what happens when everyone
has to be a visionary?

Melanie Touchstone | March 27, 2019

It’s not a fear of failure – it’s a fear of burning out.

Let’s be honest: we live in society that is obsessed with innovation. Everyone wants to be a disruptor. The visionary archetype of the Silicon Valley variety has reached celebrity status. The documentary on Elizabeth Holmes, “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley” is an excellent example of this. We are desperate for the next Steve Jobs. We need the eccentric hero that will effortlessly change our lives in a “One more thing…” moment on stage.

It’s an exciting time, but for those in creative industries, it’s also exhausting.

Make no mistake, it’s not just tech. The urgent drive for game-changing innovators has trickled down into virtually every industry. Need convincing? Take a look at the major trend in innovation centers popping up around the nation. It’s all around us. It’s seeped into job descriptions. “An innovator obsessed with disrupting the status quo” is practically a prerequisite in 2019. 

For the creatives, the marketers, the designers, the star engineers, the constant need for industry changing ideas is nothing new, but the stakes are higher. The pressure is greater and stakeholders demand it. We live by the mantra “fail forward” because failure isn’t the greatest fear…burnout is. 

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As someone with over a decade of experience in marketing, I’m no stranger to the pressure to consistently think “outside the box.” In fact, I’ve made a career of it. Many times it has come with ease, others with desperation and a deadline. 

Surviving burnout is a necessity – our work demands it. Along the way, I’ve found a few tips for getting around the mental blockade. 

I. Go ahead, burn out…but do it well

What is “burnout” anyway? What makes it so terrifying? At its heart, it’s that we’ll never find that spark, that “ah-ha” moment. It’s especially severe when time is not on our side. To embrace the fact that everything you ever produce will not be innovative is to accept reality. In these moments of lackluster ideas, go ahead, pursue the ordinary. Just make sure it is the best version of ordinary you can possibly achieve. An ordinary idea with extraordinary execution is success in and of itself.

II. Change the channel

At a certain point, it’s time to walk away from the blank canvas. Do something else, and not with the intention of finding inspiration for the task at hand. Change the channel entirely, find something that forces your brain to switch gears. Often, I’ve heard “go for a walk.” This has never worked for me – I’ll go for a walk, but my mind is still on the project. Instead, I find something that requires me to put my entire focus on what I’m doing. This allows me to really step away from the project and truly approach it later with fresh eyes. 

III. Recycle

In the words of Mark Twain, “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope.” Whether you believe this is true or not, taking a look at old ideas is an excellent way to create new ones. Look back at your successes – what about them made them successful? I’ve found success looking back at ideas from ten years ago and adjusting them to reflect modern trends and advancements. In doing so, I’ve created something new entirely.

IV. Ask for help

It’s easy to become possessive over an idea or project, but sometimes the fastest way to get out of a rut is to open yourself up to the possibility of collaboration. Talk to someone – even if they know nothing about your industry. Explain the problem you’re trying to solve for. You may not be able to approach your project with fresh eyes, but they can. 

Innovation makes the world go ‘round, and when you’ve built a career that demands it, you’ll inevitably find yourself stuck at times. It happens to everyone. The perception that the idolized visionary never has an off day simply isn’t reality. There will never be another Steve Jobs, and somedays even Steve Jobs wasn’t Steve Jobs. The pressure of trends and cult of archetypes are the very opposite of originality. It’s ok to feel ordinary, because ordinary people do extraordinary things. Your mental road block is just that – a block in the road. Some of life’s greatest moments happen in the pursuit of getting around that block. It is trailblazing, after all. 


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