7 Ways Successful Creatives Think Differently than Unsuccessful Ones

I have worked with authors for more than three decades. I have also worked with speakers, recording artists, and other creatives. I have had the privilege of working with the best—and the challenge of enduring the worst. Ninety percent fall somewhere in the middle.

One Lit Light Bulb Among Many Unlit Ones - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/mbortolino, Image #10874645

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/mbortolino

What separates them is not talent. Surely, this plays a role. But it doesn’t fully explain why some creatives with marginal talent become successful and others with extraordinary talent never really make it. (I could name names, but I would get myself in trouble on both counts!)

Instead, I think the determining factor is to be found in how they think. Successful creatives think differently than unsuccessful ones. This is evident in seven ways.

  1. Successful creatives think big. The best creatives think, “Go big or go home.” If they are going to go to the trouble of writing a book, preparing a speech, or recording an album, they might as well make the biggest impact they can. They aren’t naive about the amount of work it will take, but they still dream big. They are always asking, “What could we do that would exceed everyone’s expectations?”
  2. Successful creatives take responsibility. The best creatives take responsibility for the outcome. They don’t expect someone else to make them famous or successful, though they realize they can’t succeed without others. They own their work and accept responsibility for how it is received by the market.
  3. Successful creatives listen well. The best creatives are not know-it-alls. They understand that being good at one thing (e.g., writing, speaking, or singing) doesn’t mean they are good at everything (e.g., packaging or marketing). As a result, they listen to those who have more experience. Ultimately, this raises their probability for success.
  4. Successful creatives seek help. While the best creatives accept ultimate responsibility for the outcome, they enroll everyone they can to help them succeed. They understand they can’t do it alone. As a result, they build a world-class team around them. They are constantly asking, “Who else can I enroll to help get me where I want to go.”
  5. Successful creatives work hard. The best creatives are not lazy. They don’t assume that their work is done once the book is written, the speech prepared, or the album recorded. In a real sense, their work has only just begun. They don’t display a spirit of entitlement. Instead, they roll up their sleeves and do the work that lesser creatives are unwilling to do.
  6. Successful creatives remain humble. The best creatives know that success is illusive and fragile. They know that they didn’t attain it on their own, nor will they preserve it on their own. This makes them grateful and humble. Though they face the same temptations to become arrogant, they understand the dangers and comport themselves accordingly.
  7. Successful creatives give praise. The best creatives take all the responsibility and little of the credit. They are quick to give that away to the numerous people who helped them get where they are. These creatives are especially good at praising in public and shining the spotlight on others.

The bottom line is that you have more control over your success than you may think. However, you must develop a winning mindset and cultivate the habits of successful thinking. This is what separates the best creatives from all others.

Question: Which of these habits do you need to work on? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://somewiseguy.com ThatGuyKC

    I think I do most of these pretty well, but I have trouble with #1. I work hard and am ready to dream big, I just don’t know what my dream is yet.

    I’m close though.

  • http://www.ricardobueno.com Ricardo Bueno

    “Seeking help” used to be a tough one for me. I was always the “go it alone” type. Heck, to this day I feel like that sometimes. But really, entrusting in others, and not being afraid to ask for help can be just what you need to launch you forward. 

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  • http://twitter.com/johnlambert John Lambert

    Sounds like the best creatives have Godly virtues operating in their life!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yep. I think so.

  • http://twitter.com/harmlessjoyce Joyce Elferdink

     I often fail at listening well and asking for help. They seem to be related because if I don’t ask for help, I have no one to listen to…

    I worked for a year on revisions to my manuscript, then found a Writers Group to provide honest feedback.  It seems like I wasted the last year trying to fix my work by myself. Listening to their no-nonsense reproofs/suggestions is painful but so necessary for improving my work.

    Maybe the difficulty of listening to people who disagree but may have answers is the reason our world seems to change so slowly where systems are obviously broken.

    • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

      difficulty of listening to people who disagree but may have answers — That really requires maturity from our end.

  • http://bit.ly/gwalter gwalter

    “Successful creatives think big.”  

    “Go big, or go home.”

    Before I was married and had kids, this wasn’t so much a problem.  

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Raising great kids that make a contribution IS a big dream for many. I can’t imagine anything more important.

  • http://www.bradandlindsey.com Brad Bridges

    I love the way your article challenges some stereotypes/assumptions about creatives (lazy, no follow-through, etc). It was refreshing in one sense to read your positive perspective but challenging in another sense to ask myself which of these areas (if not all) I need to begin working on personally to be a higher performing creative.

    However I believe the highest performing creatives influence others and praise others for their contributions (numbers 6 and 7 in your article) to create “movements.” In all reality, we’ve all benefited from others believing in us or influencing us to think differently than we had previously. 

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    The list not only applies to successful creatives but also to successful accounting & auditing professionals like me. I have seen many evading responsibility whenever things go wrong.

  • http://twitter.com/MusicPowerStrat MusicPoweredStrategy

    Of all the points in the article the one that stands out the most is the first.  I think too often we limit ourselves and don’t think big enough.  To think what people could do if they weren’t limited by their doubts, fears, or other people.  This reminds me of Seth Godin’s recent book, “Poke the Box”, which has been a great encouragment to me in this area.

    One other thing I would add to the list is the passion that creatives, or successful people, have for their purpose.  They may not be the most brilliant or most talented but their passion drives their thinking and determination as well.

    Thanks for the great article!


    • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

      “the passion that creatives, or successful people, have for their purpose. ” That’s absolutely true.

  • John Doherty

    I think this post is spot-on, Michael. I’ve been reading Tony Hsieh’s (CEO of Zappos) book Delivering Happiness recently. The trait I see in him that enabled him to succeed is to keep trying, and to learn from his mistakes. Yes he has a natural insight into how ventures will work out, but he learns from his failures and never stops trying.

    • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

      Yup! That was indeed a great read Doherty.

  • http://twitter.com/DavidBDykstra David B Dykstra

    Great article Michael, as always! I think I might add “Ask questions.” Everyone likes to feel like they can be the expert, and people are more open to new ideas if they feel like they were involved in the process. Actually, I guess that falls squarely under getting help.

  • http://www.angelakroe.com Angela K Roe

    I love this list and as an author, I hope I live up to it!

  • Kirsten

    So true! I have trouble with dreaming big and it’s really irritating me! I’m trying to spend more time with successful people to inspire me.

  • sarmistha tarafder

    Great, great article! Thank you.

    Reminds me of  Lao Tzu’s 
    Duality and the Wise Man’s Office

    Since the world points up beauty as such,

    There is ugliness too.

    If goodness is taken as goodness,

    Wickedness enters as well.

    For is and is-not come together;
    Hard and easy are complementary;
    Long and short are relative;
    High and low are comparative;
    Pitch and sound make harmony;
    Before and after are a sequence.

    Indeed the Wise Man’s office
    Is to work by being still
    He teaches not by speach
    But by accomplishment;
    He does for everything,
    Neglecting none;
    Their life he gives to all,
    Possessing none;
    And what he brings to pass
    Depends on no one else.
    As he succeeds,
    He takes no credit
    And just because he does not take it,
    Credit never leaves him.


    • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

      Thanks for sharing this beatiful passage Saramistha!

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  • Seasalt44

    This is true for anything you do in life. Find God’s plan, work on it and sustain it with His help. Don’t forget those who have blessed you, encouraged you and supported you in other ways. Life is not about you and we must not forget it.

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    Think big and seek help. I don’t know what “think big” looks like (or maybe I do and it frightens me–”I could never do that”). I hope “seek help” doesn’t come off as arrogance–”I don’t need no help. I’m plum smart enough.” It’s not arrogance as much as caution. I don’t want to appear pushy. I need help and plenty of it.

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    I think seeing failure as a part of the natural process, not that a person seeks failure but he doesn’t fear it either, helps the person move forward and improve his chances for success. It’s the ability to cycle through failure-reflection-new direction-repeat until the goal is reached that makes the difference.

  • Sweetie

    I think successful creatives also know that they do not necessarily think like the known models, but they learn to understand that to succeed in business they may need to learn the skills of marketing via known models with their own particular abilities and talents.  Successful creatives are willing to pay the price of being themselves yet teachable and open to the requirements that a successful business calls for when it comes to activities that do not forfeit their originality.

  • Joe Lalonde

    I feel I struggle with number 7. It’s not that I don’t like to acknowledge others, I just have trouble acknowledging the good in others.

  • Joe Lalonde

    Good point to add FemmeFuel! So many people get derailed when something goes wrong and they encounter failure. The successful person usually plods on with his business.

  • http://twitter.com/jerburroughs Jeremy Burroughs

    Seeking help and remaining humble are two of the things I have to constantly do. I have noticed that they reinforce each other as well. As I seek help and realize the competency and expertise of others, I remain humble. Additionally, as I seek to humble myself before God, he points out how much I need others’ help in my life. 

  • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

    They’re not deterred by failure, but they learn from failure.

  • Dingheng0932

    I will continue to pay attention!

  • Joven Baloyo

    I was thinking of the biblical Joseph, Joshua, and Jesus’ disciples who were inspired of their Master’s resurrection, most of what you stated, if not all, were characterized in them. Thanks for sharing, I was inspired this morning.

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  • Myworld30

    I fit all of the 7qualities but I lack finish. I start writing and get half way there STOP? I feel as though once it’s done no one will really like it. Until I watch a horrible movie…I say to myself I know I can do better than that. Mrs. Procrastinator ;(

    • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

      True! Consistency and discipline is a real challenge in everyone’s life.

  • Officialbsj

    Let me be the first to say that I am GUILTY on ALL counts. I have also taken for granted that because I can produce a 300 page manuscript in 6 days or write a screenplay in a night that I’m on the upper side of wonderful. I realise that this is not really the case because once you assume entitlement based on talent you negate the hard work of the millions of talented people who got down and dirty in the pursuit of their dreams. In one of my books I say that ‘your dreams will happen to other people while you’re sleeping’. From your post I would add that your dreams will happen to less talented people even if you’re awake, if you’re not prepared to work.

    Thanks for yet another reality check Michael. The bites are going to leave a nasty mark on my ‘you know what’!

    You are appreciated.


    Byron Sasha Jones

    • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

      Producing a 300 page manuscript in 6 days or writing a screenplay in a night – That is awesome Jones.

  • Heatherls

    I have a hard time knowing where to look for help.

    Michael,  I am new to your posts and  find them pure gold.  I’m a full time mother who hopes one day to be published.  My passion is India.  While visiting  Andrah Pradesh a couple of years ago I became fascinated by the true life story of a Dalit woman (untouchable) who accomplished things far beyond anyone’s expectations.  In the place where she once tried to take her own life, there now stand a school and a hospital whose beginnings she is responsible for.  I am writing in my spare time and will follow your advice as I try to connect with an agent.  I need an editor, and do not wish to self-publish.  Any advice from ya’ll would be appreciated!  Thank you for your generosity, Michael.
    Heather S.

    • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

      Your passion is India! Good to hear from you Heatherls

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  • HDFlanagan

    I found your point about seeking help to be the most interesting one on the list, since I think a common perception of being creative is going it alone and just being gifted. A good reminder that being creative isn’t enough to be successful.

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  • http://thegoosesquill.wordpress.com/ Kerry Gans

    I need to work on #1 – thinking big. Getting past the impulse to be modest is hard! I am very happy to see that the other 6 points come more easily to me!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anna-Marie-Oftelie-Sheffield/1619365610 Anna Marie Oftelie Sheffield

    The hardest of these, for me, is the first one: Think big.  I am going to give this some serious thought and prayer.  Thank you for your wonderful blog!  I have already had more traffic to my blog by your suggestions about a good headline.  Blessings! Anna Marie

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      Anna Marie, I agree. Thinking big is hard, especially as we get older. Our friends and family start telling us to be realistic and rethink the big goals and plans. Yet without these thoughts we become stagnant.

      And congrats on increasing the traffic to your blog! That is great work.

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  • http://www.etsy.com/shop/auntiesworkshop Auntie

    Successful Creatives Seek Help:  This one is my weakest area.  It’s not that I don’t want help.  It’s just that I’ve sought several areas to try to get help and support, but it’s just not working.

  • Raunak Agarwal

    who to start thinking different

    • http://www.etsy.com/shop/auntiesworkshop Auntie


  • Arvind

    Hi, I am Arvind, I just gone through this website and really the points above has given is very helpful for me, I am always thinking that how the people become successful and the above points given me the overview amount to be successful.

  • Brenda Yoder

    Thinking big. It somehow seems prideful or not practical. But I receive the admonishment.

  • Anmol

    I need to work on all!

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  • Zeta amine

    Successful thinking involves passion too!

  • kunal singh

    Good article. Helps me. But how to develop these thinking would be a big thing.