Note—This is a redux version of an article I originally posted here on April 8, 2014. I thought it was worth revisiting. Our culture is so competitive that there are some things we need to be reminded of from time to time.
I’m currently reading The Accidental Creative: How To Be Brilliant At A Moment’s Notice by Todd Henry. I don’t kid myself, I don’t think I’ll ever be brilliant at a moment’s notice—or even with a lot of notice—but there are many good ideas in this book. I came across something that spoke to me today; it’s from the section regarding building relationships among creatives:
“Our best creative work comes from a mind-set of abundance and generosity rather than one of scarcity. When we clamor for credit and fight over resources we perceive to be scarce, it infiltrates every area of our life and work.”
In context, he’s talking about how when helping others, you should do it for their sake and not for what you can get out of it. But I see something else here, the idea of abundance in art and in creativity. It’s too easy to see everybody in your field as competition, and thus everything that happens to them as affecting your journey—like every sale they make is a lost sale for you.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
With an abundance mindset, we can be happy with whatever goes on around us, come what may. We can be filled with joy when faced with other people’s successes and breakthroughs. Instead of competition wearing us down, we can lift others up and help them along their journey, which lifts everybody up in the process.
It doesn’t matter what you are doing creatively—performing music, writing books, or acting in plays. We can’t think of the world around us as a zero-sum game. That cultivates a strongly competitive nature, which may work in business but in art leads to resentment and negativity. These feelings will only sap your creative energy over time. By creating, you are making something from nothing, building up what wasn’t there before. Doing that takes a tremendous amount of energy. To do great work consistently, artists do not have time for all of the trappings that come with a mindset that focuses on scarcity.
It is true that competition can hurt your sales in the short term. But if you’re playing the long game, this idea is paramount:
Any attention out there that others put toward your field lifts up the whole field.
Think back toward the days of Napster. The music industry got riled up over so many people downloading music for free; however, so much attention on music only helped the music industry in the long run. Think about it, anything that could get people excited about music in such a huge way could only be a good thing. Most of the people downloading—once their passion for music was reignited—ended up buying from the artists they really loved.
Others were only sampling music they never would have bought in the first place, so those downloads really shouldn’t count as lost sales. Regardless, more music fans meant more people going to concerts and festivals, and more people buying related merchandise.
It’s true that competition can help drive us to achieve more than we would have otherwise, pushing us past our perceived limits into new horizons. Professional sports provide great examples of this almost every day. But getting trapped in a scarcity mindset can hurt in the long run, leading to negativity, resentment, and bad strategies that only lead to bad habits.
Creation doesn’t occur when you’re hoping someone else will fail. Going back to the sports example, teams do their best when they are playing to win—as opposed to playing not to lose.
Living in a world of abundance and generosity can help us all to grow the creative energy we need to perform with persistent and sustained effort. Making something from nothing is really quite difficult. Let’s not make it any harder than it has to be.
That’s just my two-cents. Now go make something cool.