Why do avid creators occasionally release stuff that sucks

Why do avid creators occasionally release stuff that sucks

Genius Journey
Creative Leadership
Published On:
February 28, 2024

One of my maxims as a blogger and columnist is never to regurgitate a topic I had already covered in an earlier article. Naturally, after 425 articles on business creativity, innovation, and creative leadership published in my bi-weekly column in the Bangkok Post and the thinkergy blog over the past 17 years, it has become increasingly difficult to find novel topics to write about. This challenge arises because I have already covered all the obvious things to discuss in these domains. Hence, I occasionally experiment with topics that take a more playful look at certain things or —on the contrary— discuss specific subjects more theoretically (as I am also an academic apart from being an innovative entrepreneur). 

Over the past weeks, I received comments from readers that some recent articles were really bad or so theoretical that I lost them halfway. I thanked them for their valuable feedback and thought about why these articles triggered a negative response from these readers. But then, today, I focus on writing a new piece without worrying too much about more possible adverse reactions from readers. Here is why. 

Creators create stuff for the sake of creating. 

“Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you’re passionate about something, then you’re more willing to take risks,” noted the Chinese-American cellist and composer Yo-Yo Ma. Outstanding creators (and top achievers generally) are passionate about their work. Creators love creating, and they like to do it ideally every day. So just like fish swim, birds fly, and monkeys climb trees, creators need to produce new creative outputs — be it a piece of art, a new song, sonnet, or symphony, a new piece of writing such as an essay, article, book, or poem; or a new product or way of doing something.

As for me, I am deeply passionate about business creativity, innovation, and creative leadership. I love creating new creative methods and tools that work and are fun to use. I also like to share my expertise, views, and practical expertise with others in workshops, my articles, and —in the coming years— my upcoming books.

Now, we all know that the more we do, the more things can go wrong, and the more we are prone to fail occasionally. Likewise, avid creators accept that some of their creations might be considered substandard if they produce much output. They are comfortable with occasional failure as they are passionate about what they do and know that a sporadic second-rate output is part of the game. As the legendary ice hockey player Wayne Gretzky put it: “You miss one hundred percent of the shots you never take.”

Producing outstanding creations is a numbers game

“You know what I did after I wrote my first novel? I shut up and wrote twenty-three more.” Like American author Michael Connelly, prolific creators know that frequently shooting out new creations is the most viable strategy for eventually producing a few outstanding masterpieces. 

Here are three examples of famous copious genius creators: 

  • One of the most prolific artists of all time, Pablo Picasso, produced an estimated 13,500 paintings, 100,000 graphic prints, and 34,000 illustrations over his career spanning 75 years. Many of his paintings are rated as good or even great, and a few masterpieces rose to international fame and acclaim, like Les Demoiselles D’Avignon, The Weeping Woman, and especially Guernica (his famous painting depicting the horrors of the bombing of this city during the Spanish Civil War. However, the sheer volume of Picasso’s creations suggests that among them, there also were numerous studies and sketches that can be considered imperfect and crude. 
  • The German composer Ludwig van Beethoven created nine symphonies, nine concertos, and various other orchestral music. Of his symphonies, two (the fifth and the ninth) are widely regarded as formidable; many others are great to sound, while a few early ones follow with slightly lower appreciation rates. 
  • The entire literary output of the German polymath and writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe comprises 142 volumes, ranging from the poetical to the scientific and the philosophical, including 50 volumes of correspondence. While the drama Faust (Part 1 and 2) and the novel The Sorrows of Young Werther are considered legendary masterpieces, among many other excellent texts such as the scientific treatise Theory of Colors, some of his other writings didn’t resonate with a broader audience.  

So, what’s the lesson other creators can learn from these geniuses? Don’t focus on producing one perfect masterpiece. Instead, concentrate on churning out new creative outputs on a frequent or regular basis, trusting that the more you create, the higher the odds that one or more of your creations will be hits. 

Creators know that they cannot please them all (all the time)

“I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure - which is: Try to please everybody,” noted the American editor Herbert Bayard Swope. Avid creators are well aware that it’s impossible to please everyone with their creations. So, they focus on doing what they love — creating stuff they care about. And they hope their new creations resonate with those who share the same interests and operate on the same wavelength. Over time, the best creators can build a loyal tribe of friends and fans who love most of their creations most of the time. And they know and accept that regardless of how hard they try, not all of their creative outputs can please all in the tribe all of the time. 

For example, I target creative leaders and their teams with my creative methods, tools, and writings. According to Everett Roger’s Diffusion of Innovation Theory, they constitute only 16% of people: the 2.5% of innovators and 13.5% of early adopters who drive change and progress in society. Occasionally, I might reach some readers in the 33% of the early majority, the next segment open to embracing new technology and change. But essentially, what I write and talk about won’t resonate with more than half of the people. And that’s okay, as they are tuning in to a different frequency and cherish topics at the opposite end of the spectrum of what I am passionate about. 

Interestingly, when I experiment with writing about different topics or formats now and then, I make a fascinating finding. While I might turn off some regular readers, I get surprising feedback and encouragement from some people in my network who typically don’t react to my usual outputs. 

What is the lesson we can take from this? Occasionally varying our topic and format range can help us to connect with a broader circle of influence, which I believe is good as long as we don’t do it so often that it turns off the faithful fans in our regular tribe.

Conclusion: Keep calm and create

Chances are that some of you think: “Gosh, this article sucks!” If so, then please forgive me. And thank you, nevertheless, for making it to this point in the article. But I keep my calm, comfort, and confidence because I understand that this—from some readers’ point of view— substandard article (that is only “so so but okay” or “rather bad” or even “sucks”) is a necessary output to produce many other articles that are “good” or even “great,” and a few vital masterpieces that wow most of my regular readers. So, I keep on pushing, creating, and writing. I hope you will continue reading my blog, knowing I will compensate you for the occasional mundane article with other pieces that inspire you, touch your creative spirit, and get your creative juices flowing. 

  • This article relates to Genius Journey, our creative leadership development method. Check out our website and this short video to learn more about our approach to developing creative leaders. 
  • And if you are a creative leader, can we support you and your team in any other way with your challenges or delivering on your innovation agenda? Contact us to tell us more about your objectives so we can tailor the session to your desired goals and specific needs.

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2024. This article is earmarked to be co-published in the Bangkok Post in the coming weeks.