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.

16 thoughts on “The Sin of WRATH”

  1. Provokes me to think. Sin is such an underused word these days. culture recoils at the notion. Not sure if in your pain you sought solace there, but the Bible is clear on it and you are resonating the ancient truth. Be Angry is ok, but staying that way is the sin part. “Be angry, but sin not” Ephesians 4:26

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  2. >>Being a genius doesn’t excuse being an asshole.
    Well, maybe not, but thinking of all of the creative people that I’ve worked with who were, some of them were indeed pretty hard to take; I suppose we’d call them bullys, now. OTOH, I’ve worked with equally creative people who might have been demanding, but were anything but assholes. Some became close friends and mentors. In both cases, they left lasting legacies.

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  3. Danny,
    This has been the best series of articles on this site. Your description of the rage you felt in those meetings sounds exactly the same as my own at certain times

    As I was reading I couldn’t believe another person could feel the same thing as me in that kind of situation. You probably do a better job of dampening the effects than me.

    Thank you for a great series.

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  4. I really enjoyed this series. I learned of the deadly sins as a child, but what child knows what those words truly mean? You’ve given us great examples, and in doing so, revealed more of the sneaky, toxic monkey who lurks in the shadows. Thanks, Danny!

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  5. Written at 5am in a tired unable to sleep kinda red mist! Wow I can totally relate to what you’re saying I often try to help others process their creativity it sometimes feels like I’m knocking my head on the proverbial brick wall! I ask a selection of salient questions receiving fairly noncommittal answers & sometimes feel like it is I who is expected to do ALL the work…..in my angry head I am thinking did you not come to me so I could help you, not do it all for you! I guess I need to calm down & be more kind……Being angry shouldn’t be my answer to the problem!
    Thankyou for your Blog

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  6. I love this – too often negative emotions can only be perceived as just that – negative. Yet if we become aware of these emotions and how they drive us, we can use them skilfully as a creative force. Great stuff 🙂

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  7. Waking on the wrong side of bed & day getting progressively better..ya i can relate to that.anger gives you those energy impulses where you get lot of work done in short time , & come up with original stuff too.
    I feel the best thing is to walk away when the red mist comes along , or be as irrational you want to one of your closest friends.( bottled up rage can bring a storm) because they know who you are plus in this way won’t offend or alienate or mess up things you might later regret

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  8. I recognize that feeling of resentment from when I worked as a coordinator in the production of marketing materials, mediating between departments and administrators and writers and designers. I think my anger came from the sense that the in-house “clients” had little appreciation for the creative talent, the effort, and the great ideas they frequently picked at, rejected, and dumbed down. Now, many years later, I can imagine a number of reasons why they might have behaved as they did. But Greater understanding does not mean I wouldn’t still want to leap across the table and strangle them.

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  9. Now there’s a word with a stigma: SIN. Never mind wrath. Years ago I was told by an Isreali that the word sin – as translated from the Hebrew – could also mean error. To sin, therefore, really means to make mistakes. To err… We don’t have to wonder why the ‘preachers’ translated it as sin. There are many forms of anger. WRATH means great anger or punishment and is often associated with God’s wrath. These are exactly the kind of indoctrinating words that I’m eliminating from my vocab! So no kudos from me. 😉 I’ll still check out one of your books though…

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