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July 7, 2011
Too Much Pressure Blows Creative Tires
Does creativity thrive under pressure or under ideal circumstances?
I read once that Steve Jobs, during the early '80s when the first Mac computer was being developed, would occasionally walk up to a programmer's cubicle late at night and say, "This sucks!" It didn't matter what that person was working on, or for how long they'd been working on it. And whether it was to motivate, intimidate, or both, I'm not sure. But that sort of technique isn't guaranteed to work on everyone. 

Similarly, in the subjective world of advertising and marketing, there's more than one way to manage people.

Creative people are odd. That’s no big secret. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that every creative person has a different way of getting motivated. And every agency has a different set of expectations and methods for getting the most out of its people.
So what’s the best way to motivate someone: Encouragement? Fear? A combination of the two?
Some people think that being uncomfortable is a motivator. Or that employees need to be kept off-kilter to be productive. That’s a common management style in many ad agencies and marketing firms.
It’s true that you can be motivated by fear — a fear of failure, of getting fired, of presenting bad work that’ll get you laughed out of a room. But I’m not sure that motivation out of fear is the optimal way of getting the best work out of people.
So in order to understand the genesis of that fear, we have to look at the state of the advertising business these days, which is a constant state of pressure.
Any busy agency today is in a state of chaos. Projects starting, ending, in various states of presentation or revision, emails flying at all hours. It's hard not to feel pressure these days. Clients put it on agency management, who in turn put it on their workers.
Pressure can also, of course, be internal. Quite a number of creative people, myself included, put pressure on themselves to make things happen. And it’s true that deadlines do put pressure to come up with solutions, unless you fret about the fact that you have a deadline rather than doing the work to meet it.
Ultimately, however, too much pressure is destructive. Creative people (and all people, no matter what role they play) need to feel open and free to let ideas in. Pressure can cut off the flow of creativity, or in tire terms, force a blowout.
In a knowledge economy, we live in a world of mental inputs and outputs. I worry that our balance is disrupted by the fact that more information, rather than experience, serves as the input. What we really need are more visceral experiences to better understand and communicate with our audience. It's often why the best ideas don't come to you while you're sitting in front of a computer. But too many agencies demand bodies in seats, behind screens, at all times. The appearance of busy-ness trumps the pursuit of differentiated thinking. And there, as a byproduct, the pressure builds.
What’s your coping mechanism? Exercise, massages, mass quantities of alcohol? Or does pressure motivate you to pursue better concepts and ideas?

Everyone’s got a different maximum pressure level. I’d love to know what it is that keeps you running steady. 

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Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small. 

Visit his copywriting websitesee his LinkedIn profile or follow him on Twitter.

And please, buy his book for 99 cents.


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