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Is “creative entrepreneurship” just a business model? Or is it a way of life?

You don’t need me to tell you that it’s a prime time to defect, go solo, incorporate, recruit the best people you know, build a small global team, and make your finest work yet because no one is standing over your shoulder.

Chances are you’re already doing it. Or at least thinking about it. And so all I really need to say is: Let’s. Fucking. Go. 

But I think it’s worth taking a moment, as we pause to reflect on the year ahead, to ask ourselves: What exactly are we going to do with all this independence?

To put it another way: Is “creative entrepreneurship” just a business model? Or is it a way of life? A set of values? Is the end goal to be our own boss, or are we going to reach higher than that? If once we make it work financially, despite most odds, will that represent “success,” or are we thinking about success differently than the rest of our industry? Can we scale? Do we want to?

About ten years ago Scott Belsky, the co-founder of Behance, saw what was coming, because he was laying the groundwork: “The advertising agency of the future will consist of account managers, administrative staff, and a tiny leadership team that provides creative direction. The creative production itself will be distributed to individuals and small teams around the globe who are at the top of their game… In the past, resources for finding and managing top talent were extremely limited. Now, the rise of online networks, as well as project management and collaboration tools is empowering creative professionals.” 

It was a bold prediction, and technically, an accurate one. But even in its precision it didn’t answer any of my questions. At the end of his statement, Belsky added, “The companies (and clients) that welcome this future will benefit from better creative output.” And that leaves me kind of cold, honestly. It reminded me of the way economics professors take bets on how long it will take one of their students to actually use the word “people.” The part that Belsky leaves out from the story, and which we’re still leaving out, is who and why. 

A lot of us fell into this role out of a mix of necessity and curiosity. But who are we, and why are we staying? Is it the promise of bigger clients and higher margins? The dream of the four-hour workweek? Creative control? That sounds nice, but is it enough? In 2021?

I believe we chose to become creative independents because we wanted to stop being afraid. And I’m pretty sure that if we all talked more about what that means  — even more than we promote our speed, our talent, and our low rates — we’d find that this little world we’re carving out is even more special than it appears.

Fern Diaz

Founder, Librarie Studios

@ferndiaz