We’ve all heard that you’re only as good as your last idea. But are you?
This belief has been something I’ve always held onto over my few years in this industry, but I’ve started to think that this is actually something that holds us back instead of holding us to a higher standard.
‘You’re only as good as your last x’ is often used as a motivational mantra, it’s meant to get us to work harder, surpass our past selves, never settle for ‘enough’, but the thing is, if your job is to come up with ideas, this way of thinking doesn’t work.
In order to encourage a culture of creativity, you can’t simply shout at people to be ‘better’, to do ‘more’. Of course, more and better are also completely subjective, but also, creativity requires space.
Space to try, to push, to stop, to breathe, to talk freely, to come up with good, mediocre and even bad ideas.
Some of this internal perfectionism is, in part, fuelled by our industry’s obsession with awards.
Awards are great.
They show us the best work out there, they show us what’s possible and give us something to aim for.
But what they don’t show us is the years of hard work, discarded ideas, discussions, team effort, and client buy-in it takes to just get that one idea off the ground.
Ideas don’t appear, heaven-sent, fully formed from the brain of one individual.
It can be easy to forget that when scrolling through LinkedIn looking at the endless winning ideas you wish you came up with yourself.
Research has shown that those who create quantity, deliver quality.
By allowing ourselves to create more, we will all get better at what we do, and this applies to creativity too. We all know that ‘practice makes perfect’ but in our industry, we can often jump to wanting to deliver perfection without allowing ourselves to practice.
Take Picasso. He reportedly created over 50,000 works during his lifetime. Were they all good?
Some of them were probably a bit average, a lot of works probably ended up in the bin, or were painted over to become another, better piece.
If we took a drawing at random from Picasso’s collection, we wouldn’t revere it as a singular entity, or say he was only as good as that sketch. We revere his entire career, his best work, the ones that made it to the top of the pile.
Going into the creative process aiming for just the best ideas, the ones at the very top of the tree, means you’re unlikely to get there.
This is because you need all of the ideas you discarded, the thoughts, tangents, ‘we could never do THAT’ moments to act as stepping stones that get you there. And even when you have come up with the spark of a good idea, it takes a lot more craft to make it great.
Giving creativity space takes time, something we don’t always have the luxury of.
But if we stop treating the creative process as linear (input brief, output ideas) we can work towards a more balanced approach.
Creativity needs curiosity, and curiosity can’t exist in a vacuum.
We need to give ourselves the time to ask the right questions (and the wrong ones) and just do things because we think they’re interesting. There shouldn’t be an expectation that a 2-hour brainstorm will deliver creative gold.
So, no you’re not only as good as your last idea.
You’re as good as your best ideas.
And the best ideas can’t happen without all the messy bits that get you there.