For Creative Artists It's Sink or Swim, Just the Way I like It

Author: Steve Sturges
Posted: Mar 16, 2016

Topics: Creativity

I don't think I'm the best manager of people. It's not the "leading by example" part that I struggle with, or the teaching aspect that holds me back. I enjoy both of those things. It's the "labeling", "categorizing" and "establishing policies and procedures" part that hangs me up. Most creative people aren’t big fans of those things. I'm no exception. Oh, I know they serve a purpose. It’s probably a good thing that someone else handles those details. I'm more of a "throw them in the deep-end of the pool" type leader.


I suppose this is more of a leadership style than managerial process. Either way, I think it's important to see if people can survive, especially those who want to survive in a creative profession. I think that every artist secretly questions his/her own ability. Constantly. Full disclosure: that never really ends. The deep-end of the pool reveals the truth about our ability and challenges our desire to succeed by simply staying afloat. You either grow gills or paddle like mad.

The pool metaphor is particularly poignant for me. When I was 4 years old, I was racing these tiny wooden sail ships with my brother while standing beside my grandmother's pool. I reached to grab my boat and "help" it along, when I slipped and fell into the deep-end. I wish I could tell you that I struggled mightily and managed to stay afloat. Instead, I sunk to the drain like a stone. My brother just stood there for a moment, shocked I suppose (or maybe he was just trying to punish me for cheating). After a few moments passed, he ran and got my dad who dove in and retrieved his water-logged son. The memory of the rest of the day remains sketchy for me. I do recall mom hugging me tight that very night as she put me to bed. I was wearing footy pajamas.

My first time in the deep-end, I sunk like a stone. Most do. Funny thing, but after that event, the deep-end didn't seem so daunting. I had survived, even if I needed someone else’s help to do so. Being creative means taking risks. It means jumping in places where you’ve never been. And I do mean jump. Easing yourself in the water is lousy way to learn how to swim. It’s also important to trust others around you. It’s easy to find yourself in unfamiliar territory, where your idea starts to sink. Others can breathe new life into a concept, even make it float.

New people very often crave the opportunity to show why they belong. So I throw them right in. They're perspective (or lack thereof) and eagerness at meetings/brainstorms/tasks almost always offers surprises (and some laughs). For the more seasoned creatives, insight from an eager and untested artist is often enlightening and refreshing. These days, I find the deep-end to be a place that I enjoy visiting. I’m never too old to drown, but I’ve taught myself how to survive and even have fun. New hires love the thrill and covet a chance to prove themselves. Seasoned pros enjoy the challenge. No one ever masters the deep-end.

When it comes to idea generation, don’t think about it. Just jump. Don’t worry if you don’t stay afloat long. Just make sure there’s someone close by to save you when you sink . And then, next time, try a cannonball…

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