The top 5 reasons creative people fail

Like it or not, we all fail. But knowing why can help stop it happening again.

We creatives can be a fragile bunch. The harder we come with our ideas, the harder we fall when those ideas fail. And the agency world can be a ruthless arena, from interviewing for your first job after art college to pitching a campaign to a CMO or creative director.

Furthermore, in social media marketing, the consumer ends up being your harshest (and most valid) critic. When something you created for a brand fails on a social channel with 40 million followers, you feel the sting instantly.

There's no way to avoid failing creatively. It happens. It's even encouraged. "Fail Harder," says a big wall at Weiden+Kennedy.

A client recently told me we weren't doing our job if we didn't "fail forward." Where I work, "Get it wrong to get it right," is one of our mantras. It's all part of the process, but learning from those fails is critical to your morale and success in this business, as is fine-tuning your creative process to limit fails and increase wins.

What follows are my top five reasons creative people fail – things I have done at least once in my career, and will probably do again...

01. You're too focused on the industry

Too often I have met, for example, young copywriters who know more about the agency world and award circuit than they do about the craft of writing.

Usually their work reads like formulaic lines from famous campaigns by Nike and Apple, but not as good. Sanam Petri of W+K (via RGA) wrote an article in The Guardian that goes deeper on this very subject.

The best advertisers I know are actually just really creative people who want to make cool stuff. Of course, solving problems for brands is our job, but doing it with a genuine passion for creating something that actually moves people (to laugh, to cry, to buy) is paramount to success.

02. You're taking yourself too seriously

Reasons creative people fail

Don't take yourself too seriously

It's hard to tell creatives that they're taking themselves too seriously. This is their Creativity™, dammit. Their juice. And to make matters more serious, this juice is the main ingredient in their own personal brand, dammit.

Our industry is built on pitting one creative's branded juice against another person's branded juice. Bearing your teeth yet? But staying loose is critical to doing great creative work. The trick is tapping into the creative child inside that makes things simply, based on instinct and passion.

To experiment and play, and to start each day with a smile. It's really easy to get uptight with a deadline or pitch looming, but in the end we're just using marketing as an artistic outlet (see point 01 above), so let's try and have some fun with it.

03. You don't have a creative outlet outside of work

There has got to be something else in your life. There HAS to. Are you a photographer? A cook? A gardener? It's essential that you find time to make things for yourself. It'll keep you inspired and ultimately positively influence the commercial creative work you do.

Instagram requires very little effort, but at least gets you to think 'visual + headline' and to broadcast regularly. I've also found blogging to be incredibly helpful in satisfying my personal creative urges, while also opening my eyes to inspiring work by others that can influence my day job.

A few of mine:

Yes, I'm a big fan of Tumblr.

04. You don't learn from your #fails

Fail Harder: then what? If you don't look at your mistakes critically and make adjustments based on feedback, you haven't just failed hard, you've failed bad. Agencies hang their hats on an ability to analyze work and change rapidly, especially in social media, where you have the luxury of making quick adjustments to strategy and pivoting based on consumer reactions.

Stubborn creatives will stick to their ways of doing things regardless of what other people say. Those who look at their creative careers as a constant evolution and education will not only continue to grow, but have a long lifespan in this business. Which leads us to...

05. Hellooooooo? You're not listening!

Reasons creative people fail

Pay attention to what's going on around you, and listen!

It's a great time to be a creative. We have so much access to inspiration, from Tumblr to Pinterest to We Heart It to Instagram. Never has it been this easy connect with other creatives and ask them questions about their craft. Consumers, our ultimate audiences, are open books. But it's up to you to pay attention. Spend time listening to that massive collective of creatives at your fingertips who are posting new, raw ideas every day.

Listening is a requirement for success

Listening is a requirement for success. A good idea, or a ground-breaking piece of feedback, can come from anywhere. Planners are our friends. Junior level creatives are our future.

Criticism, as hard as it is for us artists to take, is an opportunity for growth. And who doesn't want to grow creatively? The long and the short, by being aware of bad habits and creativity-stifling tendencies, creatives can approach their work with a fresh point-of-view.


Rick Albano was the creator of trailblazing surfing blog Sissyfish, an A&R associate at Warner Brothers Records, part of the legitimate team and a copywriter for Nike before becoming executive creative director for Swift.