I’ve made my firm nimble and profitable—but in doing so, I’ve lost my creative spark. Yes, I’ve set my firm up for maximum efficiency, but I feel like I don’t have time to be creative anymore. How do I reroute?
Dear Missing Spark,
Nimble, profitable and efficient, but no time to be creative—so just how nimble, profitable and efficient are you? Better said, what is your window of time to define nimble, profitable and efficient—short-term, or maybe medium-term? Because it definitely is not long-term.
A creative business without creativity is like ready-to-wear without couture. Eventually, you are going to get run over by those who go to the edge. It sounds like you have fallen in love with the dollars that have hit your account at the expense of all else. Remember, money itself is not the root of all evil, but rather the love of money. You must value the investment in creativity and the possibilities it has given to get you where you are—and its necessity if you can ever hope to get to where you want to go.
Let me rewire your thinking a little bit. Imagine a world where all preferences a client has ever expressed on social media are known instantly, along with every interior design ever publicly posted by a designer. Then, imagine a world where all of those preferences and corresponding designs can be known instantly—and delivered in exacting detail via a 3D rendering with associated costs attached. Welcome to the wonderful world of artificial intelligence, coming to your 5G neighborhood this fall.
Design might not be quite that automated yet, but some version of that future is certainly on its way. And thanks to COVID-19—where even Grandma learned Zoom—we are all increasingly comfortable receiving (and valuing) digital information as effectively as we did analog.
Why does it matter? Because if you are not really being creative, understanding and communicating with your clients in a way that is wholly unexpected and expected all at once, you will never be better than the machine. Does this mean you are going to go out of business? No. But it does mean you are going to be marginalized to the nth degree because you are not being, ahem, truly creative. You see, what the machine can never do is discover the undiscoverable—to be unpredictable in finding the solution your client seeks. That is the essence of creativity and where you must learn to live again if you would like to enjoy the fruits of your relationships with clients.
Tomorrow and forever, in your journey through the Wonderland of your own making, Hatter (mad or not) is where all opportunity will live. If you have built your business to undercut that journey with the premise of getting it done (i.e., to race out of the rabbit hole), you miss the experience of resolution of surprise, of the unexpected. From that resolution comes profound trust and the ability to transcend your medium beyond design.
Simply, reroute by knowing that nimble, profitable and efficient are functions of time and a very narrow horizon. If you are capable of squeezing enough juice out of that orange to allow you to do other things with your creative self, then, sure, keep going. It certainly does not sound like it, though; nor does it sound like the sacrifice is worth the boredom.
I am not advocating that you abandon profitability and efficiency—only know that what you call profitability and efficiency, I call a proper return. Creativity, on the other hand, is worth what you say it is, and, done well, is extraordinarily profitable by any measure—financial, relational, even spiritual. You have chosen to focus on the known, and that, by definition, comes second. Wonderland is indeed Wonderland. The rabbit hole awaits.
Homepage photo: © Phive2015/Adobe Stock
Sean Low is the go-to business coach for interior designers. His clients have included Nate Berkus, Sawyer Berson, Vicente Wolf, Barry Dixon, Kevin Isbell and McGrath II. Low earned his law degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and as founder-president of The Business of Being Creative, he has long consulted for design businesses. In his Business Advice column for BOH, he answers designers’ most pressing questions. Have a dilemma? Send us an email—and don’t worry, we can keep your details anonymous.