The Slow Race To The Top

How to be a creative person in business and make it a success

image of a musician on stage with dry ice around for article by Larry G. Maguire

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

How to be a creative person in business and make it a success

At 25, I was naive. I thought I needed to have the lowest rate and work faster to get ahead. The truth was that positioning myself cheaper, or at best at the same price as everyone else, meant I was drifting further and further behind.

That’s one of the dangers when we start out.

Another is thinking that we need to sacrifice our sense of integrity and become businesslike in our work. I refused to do it. I thought to forego my understanding of what was right and proper for the sake of money was a despicable move — I still believe this.

So in the early days, the compound effect of these two beliefs was that I did the best job I could, often better than most, but didn’t charge enough.

Without education to the contrary, people like you and me who are skilled in a particular field, obsessed with the technicalities of the work, misunderstand the fundamentals necessary to succeed in the competitive world of business.

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Now, I have complete admiration and respect for creative people who become self-employed. But if we are going to make that move to creative business person, we need to become equipped with particular smarts.

Despite popular thinking, these smarts don’t consist of being cheap and employing nasty means of winning attention. We don’t need to sacrifice our sense of creative integrity to turn our creative work into a successful business. And we don’t need to employ clever and perhaps underhanded marketing tactics.

That’s akin to slaughtering the golden goose.

This is what most everyone else does, and it’s a race to the bottom. So we need to choose differently if we are to win trust and loyalty and make a decent living.

“The race for cheap, unearned attention is a race that can’t be won. As soon as someone gains the lead, someone else will lower their standards and take a shortcut to get even more. The players have already surrendered their self-esteem so it’s simply and escalation hijack of trust” — Seth Godin, Author & Entrepreneur

We live in the information age where businesses, charities, sports teams, schools, churches and every organisation under the sun is vying for our attention. Without it, they can’t survive.

As such, marketing departments will go to great lengths to get your eyes and ears on their stuff. More often than not, this means they’ll take shortcuts just to get a lead or a sale. They are prepared to sacrifice your custom in the long-term to make a short-term sale.

They are motivated to make a profit this month for their shareholders. It seems they don’t care about next month or next year because they have a monopoly — there’s always another buyer.

R. Buckminster Fuller called this mode of thought a preoccupation with intercompetitive survival and claimed it is based on the working assumption of a fundamental inadequacy of life support on our planet.

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You and I can’t afford to think this way, and long-term they can’t either. Ultimately, this race to the bottom mentality will lead to our ultimate demise. As Seth Godin suggests, the alternative is pretty clear — we must engage in a race to the top.

The race to the top starts with a business of one, operated by an individual primarily focused on making things, goods or services, for the inherent enjoyment obtained from it.

Now, we’ve got to be careful here. Because there is the immediate risk of our minds jumping to the fallacy that we must put the buyer, reader, listener, customer, first. This idea suggests that we must first find out what people want, then design our work around that.

There’s a certain degree of truth to this; however, we can become lost if we don’t understand it. For the creative bent on creating art, they must be focused first and foremost on the art — not money or what other people want. Making money, fulling needs in others must come about as a consequence, not a precondition.

Irish singer-songwriter Harry Hoban explains his take on this premise.

“You know, I get asked a lot, are you making any money outta that? You know, people think that’s the dream, and you know, it just couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s definitely about the song. If my song is respected, and listened to and enjoyed by people, that’s the dream. I feel I’m not being true to myself, I’m not being true to the song or the writing if I care too much, or care at all about the listener. It’s nice if somebody likes your song, but to try and please them is kind of the enemy of thought for me. I don’t consider the listener…the listener doesn’t come into it, until after. — Harry Hoban, Songwriter.

Harry’s account of the songwriting process is an excellent example of this mode of thought at work. Of course, the customer, the buyer of the art comes into it, but as Harry suggests, it’s secondary to the primary work.

This primary work of creating art is where the race to the top starts.

Psychotherapist Abraham H. Maslow in his description of peak experience referred to Purposeless Creativity, the space where creativity can be expressed without premeditation and self-consciousness. He says with a lack of ego-led sense of self; there can be more significant improvisation and self-expression in its purest form.

So this must be the starting point.

Our challenge as creative people in business then, is to let go of preconceived ideas of what constitutes value and first and foremost, make for its own sake.

Make in small quantities, make it slow, and make it your best work. Serve a small number of people and do it well. These are the base components of a successful creative business and they are the ones that elevate.

Anything else is a poor substitute and is a race to the bottom.

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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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