Search This Blog

10 Fears Creative People Share - And How To Overcome Them

Myth: The world is divided into "creatives" and "non-creatives."

Fact: Everybody, everybody, everybody is creative in some form or fashion. Has nothing whatsoever to do with art. Deep down inside a person is a talent that at its core is not just mechanical repetition of what has gone before. But one generates a new kind of offering. Something the world has never seen before.

Even a soldier, born to fight, is creative in his or her own way.

The problem is, somewhere early in life, most people are squashed into conformity. Squelched. Smushed. Drowned. In a sea of you-shoulds, you-wills, threats mild and overt, economic or psychological or spiritual deprivation. In the laughably ineffective memorization pit that is much of traditional education.

The part of us that is creative, once it is squelched, does not go away. No. Instead it lays in wait within a person's being. It actually fights to get out. Like water or sunlight peering behind a rock. And the very moment there is a crack in the surface, the creativity comes flowing through like it originally did, at first as a trickle and then, with any encouragement, as a healthy stream.

The unfortunate part about having been squelched, and then finding a way to be creative again, is that the person fears they will once again lose their creative spark. In a helpless way. Like when they were younger. And that fear, being unbearable because it is so unpredictable, morphs into something even more threatening and painful: the worry that "I am not really creative in the first place."

In other words, the fact that the creativity was squashed, means it was never truly there to begin with. Otherwise, the person reasons to him or herself, if it were there and strong they could have stayed intact.

Normally, none of this is ever really articulated in life. We all just go about our business. But there is a subgroup of people that does end up affected by it. Even traumatized: Professional communicators.

Having overcome the forces that would squelch their creativity in the past, professional communicators are always extremely protective of their special spark. Not only do they know that it's delicate – enough to be taken away – but they also feel inadequate compared with others in their field.

For most writers and artists, every work they see that possesses the special spark, that expresses that kind of genius that only a creative has, both inspires them and makes them feel insecure. They see, right in front of them, the reality that should they fall away, somebody else would step in and take over – pretty much immediately.

The desperate need to preserve and nurture one's creativity leaves a communicator inherently afraid. Yet rather than focus on the numerous issues that really can harm their ability to produce – lack of time, lack of money, lack of confidence, lack of sleep, insufficient help with childcare and housework, elderly parents, home maintenance demands, health issues, poor nutrition, stress, and lack of updated skills – they get superstitious and worry about things that have nothing whatsoever to do with creativity. That in fact, can get in the way if you don't know how to incorporate them in your life in a balanced way.

Here they are boiled down to 10 basic incorrect fears, as expressed in words or attitude. But at the very bottom, all of them have to do with the incorrect belief that creativity and business savvy are incompatible. I truly believe that somehow, in the back of the communicators' mind, the concept of business savvy takes them back to a time when they were held back from being creative and forced to be just like everybody else. Because "corporate America" is stereotyped as being a place where everybody thinks, dresses, and acts alike – like the goony executives we see portrayed on TV and in the movies.

Nobody I know has ever stated any of these fears out loud. But if you look closely enough, you can see them underlying our behavior. Making us shoot ourselves in the foot, even as we protest loudly that "nobody takes us (or 'communication') seriously."

Ironically, it is this complex of fears – the fear of being a business success – that keeps us from being taken seriously as communicators, and having the license to take our skills and our imagination to the next level.

The 10 Fears – Stated as Myth vs. Fact

1. Myth: "When you get too logical, it strips away your creativity."

Fact: If you get carried away with your imagination, and can't stop to analyze how it might be received or what it will produce for the customer, nobody will see your creativity as having any value.

2. Myth: "Real artists break the rules, they don't follow them" or "I am unique in my personality…I can't be reduced to a robot who lives by a so-called 'process.'"

Fact: First of all, you are not as unique as you think you are, and that neither adds to nor detracts from your value as a human being. You are what you are. Secondly, you do at some level have to work among other people, and if they can't coordinate their actions with you through a process, you will not be able to accomplish anything without a lot of stress.

3. Myth: "Teamwork destroys creativity…no great novel has ever been written by committee."

Fact: If you are a great novelist, you can write that novel on your own time, waking up early in the morning, and eventually sell enough books never to have to work on a team again. Until that time, it usually takes a lot of collaboration to arrive at a product that will actually work. sIf you welcome early feedback rather than consider it an enemy, you can avoid being sorely embarrassed by a flub later on.

4. Myth: "I am inspired when I am inspired - I can't work on a time clock."

Fact: This is a crisis of your own making. Nobody said you had to be an automaton. What most employers want is a reasonable level of certainty so they can plan their own day and yours, and account for your physical safety if you're supposed to be at a certain place at a certain time. The real issue here is your fear that if you settle down to work, you'll have writer's block (or artist's block) and not be able to produce – so you procrastinate and procrastinate under the guise of "waiting for inspiration."

5. Myth: "I work best under pressure, so project management/time management is a waste of my time."

Fact: You are getting an adrenaline rush from the pressure and it's giving you an excuse to do less than your best work on the excuse that you didn't have enough time. Living in crisis mode is a habit; it's much more pleasant, and conducive to creativity, to structure and manage your time so that you are relaxed. When you achieve a peaceful state of mind, your creativity really can flow.

6. Myth: "I don't need to understand operations. Communications is enough of an expertise."

Fact: You can't do a good job of communication in the absence of knowing what you're communicating about. This does not reduce you to an operational type. Rather, it shows that you're conscientious and integrated in your thinking."

7. Myth: "Technology is just a substitute for creativity. Real artists can do everything the old-fashioned way. Why I still have a manual typewriter…an 8-track player…a working record player…."

Fact: Technology helps you to be more creative because it frees you from the drudgery that gets in between thinking and putting the product of the thought down on paper or on a screen. The real fear, again, is that you're a sham, so you try to buy time to procrastinate until you have the nerve to put something out there – if you ever do.

8. Myth: "Managers are boring, political jerks – so I can't be a manager! I am a creative - someone who never just 'toes the line.'"

Fact: Creative people make great managers. They are able to see all sides of a problem, think outside the box (please forgive me for repeating that silly cliché), unite completely opposing people. A little unpredictability makes life more interesting. Didn't you ever watch "The Office?" Michael Scott was one of a kind!

9. Myth: "I don't have to worry about my image. Real artists get respect because of their work."

Fact: Ha. Hahahaahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Get over it.

10. Myth: "Real artists are above money…money is crass and disgusting. If I earn it, I will become a sellout and lose my soul."

Fact: Lots of people do well and do good at the same time. Refer back to The Office. Pam drew great cartoons. What was she doing as a receptionist? She should have stayed in art school and gotten a real job.

Overarching fact: You don't have to be a robot, evil or a sellout – unless you want to be, that is.

Find a middle of the road.

The truth is, good old fashioned business sense REQUIRES a lot of creativity. Because you're trying to come up with a competitive advantage – do something new, different, better than the others so that you get the money and not them. That requires a lot of thinking, innovation.

Admit to yourself that you are holding your own self back. The more you operate balanced, the more the business will respect you, and the more license you will have to be fully creative.

In the end, what these myths cover up is that your own fear is your #1 worst enemy. That and the lifestyle issues that are seriously getting in your way. So change your bad habits. Embrace a more peaceful way of life. And most important of all, come to terms with yourself.

You are neither as bad as you fear nor as good as you aspire to be. You're just human. Let it go.


Template for communication metrics - easy to use, simple to adapt, free

Note: The cut and paste into the blog doesn't look so great, but the Excel format is workable. Please take a look and let me know what you think or how you might improve on it.

You'll have to go to
GovLoop (joining is required) to get the Excel version and Posterous to get the PDF version.

Good luck!

- Dannielle Blumenthal

The ABCD Customer Satisfaction Survey
A Free Template You Can Use, Adapt, Remix and Integrate
Created by Dannielle Blumenthal (@thinkbrandfirst) 4/29/2011
Note: this worksheet has 3 tabs
Project Title: Sample Project 1
Item # Category Meaning Ranking
1 - Poor 2 - Average 3 - Excellent
1 Awareness Audience has increased knowledge
2 Attitude Audience has positive reaction
3 Action Audience buys or complies
4 Branding Consistent graphic/message/font
5 Cost effectiveness Project executed within budget
6 Customer service Communication team responsive to requests
7 Communication Open, honest, constant flow of information
8 Coordination Team members work together synergistically
9 Deadlines Deliverables provided on time
10 Excellence Overall performance by communication team
Subtotals 0 0 0
Total - This Project 0
Running Total (across projects; use worksheet tabs) 0
Customer Comments
This is sample text to show you that the cells have been merged so as to provide room for customer comment.

Internal Communications: An Essential Investment in Crisis Prevention

Who knows better what’s going on inside a home: The people actually living within its walls? Or the neighbors, friends, Facebook friends and LinkedIn contacts?

The people living there, of course.

Same goes for an organization: Is it the employees who are best-informed? Or the customers, the investors, the regulators and the media?

There again – it is the employees, at some level, who know the story first and better than “outsiders” do.

Internal stakeholders – read employees – know what’s going on. They also care – a lot. Because their sustenance depends on things going well at work.

So it is not only stupid, but can be organizationally suicidal, to ignore what they have to say. Or to punish them for constructively and appropriately trying to communicate information that can save the organization from itself.

Going back to the family analogy: When I was a kid I lived in a house with a winding staircase. You could sit at the top of the stairs on the second floor and listen to what was going on downstairs at the base of the stairs. Without anyone seeing you.

So when my parents argued over things – like where we would live or what type of school I should go to – you can bet I was sitting there at the top of the stairs listening very hard.

Employees are exactly the same as kids in this way. Living in their parents’ (the employer’s) house. Wanting to know what’s going to be. Watching for signals that affect their safety, stability, and future.

Not every employee is passionately engaged with the mission. Not everyone cares about doing a good job. The day-to-day news affecting the organization often flies right by them. But three things worry them deeply, and those are the things you can count on them to be attentive to:

• The financial stability of the organization – is it going under?
• Their standing within the organization – is their own job in jeopardy?
• The reputation of the organization – is their own good name at risk by being associated with the organization?

If you look at these things closely, they are exactly what most CEOs are worried about as well.

And so it would be smart for leaders to get employees involved in monitoring and reporting on these matters.

Not just because it would boost morale. But because employee warnings can serve as an early alerting system to help avert crises before they blow up, real damage is done, and the mainstream and social media rake the organization over the coals.

On a practical level, obtaining this kind of feedback from employees has to be simple, real-time, and available both in-person and electronically. Standard things like an “open door” policy, town halls, two-way email feedback systems, etc. are good, but the problem is that they’re difficult to standardize, make consistent, and monitor when your organization is extremely large, complex and geographically distributed.

On the other hand, an online message board does a great job of handling this:

1) Establish a central, anonymous tipline where employees can report anything they feel is important - whether that be fraud, waste and abuse; inaccurate or slanderous news coverage; or even a process that could use improving.
2) Publish tips to a central message board where others can comment and/or vote on their usefulness. Use a moderator to filter out extremely sensitive or confidential material that doesn’t belong there, but that needs to be investigated. The moderator can also delete “spam” or slanderous tips as well as generate productive discussion in the repository.
3) Enable access to the message board for employees from home so that they have the privacy and anonymity they need to report items of importance.
4) Reward employees for submitting tips that lead to misconduct being discovered, a dangerous situation corrected, etc.
5) Train employees extensively to behave appropriately with this sensitive material. Publish a clear and simple policy that is prominently displayed.

(Of course, every organization operates within its own constraints, and you will need to check to make sure that establishing any communication tool or mechanism abides by applicable laws, regulations and rules. This blog is not a substitute for obtaining the appropriate advice.)

Executives commonly worry that providing this kind of tool will just give license to destructive people to destroy morale. But the reality is quite the opposite. Usually it is the employees who care the most about the mission, who believe the organization the most, that hold it to the highest standard of conduct and that therefore get engaged in these types of forums.

And you know what? If you don’t give people a constructive way to share the problems they see, they will find a way to do it anyway – one that the organization doesn’t control, can’t have any input into, and may well regret because things will be said that put people in a bad light without giving them an opportunity to explain and defend themselves.

It is a virtual certainty to me that 90% of the time (the other 10% being an unavoidable accident or disaster), crises can be prevented before they start.

Nuclear disasters. Oil spills. Car defects. Medicine recalls.

Could these costly crises be avoided if only the companies responsible had done a better job of getting employees to share what they know? What they are concerned about?

Could things be better if crisis identification – a.k.a. risk management – were seen as part of everyone’s job, not just crisis communicators or leadership or even supervisors?

Meaning that the “not my job” attitude and the “none of your business” attitude were effectively history?

Imagine how literally billions of dollars could have been saved rather than being washed down the drain of fighting, finger-pointing, and crisis recovery.

Most crises are not a surprise. Instead they are the result of a long-term dysfunctional pattern, process or practice. Anybody with half a brain can see them coming.

The question is whether we have eyes to see. Ears to hear. Courage to accept the nasty truth from a messenger who isn’t necessarily favored, or high in status.

All you have to do is imagine an asteroid. You want to explode it while it’s still in outer space. Rather than having it blow up the earth from under your feet.

*All opinions, as always, are my own and my comments do not represent any individual or organization.

20 Ways To Be More Likable

Likability. It's something we're all worried about, because to survive we must have the approval of at least some other people. 

The good news is you have a lot more power than you think to make people like you. And it doesn't cost any money at all to do most of these things.

The bad news is that to become more likable, you'll probably have to change. Since the fact that you worry about this means that you're doing some stuff incorrectly. But that's is about learning and growing.

Here are the top 20 pieces of advice I would give to someone who wants to be more likable - in no particular order because they're all important: 
  1. Stop judging other people harshly. Karma is like that - bad energy to others means hatred of you; goodwill results in likability. It's OK to disapprove of a certain behavior. But if you do that, have in the back of your head some kind thought as well. Two examples: "Most people are doing the best they can to survive," or "That person must be in tremendous pain to act that way." Doesn't mean you sanction evil. Does mean you separate the person from the behavior. Karma aside, when you do this, you become more likable because you learn not to unfairly judge yourself. 
  2. Find a balance between being spontaneous and socially appropriate. Too formal is bad, but "wild and crazy" only works in the movies.
  3. Be helpful but not a doormat. It's good for your likability to assist others in getting things done. But if you can't draw the line, they won't respect you. In general, practice asserting yourself - often. People who worry about their likability tend to let others walk all over them in an attempt to curry favor. But inside, the unfairness of this bargain causes them to seethe. In the end, they go too far the other way and end up seeming aggressive.
  4. Focus on doing what needs to get done and avoid thinking about yourself. It's about action, not thinking. The more you think, the more you will worry, and the more you worry and become self-conscious, doing socially awkward things will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Watch The King's Speech where the guy can't speak because he's hearing his domineering father yell at him in his head. He literally has to drown out that yelling with headphones. Action, action, action.
  5. Give charity, volunteer, and in general try to leave the world just a tiny bit better than it was before you got here. It can be as simple as wiping the floor after you spill some coffee at 7-Eleven, so that nobody else gets tripped up. 
  6. Make a conscious decision, once and for all, to accept yourself. You don't have to think you're the greatest talent ever, you don't have to love yourself, you don't have to distort the truth in any way. But you are what you are, so you might as well accept that and stop fighting it. If you believe in G-d, think of the fact that G-d created you. The Christian preacher and motivational expert Joel Osteen tells a funny joke that a child asked his mother where people come from. The mother said, "From G-d, of course." The child responds, "I don't understand because Dad said people come from monkeys." Mother replies, "Oh, that's his side of the family." I love that joke. Bottom line: G-d made you, and G-d is perfect, and you are a child of G-d. Just fine.
  7. Practice thought-stopping. Affirmations can sound phony and stupid, but at the very least you should not tell yourself "I'm a jerk," "I'm a dummy," etc. As soon as you start beating yourself up in your head - STOP.Own your flaws with humor. Have a good sense of humor in general. But especially when it comes to your own idiocy. We are all stupid in a certain way. We are all defective. That's what makes life fun. For example, when I count things I am always off by one. If an even is supposed to be on May 1st, for example, I will blurt out that it's on May 2nd. It never fails. It's frightening. Yet when it happens, I go, "ha-ha-ha-, you see? I'm always off by one." And I laugh at my own little foible. It's like that.
  8. Learn to laugh. You don't usually laugh? Life sucks that bad? Force yourself to smile. It's free - Google "jokes" on the Internet. Pick up a funny book. Watch "The Soup" or "Saturday Night Live" or "The Colbert Report." In Yiddish we say "Lach a bissel" - "laugh a little." The greatest humor comes from tragedy. If your lack of likability is tragic to you, join the crowd and watch George on Seinfeld. He was the most unlikable guy ever, but his character was hilarious. 
  9. Do what you have to do image-wise as a matter of general routine. Brush your hair, brush your teeth, take care of your health, and take care of your appearance, but don't get all obsessed. While it may be true that people who look good have a better chance of getting the job, it is also true that people who are obsessed with their looks are a complete turnoff to other people. Read: the opposite of likable. 
  10. Don't be a jackass. This should go without saying. You might have the very odd idea that people like and respect jerks who throw their weight around. No, no, no. People like people who are very respectful of others. 
  11. Follow your conscience. Your conscience. What you believe to be right. Do that. If something is wrong, don't do it. If you want others to like you, you have to like yourself. And you will like yourself if you make it a habit to live according to the beliefs you think are right. If you believe in G-d, fearing and serving a higher power helps you to not care what others think of you. Which automatically makes you more likable.
  12. Widen your circle of friends. This is very important. You have to let the sunlight in. Don't get stuck in a rut with the people who knew you from way back when. If you want to stay friends, that's fine, but it's good to network with a lot of people. First of all, this keeps you from feeling terrible if something happens and you get in a huge fight with a friend and suddenly a whole group won't talk to you. Second of all, in general, it's like a cushion of self-esteem that you just know a lot of people. Superficial is OK. And the good thing is, the more people you talk to, the more comfortable you get talking to people with whom you have little in common. Your social skills improve. You become more likable.
  13. Deal with the specific social skills that usually screw you up. For example, I have trouble eating in front of other people. I'm a spiller, for one thing, and the coffee or the salad always ends up on my clothes. Secondly, when I am hungry, I eat fast because I actually worry that somehow the food will be taken away before I'm done eating, and I will go hungry (O, there are a thousand ways to analyze this). It is nuts. And thirdly, it is unfailing that I will get spinach in my teeth. Now, the way I deal with this is to eat with people who can stand the sight of me. But if you have to interact with and/or eat around a lot of people, you have to practice eating in a normal way. OK?
  14. Get intensely engaged in some creative or intellectual pursuit. You do not, repeat NOT, have to have any talent. The point of doing this is to lose yourself in something enjoyable. If you're good at it, all the better. Because if you like and respect yourself because of something you are objectively accomplishing, outside of simply winning the approval of other people, you will seem less desperate for approval and your likability factor will increase.
  15. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. So you have something to talk about with other people. You should always be aware of at least the top stories of the day. So you don't seem like the girl from the movie Hanna, who grew up in the forest. Also, reading and staying current with what's going on gets you out of your own head. Which as stated previously, is a bad thing.
  16. Prepare yourself to be criticized. We all get it. It's part of life. Some of it is well-intentioned. Some of it is mean and abusive because somebody else is having a bad day. Learn to sort the useful from the non-useful. And go on with your life. Do not allow a mean comment to ruin your day.
  17. Ask questions of other people. Start with closed-ended questions like "Where did you grow up?" and then progress from there to open-ended ones like "What was that like for you?" Make sure you listen to the answers. But don't stare at them in the face. Alternate looking at them, with looking at someone else. Otherwise you seem like a stalker.  
  18. Write a blog. Tweet. Put yourself out there. The more you write it out, the less it will eat you up in your head.
  19. Question your beliefs (and others' too). For example, let's say you freeze up during a speech. You tell yourself, "Now I really did it. Now I really look like a fool. Nobody is going to talk to me now." Or you make a mistake at work and your "frenemy" says to you, "Great you've really made us all look bad." Are either of those statements really true? I don't think so. You have to do a lot of other things to truly lose people's respect. To lose credibility. Lying is one great example. If you're generally an honest, ethical, unassuming and nice person who has trouble with public speaking or who makes a mistake now and then, that is not going to reduce your likability one bit. Don't just accept the automatic beliefs in your head or the things that others tell you.  
  20. Start accepting the friendship of those who genuinely like you. You know the famous quote by Groucho Marx, "I wouldn't want to join any club that would have me as a member." That's a very insightful thing he said. Some people refuse to be friends with people who like them, assuming that whoever would like them must be a fool. Instead, they chase the popular crowd (oh, adult life is exactly like high school), the ones who will never give them the time of day. If you automatically refuse to be around people who like you, but instead chase people who think you're a dork, how are you going to solve the problem of your own likability exactly? 
A lot to think about and there's a lot more to say. Certainly this is just a start, and I would appreciate reading others' ideas. Because we're all in the same boat here. 

Thus I mean it when I say - 

Good luck!