Shouldn’t flaky just describe dandruff? – Dealing With A Creative Reputation

Why is it that creative people are so often stereotyped as flaky, flighty, difficult, unreliable or irresponsible?

Do you think the first artists, who were asked to record the buffalo kill on the cave walls, were just temperamental? Did they show up late, with their charcoal stick, and then get fussy because the walls were too wet? When someone suggested the sun was out, not the moon, did they give them a look that made them back out of the cave?

Or, was that “difficult” reputation cultured and developed to make creative thinkers stand apart. Did they believe their work was so valuable that they didn’t have to follow other social norms? That what they offered was so unique, if their behaviour was frowned on they’d take their talent and go home?

Is it still helpful?

When you think about a corporate creative person, someone who comes up with ideas, writes or designs for a living, are they likely to want to encourage this reputation? Is it helpful, useful? Does it give them a leg up on the career ladder or hold them back?

Recently, I was listening to a Managing Director applaud the work of an Account Manager, to everyone on the creative floor at his company. He said she’d done a great job, was wonderful with the clients and even managed to handle the flaky Creatives. She was all blushes.

What interested me more, was the red face of the Creative standing next to me. Later he confided that it annoyed the hell out of him that someone so senior labelled all Creatives as flaky. He said he was always on time, always did his research, never had hissy fits, got along great with the clients (in fact, I worked with him for years and this was all true) so why should he be considered a flake? And why would someone senior promote that stereotype?

By contrast, a good friend of mine, a talented Creative Director with 3 children under ten, has been know to take advantage of it. She has travelled, kids in tow, to a number of countries where she doesn’t speak the language, yet she told me this story:

“I don’t know why I do it. I can navigate the world in Swahili if I have to, but when I think someone else is in charge, I just slack off. I was supposed to be at a client meeting first thing, so was going directly from my house. The Account Director had left the address with a map on my desk, but I forgot it. I rang him and he said he could give me directions from the station, but I couldn’t find a pen. He said I could Google it on my iphone but the battery was dead. He said not to worry, he’d email it to me on my Blackberry. I mean really – could I have acted any more helpless?”

Two incredibly capable, creative people caught in that sticky reputation: one trying to shake it off and the other finding it gave her a chance to take the back seat and coast for a bit.  

Is a stereotype something we are stuck with forever – all computer people are geeky, all accountants are dull?

Do these classifications help? Talented creative people will always be unique. The ability to come up with an original concept, a design idea, a picture that captures our hearts – this is the stuff we admire and aspire to be close to. The reputation that you, personally, choose to link with it is yours.

Brands shift perceptions by changing them a few degrees at a time. You can choose to promote or fight this set of perceptions, that were firmly in place before you began your journey up the creative path.

The question is, which direction do you want it to shift?


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