Is this trait blocking your creative success?

There is one personality trait above all others which I believe can be blamed most for lack of success among creative people.  I recognize this trait because it is a flaw I was afflicted with my entire life without even knowing it.

Creative people tend to be a fountain of imagination.  Whether they are entrepreneurs or artists, creative types produce inspiration by the truckload. A creative person is rarely lacking for new ideas.  It’s invigorating to be around people like that, and it’s wonderful to be that sort of person–but it’s not without its drawbacks.

When I was operating a web development business I founded in 1999, the World Wide Web was still in its early stages, only just recently gaining traction with the masses a few years prior.  As such, it was (and probably always will be) a field of endless opportunities for a creative professional.

I started by designing simple websites for local businesses, but before long, I had clients who wanted e-commerce features for their sites.  I later won contracts with government agencies which were mandated to create content that was accessible to vision impaired visitors using screen readers.  I had other clients who needed to share large files with customers and staff securely. Staff at nonprofits wanted to save money by updating pages of their websites themselves.  Search engine marketing was another hot commodity.  

When a client asked if I could program a sprawling custom server application I set to work learning how to make their dream a reality. Eventually, interactive 3D modeling and virtual world development became trendy and I traded even more time I may have otherwise spent sleeping or with family or with my (now ex) wife to become adept with the new medium.

My point here is that I never said “no” to a project.  

Every time a client even hinted at a new technology problem, I dove right into it.  I spent untold hours researching and learning so my company could remain a one-stop provider for my clients’ website needs.  

Over the years I learned a lot and I was decent at most of the development work I did.  I enjoy conquering new challenges, especially when the technology is new enough to still feel magical.  I like to think I provided good value to my clients.  But, what I thought was me being adaptable and evolving with a changing technology landscape was in fact a lack of focus on my part.

The one trait blocking most creative people from success is a lack of focus.

Instead of putting my limited time and energy into being the very best at something, I was in fact spreading myself thin with distractions.  I couldn’t be the best at everything, and instead I painted myself into a corner as being the best at, well, nothing.  

I was a generalist and not a specialist.  I was a classic case of that old saying: “jack of all trades, but master of none.”

Looking back on 14 years of consulting it is now clear:  while I was chasing each new trend, I was diluting my other service offerings.  While I was immersing myself with new technology, it was impossible for me to recognize what I was doing to myself (and to my clients, who I worked so hard to acquire).

This has been a painful lesson for me to learn, but a valuable one.  The pursuit of narrowing my focus now shapes my big-picture decisions.  

We have a finite number of productive hours per day, per year, and per lifetime.  It’s hard enough to succeed in business or to master a craft such as writing even with great focus.  Dividing attention to multiple interests means denying resources to all of your pursuits.

Certainly, there are benefits to being a well-rounded generalist.  However, if we wish to truly succeed as creative professionals, I think we need to specialize; we need to focus.  

Focus your efforts on just one great interest and you increase your probability of succeeding.  

Do you agree or disagree with my thesis?  I appreciate your insight and welcome you to share in the comment form below.

About Frank Hurt

A woman once told him, “Frank when you grow up you’re going to be brilliant and handsome.”

It turns out Frank’s mother is pretty good at predicting the future. Almost as good as Frank is at writing his own bio in third-person perspective.

Comments

  1. Ernesto Vasquez says:

    Wow I think this is a reality check for me.
    I never say no to new projects I love being a visual learner and I feel like I can help everyone who has a problem being creative and my itch to think for solutions is always there ready to engage on whatever life puts in front of me .
    I never say no to those who ask me for help, I have tons of ideas I dream in color and even in my dreams I’m looking for answers but as creative as I may be I do lack FOCUS and this is a reality check for me.
    I belive you are correct my friend and I also feel that because I pride myself in being Ernest and selfless I never say no because one part of me says no you don’t have time and the other part of me wants to help so I’m honest and say yes I do want to help and I stack more on my plate.any who I wanted to tell you that you are correct about the jack of all trades but master of none and I believe is time to pick one at a time .
    Thanks Frank I’m glad I stumbled on this link have a great day and well I will attempt to focus more and be a little selfish with my time .

    • Thank you for the comment, Ernesto! I am so happy to hear that this article has proved helpful for you. I would love to hear more about your own personal evolution as you develop ways of being more “selfish with your time” as you say.

      Thanks again for the comment.

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