July 18

“Are you loving people, or using people through your work?” – Ben Nicholson

The best creative work unleashes possibility for others.

My friend Ben is a brilliant Creative Director. He has led teams that have produced work that you are almost certainly familiar with, and which has been experienced by hundreds of millions of people around the world. He once was giving a talk about the nature of creative work and he asked a provocative question:

“Are you loving people, or using people through your work?”

At first you might be taken aback, or even offended by the question, right? I mean, you’re a good person. You’re doing good work. You’re trying to serve your clients. But, there’s a much more subtle aspect to Ben’s question. You see, it’s really about generosity vs. manipulation.

If I lead a team, and I do things that really serve my best interests rather than those of the team, I’m using my team.

If I’m creating a product, and I don’t really believe in the claims I make about the product, I’m using my potential customers. 

If I’m collaborating with a peer, and I win an argument at the expense of our relationship, I’m using them to get my way.

Love doesn’t mean that we all get along or that the work is liked by everyone. What it means is that you are aiming to be generous in how you create. You are giving a gift to those who experience what you do. You might get something in return, but it all begins with an act of generosity. 

In his excellent book The Gift, Lewis Hyde writes “The more we allow such commodity art to define and control our gifts, the less gifted we will become, as individuals and as a society.”

Our job as creative pros is to be generous, to make work that serves those who experience it, and to unleash possibility for others. Let’s aim for that as pros and leaders today. 

Question: How can you be generous today through your work?  

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