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Are You Haunted by the Ghosts of Past Successes?

And five questions you need to ask about your creative content.

Written by Peyton Hammed, Art Director

Everyone is an artist. That does not mean that everyone is a skilled artist, but all people, whether they realize it or not, have an innate desire to express their emotions outwardly through creation.

Generally, this artistic sense is crushed out of us in elementary school. In middle school, it’s on life support and, by high school, most people have completely lost their creative courage. Having learned that exposing our inner artists opens us to the possibility of failure, embarrassment, and rejection, we shamelessly declare that “art is not my thing” or “I’m not creative.”

In professional life, this anxiety gets handed over to our good friend, fear of loss of income. This is why the widest-reaching content, the content that resonates and drives the greatest levels of engagement in popular media is conceived, accidentally or intentionally, by the 1% at the very top of their fields or by amateur content creators.

What makes this content so appealing is the fact that people consume quality creative media for the same reasons they go to amusement parks, and it goes beyond entertainment: people want to have an intuitive and novel experience that sparks a sense of spontaneous imagination.

That’s a tall order.

In essence, fear of failure causes us to lose faith in our inner artists. This is detrimental to an organization looking to impact an audience and make change happen.

In this continuously evolving world of digital content, when one loses the courage to move the needle forward, and instead either chooses to or is pressured to regurgitate past successes (leaving the create out of creative), they go from swimming to treading water. And, of course, you can’t swim if you’re anchored to the past.

Thankfully, there is a simple solution. Trust your inner artist. This is easier said than done, (especially when there’s money on the line). But, whether you’re a CMO or a graphic designer, it begins with asking the right questions. This is where you should start:

When you’re evaluating a piece of creative, ask…

  1. Does the message come first?

  2. Why would anyone want to look at this?

  3. What emotions does this evoke, and is that the intended response?

  4. Does this include anything that doesn’t serve the message (read: distractions)?

  5. Is it intuitive? As the saying goes, “good design is obvious, great design is transparent.”

These questions are not so much about the answers as they are a means of getting one to begin looking at creative work from the right angle.

I’ll leave you with an important distinction: allowing past works to inspire new creative is absolutely acceptable. (Stealing like an artist, and I mean that in the vogue sense, is a vital skill to master; it is important to do it in a purposeful and respectful way).

But it is when we allow ourselves to become haunted by the ghosts of past successes that a creative department starts to look a lot less like a magic kingdom and a lot more like a haunted house.

Look at every project with new eyes, leaning into emerging trends and using the past as a history book rather than a roadmap. If you do this, even though you will fail at times, you will learn, grow, and outswim the competition.

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