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Remember What Is Important

In the race to scratch your way to the top, don’t forget how or why we leaped on the heap in the first place.

You don’t see many artists, musicians, or writers practicing their craft in corporate cubicles — never mind corner offices. I’m not talking about dotcommers who bring their dogs to work, or closet musicians who band together to perform at holiday parties. I’m talking about truly creative people. The reality is that the corporate environment — and the business schools that keep pumping out MBAs — have historically, and systemically, squashed creativity through the social mores and the thought processes they impart upon young, impressionable minds.

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Let me give you an example. I recently had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of having my portrait painted by Francesco Clemente, one of the greatest artists of this century. Over the course of the two-hour sitting, I had the chance to chat with Clemente and ask him some questions like, “Who’s the most fascinating person you’ve done a portrait for?” I expected him to name some famous jet-set personality, a corporate titan, or even his lovely wife, Alba. But instead, he said, “Oh, I don’t know. Everyone who sits for me is really just the same. They’re all just people, no?”

Not the kind of answer you’d get from the average corporate type. From day one in the business world, we are trained to be sugarcoated warriors, hell-bent on politicking and plotting our way to the top of the pecking order. We become so fixated on who is important within the organization that we often lose sight of what is important — things like creativity, meritocracy, individuality, and doing the right thing.

Creative people aren’t like that. They tend to focus on perfecting the expression of their hearts — whether it’s music, images, or words. And more often than you might think, they can achieve their own definition of success — whether that’s exposure of their work to millions of people, critical acclaim, commercial success, or a deep sense of satisfaction — by focusing on what they’re doing instead of whom they should be trying to impress.

The free-agent movement has afforded creative people — or even people like me who just fancy themselves creative — an ideal socio-economic structure in which to flourish. Designers can design and writers can write, unfettered by corporate politicking and plotting. And we are no longer consigned to the “weirdo” box on the corporate org chart; our creativity is a driving force in the new economy.

Pookie Melberg (pookie@kilinski.com) is a strategic writer and free agent based in San Francisco. She has worked in high-tech marketing for more than 15 years, after writing her first copy on a Macintosh ad in 1984.

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