Articles

Growing Your Company

Curing What Ails Us
By David C. Baker, principal of creative-business consultancy ReCourses, Inc. and co-presenter of the Mind Your Own Business Conference

I've had the privilege of working with hundreds of design firms and ad agencies over the years. It's stimulating to be around their energy, creativity, independence, humor and "otherness." While many people might consider you folks strange, I think you're passionate.

And a little confused, too. That's because I think you're looking for the wrong things from your job. Let's face it: You only have clients because you haven't yet figured out how to do your work without them. You live for your work and crave the outlet it provides for your creativity.

In your ideal scenario, it wouldn't matter that a design project has to meet specific business criteria or be finished by a certain date. Instead, you'd be an artist, lavishly supported by a patron so you'd be free to create, without regard to practicality and usefulness. But you are NOT an artist. That's not your job. Your job is to apply an unbelievably valuable skill to business problems. Businesses desperately need your creativity, but you're only a tool to help them market their product or service. The world is not about design. These businesses are not your benefactors. And they don't want to spend a single dollar more than they have to merely to be "design sensitive."

Each of you would nod your head and agree with this perspective on design's role. But after you finish reading this, you'll go right back to the endless chase for creative stimulation. Is that bad? After all, what's wrong with a stimulating job, especially if you get rich in the process?

That's a good question, but there are several reasons why it's dangerous to expect too much creative stimulation from your work. For one, your quest for creative stimulation often leads you to make poor business decisions, choosing projects or, worse, clients simply because they sound like fun. And it often leads to burnout, as you expend time and money chasing design solutions that "hit" you personally.

Remember what you used to do for creative stimulation outside your current vocation? Maybe it was flying, photography, painting, travel, reading or surfing. Whatever it was, you'd have a much healthier business and personal life if you separated the two.

Of course, there's no future whatsoever in a job that you don't enjoy. But demanding that your job be enjoyable, and then making decisions to protect that aspect of it, may very well backfire. Sometimes hard work that's just good, honest, grinding hard work is good for the soul. It teaches us discipline, appropriateness and measured contribution. Best of all, it can fund a very fun personal life apart from work. Isn't it time for you to treat your business more like a business and your personal life more like something you'd never trade for anything?

Reprinted with permission from HOW June 2005; www.howdesign.com