The Sin of WRATH

For the first half of my career in advertising, I would often have irrational feelings of anger during a creative briefing. I would resent being given the assignment. Then I would be pissed off that I had to sit in a conference room with loads of other creative people while the strategists took us through the brief.

I simmered with impatience. I would ask critical, acerbic questions. I would strain against the deadline.

The monkey would tell me that the people briefing us were idiots, that their insights were lame or wrong, that I already knew more than they did about the subject, that it was wrong that we creatives had to compete for the assignment, the playing field wasn’t level, that the whole project was a waste of my time, blah blah and blah.

It was pretty crazy — and incomprehensible.

With time, I became sufficiently self-aware to identify this pattern and dampen it. But I can still feel the impulse when it comes time to get creative feedback or in the final days before a big presentation — a frothing resentment with no legitimate cause.

This reaction maybe in the minority but it’s not unique to me, alas. I often hired great creative people who would have explosions of rage at the most inappropriate times.

What is the fear that drives it? Vulnerability at having to show one’s ideas where they might be rejected? Of being misunderstood? Of losing control somehow?

Recently, I read of a study in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology  that examined the effects of anger on creativity — and found that it could actually be helpful to the creative process.

Anger provides two benefits: an energy boost in the form of an adrenaline rush which focuses the mind on the problem at hand. Secondly, anger makes your thinking irrational — which can jolt you out of creative ways of thinking. In a paroxysm of rage, you may spit out some crazy truth that makes a wild and fruitful association.

Another study found that many creative people begin their days with negativity and then shift to positive feelings. By channeling the negative energy into their work, they find sharper focus and productivity. If you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, try channeling your bad mood into energy to solve a creative problem.

But proceed with caution for anger is still a sin. Its benefits dissipate fairly quickly. And once the red mists blow away, you may find you’ve alienated potential partners, wasted time and resources, derailed the process, and damaged your reputation. And if people dislike and fear you, they are a lot less likely to be objective about the merit of your ideas.

Being a genius doesn’t excuse being an asshole.

The last in a series on the seven deadly creative sins.