Why Formulas Don’t Fix Creative Work
After refusing to touch the platform for 12 months, I’ve spent 10 days in a row on LinkedIn.
It started as a challenge from my friend Tim Denning. We’re building a LinkedIn course together. I’m the on-screen student, asking questions, taking notes. He’s the expert.
During lesson 5, I saw a note that was particularly cringe-worthy.
I smirked at that. Just toss a “work word” in the post somewhere?? Surely it couldn’t be so simple.
Since I’ve been following his instructions, I published a post that is over 10,000 views and 200 likes. It’s like somebody gave me the keys to the bank vault, then turned around and closed their eyes. No George Clooney-style heist necessary.
The whole experience has me thinking about formulas. There was a time where, effective or not, I would have turned my nose away at anything that sounded remotely like a “proven method.”
Resistance to formulas is natural for creative people. We are obsessed with originality, forgetting there is no such thing. Even Picasso was told how to hold a brush by his art teacher father.
Still, when it comes to creative work, it often takes a whole pound of sugar to digest that particularly bitter pill. Steven Pressfield might have articulated it best. When he learned that all movie scripts have three acts, and that the key pieces to each one are preferably found on certain pages, he said:
“This is formulaic bullshit, and I won’t do it.”
Had he not gotten over that, it’s unlikely you’d know his name.
The thing is, it’s only when you start using frameworks that they don’t feel natural. Over time, they develop into a container for work, a guide when you feel stuck. Star Wars was based on a formula. The Fault in Our Stars was based on a formula. Heck, Vincent Van Gogh had to use a perspective grid to help his landscapes look remotely normal.
More to the point, formulas don’t make creative work any easier. Even with a formula:
- You still have to do the thing
- The thing is still hard to do
- You have to be curious enough to do the thing on repeat
- There still must be some special sauce
That last item is what makes creative work the most interesting. Not all my LinkedIn posts have flown. Some have flopped. Why does this happen? How are people stretching the formula to work? When do you need to follow the rules? When can you break them?
Maybe at 21, I would have been too proud to learn the answers to those questions from someone else. Now, at 31, I’m willing to be taught.
In other words, I’m moving from the left side of this picture to the right one.
Hopefully, you are too.
That’s a much happier place to be.
Come over to LinkedIn and say hi, if it’s your cup of tea.