Broadly defined as someone’s sense of self-importance and self-esteem, ego is often frowned upon in the modern workplace because the goal, and the team are perceived as more important than the individual.
What is the role of creativity and the ego? Too much ego is clearly damaging: Todd Henry, author of The Accidental Creative, states that: “When an inflated ego becomes the norm, you may become inflexible and unwilling to take the small personal risks necessary to break out of your comfort zone and pour yourself fully into your work.”
The flipside – to have no ego at all – would likely result in lackluster creativity, too. Passion and drive would be diminished, as would a willingness to follow your instincts. So ego certainly has a place – it’s hard to imagine, for example, that when Steve Jobs met Jony Ive, Apple’s hallowed design chief who shared Jobs’ passion for beautifully thought-out products, that they were mostly driven by the idea of making money. As well as ego, creative elements such as self-expression (Se), Art (A) and Science (Sc) will undoubtedly have been key motivators for this world-changing dream team.
To be creative can mean to walk the wire: understand your ego but don’t let it get out of control – especially important when ego gets into bed with self-criticism. It isn’t always easy. Talking at the New York Film Festival in 2014, Alejandro González Iñarritu, who directed and co-wrote the Oscar-winning film Birdman, said: “My personal creative process has always been very torturous, because I try to be a perfectionist. That’s the way the ego works – it’s extraordinarily demanding.”
He goes on to describe ego as a dictator that can push you to bring out the best in yourself. But, he says, “it’s relentless, and never will be satisfied.”
If your own ego is on the quiet side, try this: pen a 300 word biography of yourself that highlights your greatest attributes. Keep it truthful, but make it positive. What would your best friend say are your greatest assets? What would like it to be said were your achievements at your retirement party? Refer back to this (in your head) the next time you find yourself shrinking behind colleagues during a group discussion.
Read more in Claire’s book on creativity in business In Your Creative Element.