Wanting to do what others also want you to do

Be neither a conformist or a rebel, for they are really the same thing.
Find your own path, and stay on it.
Paul Vixie

Creative people make their own decisions and follow them. They do not fear doing something different, even when others try to discourage them. It often means that an idea is really original (if it works), because others couldn’t even imagine it working.

However, the desire to make and follow your own decisions can become a problem if others tell you to do something that you want to do anyway — at least when the support puts the the originality of the idea into question or if you get encouragement from the wrong people.

Originality of the Idea

It’s bad when the idea is seen as the “style” of the creative, e.g., “Yeah, this is typically you.”. It becomes easily identifiable, nearly predictable, and it’s a variation of a theme instead of something new.

Even worse is if someone “knew” that the creative would do this. This is often via hindsight (it’s always easier to predict something after the fact) or because the similarity to the actual product is … vague, e.g., “I’ve always said you should do something like this.” (what, something like a book? something like a story with character x, plot y and ending z?).

The worst case is if the creative had the idea but someone else told him the same idea before the creative recorded the idea or made it public. In this case it’s impossible to proof that it is really the idea of the creative, and not just remittance work. Without having the ownership of the idea many creatives do not follow through with its implementation — no matter the support.

A “nice” non-creative example is the choice of a study major in college. If a young adult is currently in the phase where it is very important to him to feel like an independent individual, his parents encouragement that they “have always known that he would become a teacher” can have the opposite effect: The person does not feel like an independent individual and switches majors even if he himself thinks that becoming a teacher is the best decision and actually really wants to do it, sometimes with disastrous results. Note that it’s not the support but the originality of the idea that’s the problem here — for the person self-determination is extremely important and that is taken from him with this encouragement.

Encouragement from the wrong people

Another problem is if the support comes from the wrong people. We do not want the support of some individuals, because we feel that we would support people we do not like and do not want to help, or worse, that we do their bidding. From these people support is poison that can even twist and destroy all positive emotions that come from a realized project.

Worst case I have encountered so far was in a non-creative area when I was deciding to prolong my cellphone contract. The person from the customer re-acquisition department (or whatever you call it) showed an utter lack of integrity that made my hate the company (and the person as representative of that company). I still wanted to prolong the contract but I was hard pressed to simply cancel it. That I didn’t do it had an easy reason: The only viable alternative would have been worse (I’ve worked for them, briefly). Another common example is when extremist groups publicly support campaigns or politicians that/who have nothing to do with them or are only vaguely related — and these campaigns or politicians do not want to have anything to do with them. Media reacting as it does usually gives the incident a lot of coverage, fulfilling the extremist groups’ goal and damaging or destroying the campaign or the reputation of the politician.

Strategies to alleviate the problem

However, I think there are some viable solutions for this problem:

Clear locus of control: I think it’s important to have a clear, well-balanced locus of control. Some of our actions are determined by ourselves and some by others. Some of these influences are voluntary actions and some are accidental. And some of these influences are stable and some are not. It’s important to internalize that realizing an idea is a decision you make for yourself and something that you do voluntary every time. It does not matter what another person says, or how often this person says it, or who that person is. Even if another person has had the same idea — there is a well-documented phenomenon called parallel creativity — it’s not plagiarism, it’s simply different people getting the same idea. If you think that rediscovering the wheel is rare you’re welcome to work in academic research and omit the literature research in your studies — the reviewers of your papers will convince you otherwise 😉

Owning your emotions and motivation: This also means owning your emotions and your motivation — the mantra is “I do it because I want to do it. If others want it too, that’s none of my concerns.” Your decision is your own and not the positive or negative of what others say. Other people’s opinions in these cases should be irrelevant and not bias you in any way.

Really ignoring the support: If someone comes along who you do not like and cheers you up you can either ignore him or question his delusions of influence. Given that these people usually are craving for attention, ignoring them is the hardest but the best strategy. Caveat: You have to ignore the person 100% and ignore all questions from others in that regard (à la “Do you have any other questions?” — even a “No comment.” or “I cannot choose who like me ideas” is too much). If you do not do this, if you give them your attention even once, it will reinforce their behavior. Once they know they can succeed they can sustain a long time without any further reinforcement to bug you with excessive energy. It’s like intermittent conditioning — harder to extinguish. And they are very good in getting your attention, one of the reasons why there are professional services that filter mail and remove messages from stalkers (if you read your mail from such a person, one mail will get to you and you will answer, period, and that’s exactly the wrong thing to do).

Keep your mouth shut: Probably the best strategy is to follow Einstein’s lesser known formula (probably wrongly attributed to him):

If A equals success, then the formula is: A = X + Y + Z, where X is work, Y is play, and Z is keep your mouth shut.
Albert Einstein

and shut up about it until it is done. This way no one can claim it was his idea first, nor can cheers from the wrong people throw you off. You can also play a nice game with the critic “who knows you best” and let him predict what you will present in a few minutes. It might surprise him — or you.

Accept it: And finally there is also the hard but true insight that your own path can also be what others — friends and enemies — always saw for you (perhaps with the benefit of hindsight).

It was still your idea, it is still your decision, it will be your work, and it is always your life. 🙂