Most creative people I know have always made things. Making something — art, music, dinner — fulfills a deeply innate need inside of us. Instagram is full of “I made this!” photos of afghans, snowmen, babies and other things we are proud to have made. By the time we turn that creative urge into a career, we suddenly realize that making things for a living isn’t always as fulfilling as it once was. Now making things involves other people. And it involves money. People and money can botch up any creative project, so we need to look at the real motivation for our creations so we can be clear about why we are making what we make.
Many of you are familiar with the old trope to clients: “Do you want it good, fast or cheap? Pick two.” While often realistic, it’s a crappy choice for clients. Clients always want all three and they don’t want to start a project having to sacrifice. And it’s a crappy question for us to ask our clients because it puts the buyer in the driver seat. As creators, we have so many ways to make things, solve problems and see possibilities that these parameters derail us from our creative process. Choosing between good, fast and cheap skews our work away from our motivations and puts us in the awkward position of fitting what we do into a model that has little to do with why we do what we do.
Instead, I focus on the project as a whole. When I learn about where a client is coming from and what they have to work with, including their time and money considerations, I can start to craft a vision of how I’d like to work with them. Then I use my own criteria for projects and clients to envision what and how to create.
I can’t remember who came up with these criteria originally, but they have stuck with me for years. (If you know who originally came up with this please let me know! Thank you.)
Basically, there are three reasons to take on a project.
Every project we do, every job we take on, everything we make for others brings a potential for money, fame or joy. The extent to which a project brings each and the degree to which I need each helps me create my approach to all work.
Work that brings money may be more profitable or the client may be quicker to pay. It may mean recurring business or include residual payments. It brings us financial security, growth and benefits. Financial security gives us the means to do more.
Work that may bring fame builds our brand and brings recognition of our efforts. It brings in more business, rather than having to go out to find it. Fame enlarges our community and our world; it draws peers, colleagues and competitors to us. It builds self-confidence, gives us the courage to follow our instincts, and emboldens to do even more of our own work.
Work that brings joy makes us happy. It is fun! It reminds us of why we make things in the first place — because we enjoy the creative process. Work that brings joy usually involves something or someone we care about. It aligns with our values and makes a difference to the world, even if the difference is only to one person. It brings meaning to our lives and opens our hearts.
It is very empowering to consider these three criteria at the beginning of a project. (Much more so that dwelling on “pick two.” It helps to define scale, scope, effort and resources and it helps set our personal expectations. Of course, we nee to get the client’s agreement to our vision. But if we’ve truly listened to them and their vision and we can articulate how our approach will marry with theirs, the end result is likely to be true to our creative visions and fill their unique needs.
This article also appears on Medium.
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