By Mark Schaefer
I was recently offering career advice to a young woman who is endlessly creative. She wanted to know if it seemed like a smart decision to consider creative careers instead of something like science or engineering.
Making a decision between the arts and the sciences is a big deal, but the advice I can offer is that there has never been a better time in history to be an exceptionally creative person. Here’s why …
The difficulty of creativity
Being creative used to suck.
If you go back a couple hundred years, pursuing creative careers was a hopeless endeavor unless your last name was Beethoven or DaVinci. The primary obstacle for creative careers was that the general population was struggling to fulfill the basic needs of their lives. They were working on farms, toiling in steel mills, or baking bread. Everybody was exhausted and just trying to make ends meet so they could see the next day. There was no room in their lives for art.
The second problem was distribution. The only places to consume art back then would be a museum, a library, a concert hall, or (after the 1880s) a magazine. There just was not that much demand for creativity because consumption was low and distribution was limited.
If you were a true creative, you were probably miserable, working in a field and scribbling on some paper by candlelight at night.
The time for creative careers is now
Both problems of consumption and distribution have been transcended by the modern economy.
In most developed nations, we are so fortunate to have the basics covered. We normally have a place to live, enough to eat, and — most important for the creative economy — leisure time to consume content.
The second enabler is distribution. To consume the vast amounts of content in the world — the finest art, the most beautiful music, the most wonderful movies and books — we’re free to do it from our homes. In fact, you probably have consumed creative content while standing in line at a store or even sitting on a toilet!
Enabled by mobile devices, individual content consumption has risen from a few hours a week to about 11 hours a day in the Western World. The demand for creativity has never been higher in history:
The economics of creativity
In addition to personal wealth and convenient consumption, there is a third factor, an invisible one, pressing on the need for vast new creative achievements – Content Shock.
This is a simple concept I proposed nearly five years ago. As content competition increases, the expense of transcending the growing noise and stand out dramatically rises — either you’ll need to pay to promote your content or you’ll have to pay to increase the quality of the content through artistic value.
This is bad news for businesses who have to pay this “creativity tax” but wonderful news if you’re a provider of creative services!
Let’s look at television as a simple example of this and how it plays out for creativity.
Life beyond Gilligan
When I was a kid, there were three commercial television networks, so the choice of TV consumption was extremely limited. To stand out and attract advertisers, basically you had to beat just two competitors in a defined time slot. This explains why some of the dumbest shows in TV history occurred in the 1960s (Gilligan’s Island???)
Today, anybody can create their own streaming video channel through YouTube or another service. How many “TV channels” do we have? Millions.
The three American television networks I grew up with barely have a pulse, overwhelmed by the dazzling shows streaming from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and beyond. Gilligan’s Island wouldn’t even register today. To stand out among all that competition, you need to have the cinematic quality of Game of Thrones!
That’s a perfect example of content shock. As the volume of TV shows increases (or blog posts, podcasts, visual content, and video games) the demand for extraordinary creativity will rise, and at escalating prices.
The creative economy is just starting!
Now here is the thing about content shock. It’s just getting started. Let’s go back to the TV example.
- Disney is launching FOUR new streaming channels.
- Apple is spending billions of dollars on original content.
- Content budgets at Netflix and Amazon are soaring.
- The New York Times started a streaming content service.
- Even Wal-Mart has formed a partnership with MGM to create original content.
All of these initiatives will need extraordinary writing, music, art, and actors.
… and that’s just TV. We’re seeing explosive output in every creative endeavor.
iTunes now hosts more than 550,000 active podcasts — a momentous jump from the 3,000 programs it hosted when the platform launched in 2005.
There are 75 million active blogs and 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.
Content shock is raising the bar on all of these creative channels. We’ll need “Game of Thrones” quality podcasts, blog posts, and music to stand out and survive in this era.
Creative careers on the rise
I’ve been working on a new book titled Marketing Rebellion. (I promise it will be a “Game of Thrones-quality” book!)
Part of the research for the new book involved profiling companies providing some of the most effective marketing today. And here’s something I found interesting — their marketing teams were almost entirely creative!
I expected to find some of the typical marketing roles — SEO, social media, ads, etc — but nearly all of these companies are doing marketing by not doing marketing. Instead they are finding inventive new ways to create memorable content and valuable experiences that are conversational.
Today, our companies are no longer in control of the sales process, the “funnel,” or the consumer journey. The customers are in control. They are the marketers. We can no longer buy our way in. We have to be invited to the conversation.
And that takes creativity.
Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant. The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.
Illustration courtesy Unsplash.com