Clipping Wings

“Some people insist that ‘mediocre’ is better than ‘best.’ They delight in clipping wings because they themselves can’t fly. They despise brains because they have none. Pfah!”
“Have Space Suit will Travel” by Robert A. Heinlein

I love the quote above, although I am sick to my stomach when I am confronted with these kinds of people. People who fear to appear stupid when someone has an idea, because they didn’t have the same idea before, who actively seek to sabotage other peoples ideas in order to save face from themselves.

But while these people are usually easy to identify — they work in the area where the improvement is made, often close but uninspired colleagues — they are not the only ones who clip wings.

Sometimes, creative people clip their own wings.

Yes. People who have ideas prevent themselves from having ideas. They sabotage their own ideas, consciously or unconsciously.

Why? In most cases because of … some kind of vanity.

Many creative people are proud of their ideas, often because they know that hard work and a lot of time is necessary to develop these ideas. They had these ideas, but they were not given to them from heaven. The did work on the problems before — and they want recognition for this. The problem is when this recognition is denied to them, or worse, when someone else gets this recognition.

Sometimes it is because the improvement they made is not seen, or it is not regarded as having a value of its own. They have worked hard to improve something, but others only (want to) see the earlier product and give praise to the earlier inventor, even if it is a far cry from the efficient and working product that is now available. (This is actually a very dirty way to clip wings, not applauding the current inventor but his predecessors who, over time, appears larger than life anyway.)

Sometimes it is because other people, e.g., department heads or more extraverted project members, claim ownership of the ideas. In science projects, sometimes there is some kind of herd mentality at work when on project team writes a paper and everyone wants to be mentioned as co-author (note: not having their works cited, but actually be regarded as the co-author of a paper).

And sometimes it is expected of them to subtly hint their ideas to other, more influential persons, so that this person may believe it was his own idea, which is seen as the only way to realize an idea. And many creatives are — naturally — too stinking proud to do this.

In these situations some creatives simply stop having ideas. They may still get some, but they do not follow them, write them down or tell them others. They do not see the value anymore. Why invest hard work and time in something where someone else gets the credit. They clip their wings and simply stop caring as a mean to protect themselves.

However, while this might relieve them of stress in the short run, it kills them in the long run. It kills their creativity, it kills their drive, it kills their work motivation, and it kills their career.

I think there are only two ways out of this — the first one is to find a way where you make damn sure that your ideas remain your ideas even under these conditions, so that you can realize them even when you work with others in a large project. The other way, which I think is more likely, is to change the job. Perhaps still in the same organization but in another group that values individual creativity, or leave the organization entirely (if and only if you got another job offer).

Otherwise, over time, you will not only clip your wings, but a part of your soul — and no job is worth that.

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