We’ve all seen the trope: Person in interview is asked about their greatest weakness, and answers back with “I care too much.”
Now, turning a negative into a positive isn’t something new, nor is it relegated to the context of an interview. Honestly, I doubt anyone ever really answers that way anymore. But as I brought it up jokingly the other day, I realized this: Caring too much is actually a weakness.
Don’t get me wrong. Caring about your work, your job and the people around you is important. Let’s not swing the pendulum from caring to completely not caring. I am not advocating the contrarian ethos of Office Space to plot your career trajectory. But knowing when to care more and when to care less will help with better work, better relationships and more trust in the things you produce.
We’ve all known people or teams who can’t let go. Who will take an idea and not allow others in. They drive it, not fully respecting the process or another viewpoint. They give birth to the idea, and it immediately becomes a formed adult. There is no nature nor nurture that can change the idea or make it better, because mother or father knows best.
This is what happens when people “care” too much.
Sometimes people think they need to keep the “idea child” from outside influence, so it can live pure. We all saw how that overprotective parenting worked out for Rapunzel. Keeping children, or in our case, ideas, closed off from outside influence produces work that is naive, repetitive and occasionally tone deaf.
But in our business, you must make room for collaboration. Your approach to the idea needs to be open to taking guidance from many different people and specialists. Without that, the idea is feral, and never really lives up to its potential.
So how do you pick your level of care? Here’s a few thoughts.
Check your ego.
Once the idea is out, a shared ownership takes place. Everyone needs to look at it from their specialty and collaborate. Listen to advice and decide what makes the idea better. Not everything suggested will work, but don’t discount just because you didn’t think of it, or it will appear your idea is wrong. There is a time to defend, but not on every front if your defense is because of your own narcissism.
Respect the process.
The best creatives understand and respect the process and how it evolves an idea. From both internal discussions and changes to production, an idea may feel slightly different at the end. But trust your teammates and be open to discovery. Especially as you add new members. No director wants to simply shoot your boards, and no actor wants to just regurgitate your script. Their interpretation and creativity will “plus” an idea, because that’s what they do. If you feel like you’re the only creative person in the room, your attitude will be more in service to yourself than the idea.
Fight for what you believe in. Don’t believe in everything.
Push when the idea is going uphill, but coast if others take the wheel. Allow for collaboration, and be open to new expressions of the idea. You need to keep it on track, but that doesn’t mean the control freak in you needs to kick in at every stage. Keep it on the rails, but know that there is some give if it makes the idea better.
Collaboration isn’t settling.
If you think it is, it’s probably time for you to leave the agency world. It’s important to be open to the idea that “you don’t know what you don’t know.”
Pay attention to things you don’t want to hear.
It’s easy to nod at things we agree with, pat ourselves on the back for being so brilliant and grab a cocktail to celebrate our awesomeness. It’s equally as easy to turn away from things that challenge us. We make excuses and disqualify the person speaking up. But doing the right thing often means doing the hard thing, for both you and the person challenging you. If something is not working, is offensive or not landing, listen and let go. And don’t hold the messenger accountable for your own misgivings.
So that’s it. Caring so much that you always hold the line is never a smart strategy. Because collaborating on an idea isn’t about who wins and loses. Just care enough to do it in a way where everyone wins, especially the idea. If you care to put your own ego or personal issues above the idea, you will be forced to fight it on every front. And even if you “win,” the idea will lose.
Guide your thoughts, be flexible, and know when to care. Because if you care too much, these days, it’s almost like you don’t care.