Dan Schawbel: Our Risk Averse Society Kills Creativity

Printed with permission from Gen Y Career and personal branding expert Dan Schawbel.


The easiest way to get a record deal from a major label is by already selling out tours, collaborating with major “brand name” artists and selling a million singles and albums. The easiest way to get a book deal is by having thousands of people already wanting a copy, already being a regular on Fox News and having a million dollars to spend on your book marketing campaign. The easiest way to get an internship is by already having an internship and the easiest way to get a promotion is by already taking on additional responsibilities and proving yourself in them. If you’re unemployed, there’s a bias against you and you aren’t as employable because you’re seen as risky. In other words, it’s easier to be more successful when you’re already successful because people are more willing to invest in you and feel less risk averse. It’s a catch 22.

I just watched the movie trailer for Thor 2, a film based off of a Marvel comic book series. Of course, there will be a Thor 3, 4, 5, etc. Hollywood will keep investing in films that are almost guaranteed to be profitable because of their fan base, top actors and well established brands. This is why books that sell millions of copies usually turn into movies. Even Inception, which some might consider a “risk” wasn’t really because they had Leonardo DiCaprio, an A-list actor. I’m still shocked that we haven’t seen a Wedding Crashers 2 or a Old School 2 but we probably will in the future.

Movies, books, bands and professionals who have huge potential usually won’t get invested in unless they are successful first. By the time they are successful, think of how much time has surpassed and how much talent was wasted. Candidates get filtered out of HR systems who are more than capable but don’t have the right keywords or haven’t had enough experience. This is similar to great movie idea that gets tossed out because it’s not a guarantee pay day.

I believe that we live in a world that is suffering from creativity because many of us don’t receive the same opportunities and aren’t given a fair chance. Think about the student who complained that all ivy league schools rejected her even though she was a near perfect student. If you aren’t the right person, at the right time, with the right background, you will suffer while the next person will thrive. This is why people complain that life is “unfair”. It’s unfair because it’s hard to unleash our creativity when people don’t invest in creativity unless it can make them money.

Social media has helped a lot of people get attention and advance based on creativity that “goes viral”. What about the creativity that doesn’t? What about all of those who have big ideas and thoughtful minds who won’t be heard? When I speak, I always mention that we have to think of ways to eliminate perceived risk as a way to get a job and advance in that job. If we don’t lower risk by taking on projects, even for free, and showing results, then we can end up unemployed and miserable.

In many ways, we have to play the game of “risk” until we achieve enough success to leverage that success and turn it into new opportunities. Of course there will be more obstacles, but it becomes easier to showcase your creative genius when people give you a platform, a job or a microphone. This is what we have to deal with in a bad economy when everyone is risk averse and those who don’t comply can easily be sidelined and their creativity lost.

It is my hope for the future that our systems and perspectives change, giving people a chance instead of filtering them out.

Pre-order Dan Schawbel’s highly anticipated new book,
Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success.

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