly, if he pursues his work regardless of other people’s plans, we call him “ruthless.” Yet it is practically impossible to learn a domain deeply enough to make a change in it without dedicating all of one’s attention to it and thereby appearing to be arrogant, selfish, and ruthless to those who believe they have a right to the creative person’s attention. In fact, creative people are neither single-minded, specialized, nor selfish. Indeed, they seem to be the opposite: They love to make connections with adjacent areas of knowledge. They tend to be — in principle — caring and sensitive. Yet the demands of their role inevitably push them toward specialization and selfishness. Of the many paradoxes of creativity, this is perhaps the most difficult to avoid.

Excerpt from Creativity, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Now, that might seem like a cheap excuse for being an asshole, but I don’t believe it is. I’m not inherently an asshole; I wasn’t born an asshole — few people are. I appear that way to you because you expect one thing form me and I give you the apparent opposite. That’s all.

The behaviour of a narcissist is somewhat different in that they want to exploit you for their personal benefit and couldn’t give a flying monkey shit how you feel or what you think about them.

That’s not the case with an introverted creative personality. I want the pleasure of immersion in the work, and I can’t stand it when I am slowed down or kept from that.

Moving Up A Level or Moving Down A Level

When we are new to a field of endeavour, we are miles off a competent level of performance.

A newcomer can’t take a quantum leap to competency in a short time, and it’s improper that we, the experienced ones, should expect that of them. It is especially applicable where we teach children.

Metaphorically speaking, it is only possible for someone to reach a given level in a new task that the length of their arm with a moderate stretch will allow them without falling over trying.

We don’t want them to fall over; we want to reach that next level.

And so in this, it is a case of speed of thought and execution and the degree to which we are willing to forgive the novice their inadequacy — assuming they are eager to learn that is.

If the people we find ourselves working with are not up to our pace, we have a choice to make; we either slow down to their level and accept a lower standard, or we insist that they come up to ours.

It is in making this decision there rises a creative challenge.

Finally…

Taking the above into account, I accept that the novice needs space to learn, but that does not mean the teacher does not push them to their limit. There must be some stress in that growth, and I see it as our responsibility to provide that stressful stimulus to those who want to learn from us.

Confrontations occur where the learner does not want to learn or where others we’re working with are set in ways that produce lesser results than we are unwilling to accept.

It is at this point my intolerance becomes palpable.

I believe that creative people like you and me must be willing to accept this challenge; otherwise, we are better suited to working alone.

And that’s ok.

Whatever work we decide to do and whether or not we work alone, we must maintain creative integrity. Otherwise, our work becomes compromised and diluted.

Thanks for taking the time to read my stuff. Every morning you’ll find me sharing a new thought on life, art, work, creativity, the self and the nature of reality on The Reflectionist. I also write on The Creative Mind. If you like what I’m creating, join my email list to receive the weekly Sunday Letters

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