Lots of artists will admit they’re not so great with numbers. Math was never their strongest subject. But when it comes to creative work, artists and investment bankers aren’t all that different as far as taking risks is concerned.
“Creative people practice in the realm of ideas what financial investors do in the stock market. They defy the crowd to ‘buy low and sell high,'” writes Robert Sternberg, in the paper “Creativity as Investment.” “Not every stock with low price-earnings ratio is a good financial investment … neither is every new idea a good creativity investment.”
Here’s how thinking more like an investment banker can help your creative pursuits.
Sternberg takes a stock tip from investor Peter Lynch when it comes to creative work: “Invest in things you understand.” That means focusing your efforts on what matters most to you, rather than spreading yourself too thin.
It takes at least 10 years in a creative field before you to see serious creative achievement, according to psychologist Dean Simonton. Translation: Patience is of the essence.
That said, knowing too much can also be restricting. The ones who are best at developing new ideas don’t let all they know hinder them. “Creative people and companies don’t get locked in by what they know; they are able to move on to the next idea.”
There’s no foolproof way to tell the difference between stocks that are undervalued and those that are selling low because they’re not worth much. The same goes for testing creative ideas. Often, especially in the early stages, it’s hard to tell if your idea is worth going after or not.
But Sternberg sites two basic kinds of problem solving approaches that can be effective for both investing and creating. The first “fundamental analysis,” essentially means taking a forward-looking approach at what attributes of a company could help you predict a rise or fall in its stock or what elements of a creative idea could be of interest or useful to the outside world.
The second, a “technical analysis,” essentially means looking at past trends or ideas to get a sense of what did well and what didn’t in the past.
Of course there are no hard and fast rules. Put an idea out in the world too soon and you might sabotage it from developing. Sometimes you’re not ready for feedback or rejection yet. Don’t rush.
“Analogous to stock market investment success, sometimes creativity fails to occur because a person puts forth (‘sells’) an idea prematurely or holds an idea so long that it becomes common or obsolete,” writes Sternberg.
Most investors know they should buy low and sell high, but very few do. People aren’t all that different when it comes to creative work, says Sternberg. Creativity requires a risk-taking personality, someone who can take a stand and be a contrarian,” he writes. “Someone easily dismayed by criticism will have a tough time being creative. Buying low is not easy to do. Standing on one’s own is obviously risky.”
When you’re “buying low” you’re going after ideas most people aren’t into. That means you’ll likely encounter some pushback from others. “The creative individual persists in the face of this resistance, and eventually sells high, moving on to the next new, or unpopular, idea,” says Sternberg.
But in order to make it in the creative world, you need a healthy dose of motivation. “The amount of motivation needed to buy low can be miniscule compared with the motivation and persistence needed to get to the point where one can sell high,” according to Sternberg. “Edison learned 1,800 ways not to build a light bulb before he got it right.”