Marshall Goldsmith, a renowned business coach, observes when people initiate a personal campaign to improve themselves — for example, shed a bad habit, exercise more, be nicer to their co-workers, learn a new language, elevate their spirit — there is a high probability they will fail. “At some point,” he says, “early in the game or near the finish line, most people will abandon their campaign to get better.”

According to Goldsmith, the research on goal achievement indicates there are six major reasons why people give up:

  1. It takes longer than we thought. Our need for instant gratification trumps patience and discipline.
  2. It’s more difficult than we thought.
  3. We have other things to do. Distractions take our eyes off the ball.
  4. We don’t get the expected reward. This creates frustration rather than inspiration to persist.
  5. We declare victory too soon. Lose a few pounds? “Let’s order pizza.”
  6. We have to do it forever. Maintenance is tough.

Be the optimist in the room

Goldsmith says, “Giving up isn’t because of a failure of discipline, or an unrealistic vision of our future, or being overwhelmed by distractions,” rather, “It’s a crisis of optimism. After the first wave of success, when improvement gets harder, our efforts can seem more hopeless than hopeful. You lose your initial burst of optimism, and optimism is the fuel that drives the engine of change.”


It’s remarkable how closely the reasons for giving up on goals, correspond with the highs and lows of the creative process.

Ask any team what happens after the idea-generation stage, and you will likely hear about great ideas that flamed out after the initial creative spark. Would being an optimist in this situation help?

I know from personal experience, creative sparks are exciting and uplifting, but you need more than sparks to keep your ideas alive when reality bites back. I don’t think you can be an optimist unless you have the energy and motivation to slog it out.

As Edison  said, “None of my inventions came by accident. I see a worthwhile need to be met and I make trial after trial until it comes. What it boils down to is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

If your idea is going to gain traction, it needs to matter to the people involved, and it needs to be meaningful to everyone on your team. Expect to iterate a few times before you achieve your goal.

I find that when I link my creative project to a higher purpose (one that is larger than my own self-interest) and get other people onboard, I have the motivation and optimism to persist. In fact without optimism, I could not continue to create anything, and without creativity, I would stop feeling optimistic.

The difference between optimists and pessimists

Martin Seligman, a pioneer in the positive psychology field, says, “Optimistic people tend to interpret troubles as transient, controllable and specific….in other words, … surmountable, temporary.  Pessimists believe troubles last forever, undermine everything they do and are uncontrollable… troubles are pervasive, permanent and personal.”

Now when I face trials and tribulations, I like to ask myself, “What fresh hell is this?” (Humour helps de-stress) Then I tell myself, “This too shall pass.” It helps put me in the optimists camp and keep going.

Does your creative project matter? 20 creativity coaching questions 

These questions are based on five core values that guide my creative process and keep me optimistic: Love, Beauty, Clarity, Harmony and Wisdom. I use these to stay on track with my own creative projects, and I use them to coach executives and their teams. No, I don’t ask them all at once.

  1. Is this an elegant solution? (Can you simplify complexity? Will this make things easier for the end-user?)
  2. What is the point? (Purpose) (Does this idea/project deserve to live? If, not, kill it.)
  3. Why does this matter?
  4. What makes this desirable?
  5. What is beautiful about the idea? (Does it please the senses, evoke a wow response, or embody excellence?)
  6. Whom does this serve? What is the higher purpose?
  7. What is the benefit? (Community? Social? Business?)
  8. What will make this feasible? Viable?
  9. What needs to become clear for myself and others?
  10. How will I/we communicate with clarity?
  11. How can I/ we create order out of chaos?
  12. What resources can we leverage? (Time, money, people, technology)
  13. What are my/our assumptions about this project, and are they accurate?
  14. How can we make this process simpler?
  15. What rules of engagement do we need, to make the most of team-work?
  16. Are my/our values in alignment with this project?
  17. What do I/we need to maintain creative resilience?
  18. What will make this project more fun?
  19. How will we make sparks fly?
  20. What will we do to celebrate when we achieve our goals?

Pick a few to spark a strategic discussion with your team, to illuminate what matters. When you align creativity with meaning, purpose, and real human needs, you will generate the energy and motivation to transform your ideas into reality. Make sure you celebrate when you finish your project. This will keep your optimism alive and generate energy for the next round.

Over to you

How do you and your team keep going after the initial creative spark? If your team needs a creative boost, you will benefit from learning new skills to ignite and sustain creativity at work

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