Why the creative industry needs fewer egos and more honesty
Honesty is the best policy – most people would uphold that principle, right? But in reality no one really wants to be that person do they? No one wants to be truly honest at the risk of putting themselves in that uncomfortable situation of becoming vulnerable; of challenging the status quo or being too transparent. No one wants to speak with a shaky voice, right? Most people, of course, will only present their successes publicly despite perhaps a string of failures. But although people admire vulnerability from a distance, they also might judge someone less competent. After all, do we trust a company that openly speaks of failure? Perhaps we all want to work with those as close to perfection as possible. Perhaps we seek out the people who come across as experts - who talk the talk and have all the bravado to go with it. Perhaps We opt for confidence and, well, ultimately, someone who speaks bullsh*t over someone who doesn't.
But is there a benefit to working with people who seem a little more 'human'? Who have a story and invite you in on a dialogue or a journey?
I was recently introduced to the Dunning-Kruger effect. What's that I hear you ask? Basically the more ignorant you are in your field of work, the more likely you are to present yourself as an expert. Get that? The people with all the best talk probably have no substance. It's interesting - of course we all want the doctor who give us a diagnosis over the one who questions his findings, but the one who questions may in fact be more trustworthy and knowledgeable and we may in fact be in safer hands.
The problem in the creative industry is that everything is open to interpretation. People like to know about your processes and why you thought of 'that idea' or why you chose that concept over another. But ultimately the design needs to be functional - who cares that the logo is a clever idea if it doesn't sell products or services? The problem is that creative work is often up for more scrutiny and criticism - most people wouldn't question a plumber if he fixes a boiler, but a graphic designer will be questioned if a design doesn't fit someone's taste, even if it functions well. So it's no wonder that creatives often fall into extreme categories: some showing a distinct lack of confidence and others that have grown a thick skin which often presents as extreme arrogance. Those lacking in confidence may fall by the wayside, despite having equal capabilities, leaving the industry with a lot of people who have simply learnt to bullsh*t.
Of course, this isn't true of everyone, I've worked with and connected with loads of perfectly lovely and personable people in this industry, but there still seems to be an elitism that lingers - a judgement of creative agencies or freelancers who haven't won enough awards or who don't have hipster beards (it wouldn't suit me, trust me). Every time a new brand identity is revealed it's under the scrutiny of every other designer who thinks they're the 'expert', as opposed to just accepting that sometimes ideas that aren't mindblowingly clever or beautiful can still be funtional and valid.
And this problem is by no means limited to the creative industry. I'm sure we've all been on the receiving end of someone who speaks in unhelpful business jargon in order to feel self-important. But if a client talks to me in business speak that's alien to me does that make me less capable at what I do? No. But I do need to politely ask them to explain what they mean and not pretend I know what they're talking about. Do I speak back with the same patter to make them think I am oh-so-knowledgable/brainy/highbrow? Or do I seek to fully question in order to gain full understanding and make sure the outcome fulfils the brief in the most effective way possible? (Or do I just grow a hipster beard?).
There is value in being more honest and true to ourselves - yes, a little more vulnerable, even. I'm not suggesting that we all start being ridiculously open about ourselves or our businesses publicly just for the sake of being honest – there is such a thing as too much information and it would be unwise to share everything with everyone – but there is also something to be said for those that question the way they do business and are seeking to evolve; for those that are upfront and honest with clients about how to take a job forward; for those that change their mind; for those who refuse to bullsh*t. And of course clients want professionalism and consistency, but if on the odd occasion a job doesn't go according to plan, I would rather be open and discuss with the client about how I intend to turn the situation around instead of convincing them that my original idea was the best thing since sliced bread. I would rather be open to challenges than portray that I am an expert that cannot be reckoned with. You can still be confident in your skill set and show an element of 'vulnerability' or 'honesty'. You can adapt and change in order to be better at what you do. I value vulnerability over arrogance.
In the past people advised me not to be so honest and that I should, in some way, put on a front that I am as close to perfection as possible in order to get business. I tried this. I failed. Because, guess what? I'm not perfect. And when you work for yourself you have no one to hide behind and No one else to blame. The biggest lesson I have learnt since working for myself is that people do business with people who are true to themselves. The more I've been honest with myself and my clients the more successful I have been. Perhaps the true art, then, is not just in being honest, but in learning to tell the truth without your voice even shaking because you're perfectly at ease about doing so.