Slow ideas for creative success

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A few weeks ago I conducted a survey of more than 150 creative professionals to see what it takes to succeed as a creative today.

There were a lot of interesting insights (which I’ll be publishing here in a few days), but one of the most insightful things that came as a result of the survey was also one of the most obvious.

Creative success takes hard work, often one small step at a time.

Of the total 150+ people who took the survey, 53% (or 81 of them) said that hard work was the sole reason they achieved any level of creativity. Of the people who reported that they were highly successful (as opposed to moderately, slightly, or not at all), 43% attributed their high success to hard work. Only one person reported that their success came from Jesus.

Too often – particularly for creatives – we tie ourselves around a single idea, our next project or our updated portfolio, as the one last thing that will finally make or break our career.

But creative ideas don’t flourish like that.

There hasn’t (as far as I know) ever been idea that was thought-up and immediately made a wide success. Not even close.

It took Edison decades of ideation to come up with a few that stuck. Picasso was largely a failure before he ever turned into a household name, and even that came only long after his death.

Success of your ideas comes one step at a time, after they’ve been vetted, crafted, re-worked, shared, consumed, and then re-worked again.

Seth Godin explains this in his example of how to build a great company, “step by step… inch by inch

“Here’s the point of gradual: You don’t win an Olympic gold medal with a few weeks of intensive training. There’s no such thing as an overnight opera sensation. Great law firms or design companies don’t spring up overnight, like rock supergroups that decide to get together one weekend… We need to stop shopping for lightning bolts. ”


If you’re looking to be successful as a creative, look at what your stepping stones are. Are you creating enough of them, or are your relying too much on one big boulder to get you across?

Photo by Lindz Graham.