Don’t Be a Dick
Why Creative People Are So Difficult
My mantra is “Don’t be a dick.”
Most people think a mantra is a phrase or slogan that you live your life by. But, that’s not true. A mantra is a word or phrase you repeat to yourself over and over again.
When I find myself in public situations, I repeat the phrase, “Don’t be a dick,” in my head, over and over again.
Social situations: “Don’t be a dick. Don’t be a dick. Don’t be a dick.”
Professional situations: “Don’t be a dick. Don’t be a dick. Don’t be a dick.”
When I’m told uncomfortable or bad news: “Please, Do…NOT…be….a….DICK!”
Why do I do this? I repeat this mantra over and over, because in the past… I’ve been a dick. I’ll admit it. I have been difficult to deal with at different times in my life, and I’ve come across like a dick to friends, family, coworkers, and colleagues.
This usually happens when I express my opinions and my points of view in the wrong way, and at the wrong time.
Understandably, this has made people angry at me or they’ve been offended.
My wife asked me once (more than once) why I have to be so difficult? It’s a question that I’ve thought about a lot.
Let’s face it; Creative People can be difficult. But, why are Creative People so difficult?
I think there are a bunch of different personality traits that can add up to someone being difficult. It really depends on the individual. For some people, it’s ego. For others, we can chalk it up to insecurity or fear. Some creative types are hyper-competitive and bullyish.
However, I believe there’s one fundamental element of the Creative Process that pre-disposes us to be more difficult than the average human being.
In this article, I will explain this flaw, talk about why it fuels difficulty and how it can be controlled.
Maybe, it will help you deal with a person you work or live with.
Maybe, it will help you not be so difficult and avoid uncomfortable situations.
Maybe, it will allow you to like Kanye West again.
One Caveat: NO Excuses
Before I explain my thoughts on this subject, it’s important to establish a caveat.
My goal in this article is to seek understanding. I will explain why I think creative people tend to be difficult, but that does NOT excuse any inappropriate behavior.
There’s no excuse for boorish, rude or unprofessional behavior.
I will be honest, I’ve acted or said inappropriate things before in the wrong place and the wrong time. In every instance, I’ve been the first person to apologize and try to learn from it.
Developing a Point of View (POV)
I grew up thinking that creative people were born creative with an innate ability to dream things up, conjure ideas and produce art.
This notion began to erode when I moved to California to pursue acting. I learned that all creative endeavors are crafts, like woodworking or machinery. There’s a process to being creative; it’s not magic.
This was illuminating for me because, all of a sudden, something that seemed so mystical became accessible. I began to study acting and develop a creative process.
Over the past 20 years, I’ve been able to manipulate that creative process to accommodate whatever job I was working on and fit the creative product that I was producing.
My creative process began with developing a strong Point-of-View or POV.
For this discussion, a Point-of-View is the unique way in which each of us sees the world. It’s how you feel or think about things.
A POV is unique to each person. Your POV is a mixture of your morals, core beliefs, and emotions.
Thus the expression of the POV is what makes an artist’s work his/her own. So, it stands to reason that no two actors will perform the same role exactly alike. No two artists will paint the same painting. No two dancers will move alike.
A POV is a personal fingerprint. It makes each piece of art unique and the deeper and stronger the POV, the stronger the creativity.
I remember my teacher telling me that a strong POV would fuel my creativity. The stronger my POV or opinion, the more profound my emotional depth would become.
That was good news for me, because I’ve never had a shortage of strong opinions. I’ve always had clear and strong opinions on everything. Politics? Movies? Who makes the best hamburger?
Since I was young, I have had a point of view, and I want to tell you about it.
Expressing a POV
Now, once you have that strong POV, it becomes about showing it. Every piece of art or creativity is an expression from the artist’s POV.
What comes out of you is the product. A painter puts colors on a canvas. A writer puts words on the page. A director points a camera and films what he’s composed.
If this were a math equation, it would look something like this….
POV + Expression= Creativity
Now, between the POV and Expression, there can be another element; provocation.
A provocation is an event that inspires the creative expression.
I could have an opinion or POV, and something can happen which inspires me to create. In this case, the equation changes to the following:
POV + Provocation +Expression = Creativity
We see examples of this all the time in popular culture. Often, artists and creators talk about what inspires them to create.
Sylvester Stalone feels like he’s an underdog in life (POV). Stalone watches Muhammad Ali fight underdog Chuck Wepner (provocation). Inspired by the fight, Stalone writes a screenplay about an underdog boxer (expression). Result: Stalone creates the movie, Rocky.
Beck loves his girlfriend (POV). Beck’s girlfriend dumps him (provocation). Beck picks up a guitar and writes 12 songs about how he feels (expression). Result: Beck creates the album, Sea Changes
The provocation becomes the creative inspiration and spurs the artist to express their POV.
This provocation can happen organically, or it can be manufactured. A creative person can provoke himself or herself, and produce a creative expression. Consider this “self- inspiration.”
So, it’s possible to manipulate the formula, and a creator should learn to do so. They need to practice the formula over-and-over again until it becomes second nature.
Over and over again, the creative person can work the muscle until it becomes a tool to use at his or her disposal. The more you do it, the easier it gets.
The Difficult Creative
Where does this all go off track?
It goes off track when the creative person starts practicing the formula in his personal or professional life. If a person doesn’t focus the formula on their work, they can become volatile.
They‘ll start to express their opinions and POV’s too freely to friends, family, and coworkers. This expression won’t take on the form of art or creativity. It just becomes expressing opinions and complaining.
An example might be: A creative person feels like they’re being taken for granted at work. (POV) A coworker criticizes their work. (Provocation) The creative person flips out and tells off his coworker. (Expression) Result: Dissension within a team
It happens all too often. The creative person can become a raw nerve. In other words, they become a hammer and nails start popping up all over the place.
Who’s hasn’t said these things about somebody they’ve worked with?
“Why is that guy so sensitive? It’s just a creative assignment.”
“Uch..she is SO opinionated, she has something to say about everything.”
“I used to love him and his work. But, I don’t want to hear his opinion on everything!”
This happens, because the creative person isn’t controlling the expression of their POV.
Why It’s Bad for the Creative Person
If you’re a creative person, you have to be careful about when, where and how you express yourself. The world cannot become your canvas. You can’t go to Starbucks, get a lousy latte and have a breakdown. They’ll lock you up.
Personally, you’ll make your friends, and family miserable. Nobody will want to hang out with you.
Professionally, it will ruin your relationships and affect how your work is viewed. If your coworkers think you’re a dick, nobody will want you to win. So, you won’t win.
If this is a problem for you, you must develop the person skills that will accompany your talent. You have to learn to be an advocate for yourself and your work while being an ally to those you work with.
In my time working creatively, I’ve learned that you must SLOW DOWN or pull the plug on the creative formula. Create more time between the provocation and the expression.
Keep the POV strong, but delay the reaction time.
Ask yourself, do I need to express how I feel right now? Will expressing myself hurt or help me in the long run?
Just because you have a strong POV and lots of opinions, doesn’t mean you need to express them all of the time. In baseball, you don’t swing at every pitch. It’s the fastest way to striking out.
In my professional life and private life, I’ve expressed my opinions when I should have shut up. It’s cost me in a financial sense and hurt my personal relationships.
Thus, my mantra.
What Everyone Else Needs to Understand
A disruptive or hostile creative person can ruin the chemistry on a team. It can dampen morale and lead to infighting.
But, everyone must learn to tolerate the expression of POVs from creative people…to a point. The opinions must be expressed with respect and dignity, of course.
But, strong points of view and opinions are what drives the creative person and process. Creatives are not robots. Their talent is the way in which they see the world.You can’t remove opinion from creativity. It doesn’t work.
It's hilarious to me when somebody says something like, “I love Bruce Springsteen’s music. I just wish he’d sing, Born in the USA and not be so political.”
“I love Sean Penn’s acting, but I don’t want to hear his views on the world.”
It doesn’t work like that. The reason Bruce can create such an iconic song is that he’s cultivated an impassioned POV and learned to express it to the world.
It’s the same for the creative people you work with. You may not like their opinions or views on the world, but their ability to have a POV is what is providing their talent.
When I think about this, I think about Kanye West.
Kanye West is one of the most talented musicians working today. He is the ultimate craftsman, and he can call upon his creative process whenever he wants. But, he also can’t control it any longer.
He’s living the creative process 24/7. It does not take much to provoke him.
Kanye believes Beyonce should win the award (POV). Taylor Swift wins the award (Provocation) Kanye jumps up on stage and makes crazy (Expression) Result: Kanye creates a Shit Show
It’s boorish behavior, and the public gets turned off by it. I know so many people who can’t appreciate his music anymore.
BUT, let’s talk about that for a moment….the music.
The music is exceptional. There’s nobody doing what he’s doing. The guy is an innovator, and even those who find him grating must agree with that.
Now, would I want to work in an office with Kanye? Hell no.
But, if all I want from Kanye is amazing music? I have got to cut him some slack.
If he needs to get up and act crazy now and then….eh. What are you gonna do?
Then, there’s me
I’m no Kanye West.
Nobody is ever going to give me the room to act like a dick. So, it’s important that I continue to recite my mantra over and over again.
If you know me. I’ve probably expressed an opinion inappropriately, rudely or insensitively before. I’m sorry.
If I express my opinions too much and I seem boorish at times, that’s my bad.
Being creative is a huge privilege. But, it finishes second to being a good person.
Thanks for reading!