The Beauty of Grit in the Creative Process


Grit. The word itself is ugly. Irritating. A little uncomfortable even. So how does this hard-nosed notion of grit fit into something as pure and beautiful as the creative process?

For starters, the creative process is rarely beautiful and it’s never pure. In fact, it’s more often ugly, irritating and uncomfortable – which is exactly why bringing grit to the party plays such an important role in its success.

Grit as a virtue in American culture isn’t new. This country was founded on the notion that anything is possible if you throw enough hard work and tenacity at it. This old school grit, defined and measured by a person’s firmness of character and ability to doggedly withstand hardships, really is what most of us consider the true grit. (Sorry…had to)

But over the last few years, a new definition of grit has emerged and it’s making its way into education, parenting and now, I suppose, creative circles. Set forth by psychologist Angela Duckworth in her 2013 TED talk and subsequent bestselling book, this new grit (stop it) tweaks the word to mean more than just the level of perseverance a person shows in reaching a goal, but the passion they maintain while doing it.

In her years researching students, she found it wasn’t always the uber-gifted Doogie Howser kids who most often found long-term success. It was actually the students who showed the traits of being both passionate about pursuing success and having the “stick-to-it-iveness” to make it happen. In other words, superior intelligence doesn’t always trump superior passion and tenacity.

I love this. I love it so much, I’m constantly talking about grit with my teenage kids. They’re smart, but they’re not geniuses, and the concept of grit is the perfect way to tell them they don’t have to be. No matter what lofty goals they set, if they apply themselves with a passionate persistence, success with follow.

For creatives, maintaining equal parts passion and perseverance is vital, especially during the fickle and frustrating creative process.
Bart Hirneise, Executive Creative Director, Agency Creative

Oh, the passion is easy at first. We all get in a room, freshly caffeinated and fully expecting to bust out the next award-winning campaign before the lunch line at Chipotle gets to the door. Then suddenly, you look around and it’s 6pm. Sharpie-scribbled printer papers plaster the walls. Every whiteboard is full of idea hurl. The smell of someone’s leftover cod from lunch still hangs in the air, pairing perfectly with the stench of the last four ideas.

It’s time to call it. Creative Gods 1, Creative Team 0.

Sufficiently zombified, we shuffle home to mindlessly unplug with some real zombies on Netflix.

Coming back the next day just as fresh as before is impossible. But coming back passionately determined to keep turning over rocks until you find gold…that’s grit.

When the client kills the first round of ideas, yet we press on with quiet confidence. Grit.

Going back to the well with a positive attitude after discovering someone already posted, Snapped, Tweeted, published or launched what you thought was your very own big, hairy, career-altering germ of an idea. Definitely grit.

Obviously, creative grit isn’t purely about hard work (you can’t outwork a bad idea.) It’s about maintaining a high level of passion throughout the entire process. Passion breeds positive thinking and optimism, and that opens our minds up to fresh, new ideas.

A poised and positive frame of mind may actually help creatives work smarter rather than harder when hit with adversity. On the flipside, if we’re not maintaining a level of passionate optimism through the entire creative process, well, now we’re just back to old school grit. And as your great-grandpa could attest, that grit kinda sucked.

Yes, grit is an ugly word. There’s no denying that. But in an industry where subjectivity still rules no matter how much science we throw at it; where you’re only as good as your last great idea; where intellectual and conceptual whitespace is at a premium, grit is a beautiful thing.

What? You actually made it through this entire blog? You definitely have grit. If you’re looking for a new place to apply it:

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