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Making Change Happen in Your Creative Work

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

“…Knowing better is never enough. You have to be convicted to do better regardless of what better feels like.”

I evaluate creative businesses and suggest change for a living. Usually, there is a disconnection amongst: what the creative business owner stands for, what he or she most desires, and how the business operates.

For instance, a designer might want to be known as a fine artist with only high-end clients, but the business is all about price and production. Or a florist loves her daily accounts, but cannot seem to let go of the low-end wedding business that just does not fit. You would think that when confronted with the reality, change would be easy. I mean, who would not want their creative business to be a truer version of themselves? And yet it is not. Change is incredibly hard. We all resist, often beyond all rational thought.

I certainly wish I knew the key to the resistance and how to solve it. But I do not. What I do know though is that there are three major barriers to overcome if you want to make change happen: fear of the unknown; distinguishing between “doing it wrong” and “being more effective”; and overcoming function in dysfunction.


Once you have grooved yourself into a particular way of doing things, you know what to expect. Process dictates form and how you do things will have somewhat predictable results, even if not the results you most want. Changing how you do things, by definition, will change what happens.

Will clients laugh at your design fee? Will colleagues and vendors think you are crazy to not take commissions any more? Will all your business dry up if you insist on a minimum album purchase and refuse to deliver digital files?

As much as you may loathe having to provide a proposal before you are hired, to take commissions or to refuse to deliver digital files, the alternative is really scary. So you do it just because of your fear of being wholly rejected for your decision to change. Yes, better the devil you know. To which, I can only say that the price for doing things that are against your nature is not zero. It will be harder and harder to sleep at night if how you behave in your personal life and how your creative business behaves does not mesh. At a certain point, something will have to give. Better to change than to have change foisted on you.


True bad actors are few and far between. 99% of the time, a creative business owner and his employees are trying their best to do their best. They are in the day-to-day of the business of producing art and serving clients. Suggesting change to this process is a snake-pit.

Is an employee’s job in jeopardy? Are they doing a “bad” job? Look at all that they do. Who am I to tell them to do it differently? I am not a designer, florist, photographer, planner, producer, etc. So how can I know anything about what they do? I am not walking in their shoes (which, of course, helps me to see the path they are walking).

And the larger a creative business gets and the more removed a creative business owner is from the day-to-day, the more these statements can be made about her too. Getting past “you are doing it wrong” to “this is how you can be more effective” is about finding frustrations and empowering resolution.

Knowing the interdependence of all organisms—creative businesses very much included—effective change in one area demands support in another. In a restaurant, if the kitchen gets in the weeds, keeping patrons at the bar with a free round will go a long way, keeping the restaurant’s tables full not so much. You cannot force support, you just have to help everyone understand why you want to do things differently and what it means to you, your art and the creative business they have invested their lives in. You can talk all you want about teamwork and empowerment, but at the end of the day it is your vision everyone has to believe in or not. Understanding the need to change things to better reflect that vision is your challenge, especially if those around you think they are already there.


No matter the bad habit, it does not FEEL bad when you are doing it. Your rational brain might know it so not a good way of doing things, but you become used to the “mess”. Part of the reason is fear of the unknown and resistance, sure, but a bigger reason is that doing things differently feels strange. It is just not how you do things. Take yoga or pilates, for example. Most of us do not have proper alignment and when we are placed in proper alignment in any pose it feels really wrong. We have to work very hard to not have our mind and bodies regress into improper alignment. Taking calls at 3:00 a.m. might feel like that is what you need to do to provide great customer service. Except it is not, unless you have first established how far outside of your boundaries it is. You need to be paid handsomely (monetarily, or otherwise) for breaking your own rules.

In the end, knowing better is never enough. You have to be convicted to do better regardless of what better feels like.

When image and energy do not match, when the story you tell is not the story you live, when you are hiding, the necessity of change is self-evident. Making the change happen however will test your mettle, your patience, and your humility. You will need to know that what stands in front of you is larger than you, but must begin and end only with you.

Cover image (Businessman spraying colored paint) and top image (Drawing) from Shutterstock

This is a cross-post from The Business of Being Creative.

Sean Low is the Founder and President of The Business of Being Creative, a consulting firm focused on providing practical advice to those in the business of being creative. Prior to founding The Business of Being Creative, Sean spent six years as the President of Preston Bailey Design, Inc. representing Preston in his business endeavors around the world. Sean has a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania and his twenty years of business experience ranges from law, investment banking, financial executive to small business owner.

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“…Knowing better is never enough. You have to be convicted to do better regardless of what better feels like.”

I evaluate creative businesses and suggest change for a living. Usually, there is a disconnection amongst: what the creative busine…