Saturday, January 16, 2016


Never become proud of mediocrity.

That may sound harsh, but I mean mediocre in the traditional sense of the word: middle of the road. Average.

I've written before about the stages a creative must go through to establish themselves: from happy to finish anything; through producing work that finds audiences; to making work so remarkable, that audiences feel bad not paying for it.

Interestingly, this is roughly the same path that any person faces on the long road to becoming professional at something. In the business world, it's referred to as being a worker who 'adds value'.

And for anyone, creative career or other, it is easy to become stranded on your way through these stages.

The greatest pitfall is misplaced pride. It is its own brand of narcissism.

"I am so proud that we deliver so much with so few resources."


You should be admired, absolutely. But admiration is external to you. Let someone else shower you with adulation for flogging yourself nearly to death for your work.

You should be frustrated. Frustrated that you have been forced to make something worth $2 for 50 cents.

Why is that important?

Because of what really happens when you 'punch above your weight' creating something. You burn favours. You churn through the passion of collaborators.

And if you lose sight of what something really costs, that second column that runs all the way down your project budget with 'fee deferrals', 'free equipment', 'discounts' and 'favours' written next to them, you disrespect the contributions that have been made by your tribe to your work.

What you are saying, indirectly, is that the free work donated to your project is actually what they're worth.

Does that sound respectful to you?

There are many examples of the folly of undervaluing collaborators, out there in the ether. A personal favourite is the hilarious recent story of an indie-rock band asked, by $5.5B profit food giant McDonalds, to play for free in the SXSW Festival musical showcase. The gig came with the promise of 'exposure' (sigh).

Now keep in mind that, had they agreed to perform for free, the travel, performance time, equipment, accommodation, etc, are all VERY real expenses that would come out of the band's coffers.

What would have been the reaction if McDonalds then proudly announced that they organised a SXSW showcase event for $0? Could that conceivably tick some people off?

Less than pleased, the band wrote an open letter on their Facebook page, noting the huge revenue and assets of McDonalds while they simultaneously were told

“There isn’t a budget for an artist fee (unfortunately)”

But wait, it's not all bad news. There was, by way of recompense the offer that:

“McDonald’s will offer free food to all audience members”


And this is what happens when there is no general transparency about the true cost of our own creative endeavors. The wider world develops a skewed perspective of the intrinsic value of our work, and a billionaire corporation thinks it is OK to offer cheeseburgers and 'exposure' as compensation.

Now, to be clear, I'm not advocating inflexibility on your part. As creators we need to be pragmatic in different stages of our career. Sometimes we will need to get blood from a stone.

But that suffering should not be in silence.

Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, must be made aware of the sacrifices you and your collaborators made to get this ship out of port. The world needs to know that your $25 million film cost $25 million, even though in real terms you managed to make it for $10M. Otherwise, if left as the discourse long enough, common sense will tectonically shift to think you produced something with less than half of the required resources.

But you didn't. Your collaborators invested in you.

And it's vital to the entire creative ecosystem that there is awareness of that fact in the universe.

Announce your success in wrangling your creative behemoth. Let it be known that the second column on your balance sheet, the one quantifying favours, is substantial. Then smile and ask people to imagine what you could deliver if you only had the correct amount of resources.

And, most of all, eschew pride in 'punching above your weight'. It's the path to making middling decisions that lead to mediocrity.

Think bigger. Never become comfortable begging for scraps when you should be building to something better. It will make you small.

And you'll burn all of your supporters along the way.

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