Picture an artist.
She’s wearing a beret, a striped shirt and cradling a palette with a few blobs of paint.
As she stands knee-deep in blowing grass at the foot of endless rolling hills, she surveys the landscape.
She takes a deep breath, inhales a sip of fresh country air, and gently dabs her brush against the palette.
She raises the brush and draws it closer to the canvas.
The anticipation builds.
This is the moment.
The point of creation.
She’s about to set out on creating a masterpiece, but a noise startles her.
BEEP BOOP BEEP!
She flinches and streaks her paintbrush across the canvas.
The beeps are followed by the clanking tracks of a mini Panzer tank, churning over the hillside.
She whips around, double-quick to investigate the interruption.
“Holy shit, that’s a robot!”
Then, she snaps back to reality.
She’s hunched over her laptop at her local Starbucks.
She was daydreaming about getting back into her zone.
Where the magic happens.
Her creative process.
Unfortunately, she lives in a day to day reality that is dull and grey.
She’s got a sales forecast to finish.
She opens a spreadsheet and lets out a defeated sigh.
“When do I get to paint again?” she thinks.
It’s a common struggle for entrepreneurs.
Creativity versus process.
Better stated in archetypes, your artist versus your robot.
In this post, I’ll define the key traits of each archetype, questions to self-identify your dominant archetype, and most important of all, how to resurrect your creative process.
Note: this post is a part of the Productize Q&A series, where I mash up recurring themes from coaching CEOs and drop them into a blog post for your infotainment.
Defining the new archetypes
An archetype is a typical example of a specific person or thing. I’ve seen entrepreneurs fall into these buckets, so I’ll attempt to define the traits I see between the two. Please note – I am not inferring that if you exhibit these traits, that means you are either/or, nor are these the only archetypes that exist. We’re so much more complex than that.
And away we go!
The artist archetype thrives within the process of creation.
They love to create something new. The artist doesn’t get too hung up about the quality of what they produce. Instead, they are happy to throw things against the wall until they stick. The artist tries to not take feedback too personally because they understand that creating a masterpiece might take thousands of iterations. Their process is iterative, recursive, and frankly, a bit wonky. The artist trusts their judgment, even though it’s wrong more times than it’s right. The artist thrives in the zone of self-expression.
In business, artistic types can be found in narrow and deep places. They seek mastery. When I come across one, I usually identify them as a craftsperson.
Contrarily, the robot archetype loves structure, templates, and process.
They relish reports, standard operating procedures, and workflow diagrams. They evaluate their impact by how much order they bring to chaos. They measure what they manage and vice versa. Efficiency is a boon, and experiments might be welcome, provided there’s a systematic method to track them.
As you can see, these archetypes are polarizing. They are as complementary as chalk and cheese. And herein lies the challenge.
If you’re too artistic, you’ll paint lots of landscapes but struggle to move them out the door.
If you have a team of robots, you’ll create a panopticon of pain and burn your team out.
So, what do you do?
Seek to understand. Compare and contrast. Tap into both (and other archetypes), as they lie dormant in us all.
Step one is understanding yourself.
My inner artist stumbles out of bed on Saturday morning. I take a few morning hours to soak up the weekend sunshine then freestyle into a voice transcription service on my phone while eating a leisurely breakfast. Then, I’ll wander off to a cafe, write, rewrite and get into the zone.
A blog post. I have no expectation of any recognition, reward, or revenue.
I’m creating and that’s it.
For the rest of the time, I’m in robot mode. Organizing my life into swimlanes. Reading (and avoiding) emails. Moving tasks between swimlanes in Pipedrive. Goofing off in Slack.
It’s input-output mode.
Of course, I have more fun creating instead of organizing. I share this because it’s also a question for you.
If everything else was taken care of, would you prefer to create something new or execute a process?
I’ll wager if you spend your time on the things that you are naturally motivated to do, you’ll be more successful. The challenge lies therein. And it’s different for everyone. But you need both.
So how do you strike a balance?
Where’s your sweet spot? You need to ask yourself this question.
What’s my dominant archetype?
Now that you see a few patterns, let’s determine which archetype is more dominant for you.
- Do you often find yourself endlessly optimizing ‘stuff’ because you just love tinkering?
- Do you have dozens and dozens of iterations, hundreds of different ad creatives or thousands of ideas sitting in Evernote, waiting to be given the time and attention they sorely deserve?
- Do you escape, deep into the zone of your work? Do you lose track of time, personal hygiene, and forget to pick your kids up from school?
- Do you capture inspiration from all around you, without knowing when and where you’ll ever draw on it?
- Do you eschew the ‘established’ way of doing things in favor of forging your own path?
- Do you thrive at the front of the vanguard, launching yourself into the great unknown?
- Do you often ask yourself what’s possible?
- Do you wonder what lives beyond recycled tactics and proven methods?
- Do you welcome risk and learn from failure?
- Can you abstract rejection from your self to your work?
- Are you willing to lose face for the sake of creating something bold, new, different, or fun?
- Do you pay close attention to nuance?
If you find yourself saying yes more than no, you might be a bit more artistic than robotic.
The truth is that the artist archetype lurks beneath for us all.
So, what does a robot look like in the wild? Here are a few hints.
- Do you love lists?
- Do you pat yourself on the back for automating a workflow?
- Do you sign off your emails with an initial, instead of your name?
- Do you religiously look for process steps to delegate or delete?
- Would you outsource a head cold if you could?
- Do you often ‘spin up’ a document?
- Do you get soppy over well-documented SOPs (standard operating procedures)?
- Do you measure your day as productive by the amount of output you produce?
- Is your calendar color coded? (Bonus points if you retroactively update your calendar after events have happened).
- Do you perform a weekly self-assessment on what you’ve produced? Then measure it against the last week? And then ask yourself rhetorical questions at the end of your review?
- Do you look to find a system, process, order, and reason for all of the things around you?
- Do you prioritize what works, versus what’s new?
When you answer yes to these questions, then you’re also saying, “Hello robot!”
Here’s the thing.
Neither of these archetypes is good or bad. Right or wrong. The goal is to strike a balance.
I learned very early in my career, success takes all types.
If you over-index on artists, you might go hungry.
If you go hog-wild on robots, you might suck the fun out of building a business.
How do I get the best of both worlds?
If you’re robot-dominant and love it, find yourself an artist. At least part-time. Samela, the artist who drew the Artists vs Robots picture is a huge source of creative inspiration for me. She is creative, vulnerable and thoughtful. These are the traits I would like to embody. Brittany inspires me in the same way.
If you can’t afford to hire an artist or can’t find one to spend time with, you will need to compromise. Open your calendar and for just this week, block out an hour for creative time. Structure your unstructured time – see what I did there?
If you’re artist-dominant, then go robot-hunting.
(They’re easy to find, they make a lot of beeping sounds.)
As an artist, systems and process will bring (a sense of) control and ease. Even if it’s illusory, calming the chaos helps to give you even more room to breathe and create. Your business and cortisol levels will thank you for it. I could ask you to schedule some time in your calendar, but you probably don’t use one.
What did you take away from this post?