Creativity vs Hard Work: Which Drives Success?

When you think success, what comes to mind? How about innovation, inspiration, relevance, respect, satisfaction?

Success is the achievement of a desired result. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or creative artist, attaining that success means committing fully to the process. And like any process, there are steps that need to be taken to get there.

But which is the go-to shortcut that drives success: creativity vs hard work?

It’s time to rethink your strategy for success.

Hard Work Isn’t Enough

When it comes to creativity vs hard work, what’s the key to happiness? Research says that it’s a balance of both—we are at our happiest in the workplace when we are working towards a goal that matches our unique strengths and talents.

Working hard towards a purposeful target is often more satisfying than the actual achievement of the goal. But when hard work quickly spirals into unhealthy habits of workaholism and burnout, the fatigue numbs out the happiness once embraced from the work we produce.

Happiness aside, hard work doesn’t guarantee success. In fact, long hours are usually just that—long hours.

Truth is, we oftentimes get so caught up in the grind that we forget to ask crucial questions like “what is this hard work supposed to achieve?” or “how does this hard work drive success?”

Reaction vs Strategy

Without a clear, creative vision, hard work can only deliver diminishing returns. Reacting to your situation, rather than creating a strategy first, is the equivalent of putting the cart before the horse.

When hard work is backed by continual innovation, that’s when the magic happens. Just look at companies adapting to today’s everchanging economy, from American Airlines’ wine subscription to Spotify’s podcasting powerhouse.

And let’s not forget the all the local restaurants, food trucks, breweries and retail stores rapidly replacing the in-person experience with curbside pickup and contactless delivery—all for the chance to stay in business.

On the flip side, we can’t forget the hard-working businesses that went bye-bye because they didn’t innovate.

Blockbuster worked hard to open up more than 5,800 stores by 2004, only to dwindle into bankruptcy by 2010 because (among other reasons) they got into the online video rental business years too late—even passing up on the opportunity to purchase Netflix in the company’s infancy.

Kodak worked hard to keep its dominant market share in cameras and film while remaining complacent during the digital photography revolution. This eventually led to their bankruptcy by 2012, even though Kodak invented the digital camera in 1975. They’re not completely finished, although their attempts at innovation backfire these days.

Creativity Isn’t Enough

As a creative writer, I love to daydream. I think about all the stories that I want to write, from novels and short stories to plays and songs. I replay them in my head, smoothing out scenes and solving plot holes. 

How many of those stories have I written? Sadly, not many.

All innovation starts with a creative idea. And when it comes down to creativity vs hard work, the only kind of creativity that can be successful is the kind that morphs from thought to realized action. After all, creativity is the process of producing something new into reality.

But if you never act on your creativity, you’re not creative—you’re just a thinker.

A thinker doesn’t paint that painting, write that story or compose that symphony. A thinker—you guessed it—just thinks creatively without the intention to create.

That being said, acting on your creativity isn’t enough to drive success.

Creative Ideas vs Creative Solutions

A creative idea is a thought that brings a fresh perspective on something within an actual situation. Think of creative ideas as a brainstorming session where the pitches are unconventional, perhaps silly or absurd, but not necessarily a suitable resolution for the scenario at hand.

Creative solutions are creative ideas that solve problems. Creative solutions never lose sight of the problem, ask all relevant questions, uncover all holes in order to further validate the idea and aim to reach the goal.

See the difference?

So many creative ideas are carried out too early in the creative process. Testing for errors, playing devil’s advocate, presenting to focus groups—this creative idea must pass these trials before it can be deemed an action-ready creative solution.

Creating a new idea isn’t enough. This new pitch must have real-world relevance, applicable appeal and undeniable convenience for it to be a creative solution worth action, be it in business or in art.

Creativity vs Hard Work: Why Not Both?

Choosing between creativity vs hard work isn’t a choice one can make—that is, if one really wants to be successful. Creativity and hard work drive success, but only if executed together.

Let’s recap: Innovation = creative solution + strategic hard work.

Success is a relay race, not a solitary sprint, where everything relies on that baton hand-off. Creativity defines the goal and the solution to get there. Hard work pushes forth the strategic actions that achieve this goal.

Creativity and hard work can’t stay in their own lane, not when they’re on the same team. The key is to remember that both are part of the innovation process. If either doesn’t have a seat at the table, then there’s no point in holding the meeting.

Creativity vs hard work—which do you think drives success? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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