Why Creativity Isn't Free

Next Time You Say a Viral Campaign Cost $0, Think About It

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As a blogger, I get a lot of bad PR pitches. I usually ignore them or write a snarky note to the publicist. But a pitch I got today struck a chord with me and I bet it will do the same to a lot of creative people. The pitch began: "This application cost us $0 to develop and $0 in advertising costs, and it got 70 million page visits in 2011 in a two-month period."

"There is no such thing as 'development costs = $0, advertising costs = $0'", I responded.

"A developer friend did it for us," she said. "It only took him two-and-a-half weeks. We did the ads ourselves, so that was $0 cost also." Arghhh.

Let me set this misguided flack straight, along with those of you who hold similarly untoward views.

Time is money. Creativity costs money. This story, which has come to be known as The Picasso Principle sums it up:

A woman asked Picasso to sketch something on a piece of paper. He does, and says, "That will cost you $10,000." Astounded, she said "You took just five minutes to do the sketch," she said. Isn't $10,000 a lot for five minutes work?

And he responded, "The sketch may have taken me five minutes, but the learning took me 30 years."

Education costs money
A bachelor's degree takes most people four years to earn. If we think of a work week as 40 hours, that 's an investment of 50 x 40 x 4 = 8,000 hours. Knock off 30% for vacations, that 's 5,600 hours. And that just brings you to the point where you can begin putting in the time to become a master at what you do.

Hosting and servers cost money: and expenses can run into thousands of dollars for a wildly successful viral campaign, as the flack inadvertently noted: "The first problem popped out in one week, when the servers overloaded."

There is no such thing as an overnight success
In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the "10,000 hours" concept. Numerous studies have shown that in order to become an expert at something, you need 10,000 hours of deliberate practice (i.e., practice in which someone or something is critiquing your work and giving you feedback to improve).

The number comes from a 1993 study of elite violinists by Dr. Anders Ericsson, in which Ericsson found that by the time the top musicians were 20 years old, they'd practiced a lifetime total of about 10,000 hours.

Gladwell says that Bill Gates, for example, had access to state-of -the-art computer labs early in life, allowing him to get his 10,000 hours of computer education. As a result, by time he got to college, he had reached a point in his education that his contemporaries couldn't reach for another 10 years.

Of course there are exceptions, but, as Psychology Today pointed out "The 10,000 hours is your ticket to being able to compete, and after that expertise is accumulated, luck and circumstance play a part."

B.L. Ochman , president of whatsnextonline.com, is an internet marketing strategist and blogger who can be found Twittering, at WhatsNextBlog.com or with her newest venture, Pawfun.com.
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