Posted by: Liz Massey | December 3, 2009

Surf’s Up: Top Creativity Links for December 3, 2009

Photo courtesy Patrick Hajzler via SXC.

Is Burnout Inevitable in the Creative Industries?

Mark McGuinness has written an excellent review on the Wishful Thinking blog about a survey of creative workers in the gaming industry done in May by Develop Magazine. The report, and this post, document the poor morale and working conditions that exist when “crunch” (excessive overtime) periods before product launches become a way of life.

The survey was specific to game designers, but McGuinness rightly asserts that it contains very important insights for ANY staff in creativity/design-related fields, as the conditions that lead to burnout are similar.

“It’s no secret that prolonged workplace stress can lead to employee burnout, accompanied by symptoms of anxiety, depression, addictive behaviour, relationship problems and illness. Not to mention days off, sick leave, resignations, low morale and lost productivity.

“Yet several of the survey respondents suggested that ‘crunch’ is normal and inevitable, not just in computer gaming, but in any creative industry.”

He notes that the survey respondents blame poor project management and unrealistic expectations for much of the pain in “crunch” influenced work cultures. Yet he also notes that the designers themselves may play a role in creating their woes. He references an article on creative burnout that he guest posted on Lateral Action last year, and recounts weaknesses that can fuel behavior that eventually leads to burnout, including obsession, perfectionism, hypersensitivity and the weight of self-imposed expectations.

“I’m not suggesting workers only have themselves to blame for burnout. But if you’re a creative worker feeling under pressure, have an honest look through the list and ask yourself whether any of them apply to you.

“If so, maybe it’s time to ease up a bit and find some time for rest and relaxation. And talk to someone you trust about your situation. Workplace stress and burnout are sadly common experiences, and there are plenty of options for getting help if you need it – often the biggest step is acknowledging that you need it.”

Overall, this post is a nice summary of the survey by Develop and a balanced look at the causes of creative burnout in a workplace environment.

Is Imitation the Hidden Key to Creativity?

This provocative post on by Cliff Kuang discusses a mathematical model of idea profusion by Stefan Leijnen and Liane Gabora at the University of British Columbia in Canada. While their work relies on a very specific set of conditions (not all of which match the real world!), I share Kuang’s obvious intrigue with the idea that someone has to follow a creative person’s lead for anything to come of it.

Here’s how he puts it:

“(Leijnen and Gabora’s) key insight is that creative ideas can only spread if they’re actually adopted by others. Too much creativity, and there’s not enough imitation–ideas die on the vine, because there are so many of them and few ever catch fire. For good ideas to spread, there’s an optimal balance to be reached between creating and imitating.

“Leijnen and Gabora modeled that dynamic, and they found that to optimize the profusion of good ideas, we should spend less than 50 percent of our time on creativity. If some individuals spend all of their time creating new ideas, then they shouldn’t comprise any more than 30 percent of a population.”

As a creative agent provocateur, I read this post the first time and thought the researcher’s conclusions were awful. Telling people NOT to be creative! Blasphemy!

But then I thought about it. Earlier in his article, Kuang notes that entrepreneurs such as Catherina Fake, the Flickr co-founder, tout the importance of not working constantly and taking time off to let ideas simmer. And it’s also important to note that one can spread a good idea by adapting it, creatively, to one’s own needs and vision, and having others do the same with that variation of the original idea.

All doing with out thinking leads to dullness and groupthink, and, as this research model asserts, all thinking without someone doing (acting on the idea) leads to a life of frustrated fantasy.

Make Things: The 6 Things All Creative People Make

I link to Ken Robert at the Mildly Creative blog frequently because, as the Quakers say, he “speaks to my condition.” Rather than offer grand life-hacks that purport to solve all your creative issues, he frequently posts tips and bits of inspiration that allow readers to use the material to solve their own creative angst or just keep on going when the inspiration stops flowing.

In this introduction to this lovely six-part series, he focuses on “making,” in the sense of actions that are inherent in any genuine attempt to develop something new. According to him, creative people make decisions, commitments, attempts, mistakes, adjustments, and meaning.

He explains that while creative exploration is fun and rewarding, creative making is the necessary other side of the coin.

“Exploration is vital, crucial, exciting, and fun, but it would seem futile if you never took the things you discovered and made something of them….

“Of course, there’s an infinite number of things you could choose to make, and that’s the point of exploring. You’re sifting through the possibilities, searching for the ones that catch your eye, grab your heart, and beg you to make them real.”

Ken is very good at coaxing the creatively fearful to believe in themselves, and a series that covers meaning-making, mistakes and the art of adjustments goes a long way toward bringing would-be artists’ ideas out of their head and into reality. And that is a wonderful thing.

Bonus Links!

21 Great Innovation Methods

A nice checklist of innovation methods that businesses can try when they need fresh sources of new ideas. By Paul Sloane of Blogging Innovation.

RSS Creativity: Routines, Systems, Spontaneity

Great set of tips from the 99 Percent blog.

Eight ways to kill an idea : FLIRTing with the Crowds

Sami Viitamäki posts a hilarious series of cartoons about idea-killing drawn by Scott Campbell.

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