The practice of the malcontent.

People frequently think that creativity is a genetic predisposition of some sort—a talent that can be turned on and off with the throw of a switch. It is true that some are born with a creative inclination, but the reality for most ideators is that creativity requires constant and long-term attendance—and I don’t mean software updating. Like any profession, the road to mastery is paved with schooling, practice, discipline—and then more practice. If that’s the drill for anyone serious about functioning in the design business, what makes one designer different—and maybe better—from another?


The answer is mistrust. The fact is that some of the best idea-makers are malcontents. They tend to maintain a healthy discontent for their own ideas. Let’s not confuse this obsessive restlessness with grousing about bad projects or difficult clients. That’s normal. What I’m talking about is a pre-programmed suspicion about the merit of one’s own thinking and ideas—bona fide doubt. This doubt is different from ‘early career’ doubt that stems from inexperience and naiveté. In fact, it’s the opposite. This form of doubt is born only from experience and the time-proven knowledge that good ideas are just plain hard to come by. For a lot of designers (and photographers, illustrators and writers), this becomes a modus operandi—an unwritten code of travel. An itch that doesn’t go away until the right idea surfaces. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that is rooted in a belief that sameness is the enemy—that the search is actually for something that doesn’t look like anything we’ve seen before. It’s a particular thirst for ideas that aren’t safe, that aren’t calculable, and that often feel uncomfortable—ideas that may, in fact, be hard to get used to in the moment of their creation. Once found, it starts all over again until another idea is unearthed—better than the last. A sort of Mobius rock-turning. And then again, before we get too content with things, we do it once more.