There are two types of creatives. (There. I said it.)

cat in a bucket

If you ever want to piss a creative off, put them in a bucket.

Label them something reductive and pepper a vague description of them with generic, behavioural details (‘collects stickers’) that sound like the kind of thing they’d do. Then draw broad conclusions about their personality and tell them denial is a sure sign they fit your description.

See, it takes a very specific cocktail of contrarianism and self-belief to convince someone they need to do creative work. So the best way to sting us is to suggest we aren’t nearly as unique as we think we are and then claim to have us all figured out.

Of course all of this isn’t only true of creatives. But it certainly feels like it’s truer of creatives than it is of other professions. And it’s certainly more fun pissing a creative off than it is pissing an account manager off. (You won’t like them when they’re angry.)

With all that in mind, let’s piss some creatives off by suggesting a grand total of two reductive buckets. (It’s also worth noting that this post is the product of a drunken conversation in a pub with Velocity’s own magic Mel.)

Bucket #1: The Relative Creative

This type of creative prides themselves on their ability to see every possible permutation and combination of their potential output.

Their process is a tumultuous agonising over the massive amount of things they could do. If they’re writing, they’ll think of every twist, title, angle and arc before committing to the ones that feel right. If they’re designing, they’ll think of every curve, color, treatment and type before nailing it.

The relative creative is cursed to consider every side of every story. And they crave the moment when their instinct will kick in and guide them to make a call. They love hearing what other creatives think because it helps them think further and wider. But the price they have to pay for this open-mindedness is a lot of blank staring and self-doubt.

Pros: Great at collaborating, brainstorming and trying to understand why the client wanted to change what they wanted to change (within reason).

Cons: Terrible at making a concrete decision without significant hair-pulling and existential doubt. Also not naturally inclined to stand their ground and do things exactly the way they really wanted to.

Bucket #2: The Absolute Creative

This type of creative prides themselves on their ability to reliably drive a project to perfection.

Once they sink their teeth into something, they won’t let go till it’s just right. Their process is a methodical march to an increasingly clear destination that is exactly what the client needs. If they’re writing they’ll say exactly what needs to be said – nothing more and nothing less. If they’re designing, there won’t be a single anchor point out of place.

The absolute creative is prisoner to their perfection. They crave freedom and faith in their vision and will work fervently to earn it. And because they’ve worked their socks off and hit perfection for you, they don’t take kindly to you ‘wondering if there might be another way’. The price they’ll pay for this close-mindedness is occasional alienation and frequent disagreement.

Pros: Great at finding, appreciating and then owning the many tricks at the top of their trade. Firm, strong-willed and very clear about how things need to be.

Cons: Don’t have the most fun working with other absolute creatives. Can be comfortable bullying their way to a desired result.

So there you have it – the two broadest buckets of creatives I’ve ever been comfortable describing. In reading these descriptions you’ll undoubtedly have related to qualities from both camps. Which raises an important point.

Professional schizophrenia and the truth about buckets

Creatives, like prospects and clients (and other types of people) don’t conform to a single version of themselves. The annoying reality of the way people work is that they contradict themselves depending on the context they’re in. As a result, it’s nearly impossible to nail someone down to a single psychographic description.

In the same way a prospect can be irrationally enthusiastic about some technology and painfully luddite-like about other technology, creatives can be ardently absolutist about some parts of their job and ridiculously relativistic about others.

Personally? I’ll flip-flop all over the place when I’m writing a thing. But the second I’ve got validation from someone else, I’ll tighten my sphincter and promise never to let go. Which means that when a client inevitably suggests some changes, I’ll complain first and fold like a lawn chair second.

But knowing I have these two versions of myself to manage means I need to learn two types of lessons. On the one hand, I could save a lot of time by skipping the tantrums and just making the piece work. On the other hand I need to get good at spotting the compromises I’ll end up regretting later.

Either way, I’ve found it pretty useful analysing myself (and I’ll admit, other creatives) with these dual lenses. I don’t yet have any definite answers about how best to manage either version of creative. But it does help to know what qualities I need to emulate when I’m in a tight spot.

And it’s always good to know how to annoy the creatives around you.

Nicked the picture from here.


Hi Doug,

Once again, here’s proof you’re one of the most creative guys out there. You’ve written an entire post about categorising creatives and never once used the word ‘arrogant’. (Although you do come close with this observation, “creatives can be ardently absolutist about some parts of their job”.)

I enjoyed the romp. I self-identified. I’m not saying which bucket because, after all, how could I possibly fit into a bucket?

Thanks for that Sarah. The bad news is Doug didn’t write this one. The good news is I’ve totally taken this as a compliment. And now I’m likely to be arrogant about it. 🙂

Great post Harry! I claim that the “integrated creative” is the nirvana we all want to reach–that place where you have both the relative and the absolute present at the table but you’re mature enough to get the best from them both. Then again, I always did like Jungian psychology… 😉

Ah thanks, Charlotte! 🙂 I think maturity is exactly what’s needed to pick the best of both approaches. Relative by method, absolute by standard and grown up throughout.

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