There's a saying in improv: "play for the stage, not for the seats."
As it relates to what you do as an artist and visionary, it means taking what people think they want and delivering what they really want instead. In the wedding industry, Calder Clark, Debbie Geller, and Marcy Blum are all geniuses at this.
You're the expert. If you want to produce a unique wedding or product, you don't start with images from Instagram, Pinterest, blogs, or magazines. By definition, if an image of the idea exists, it's already been done. If you want to be known as an artist with a perspective then you have to play for the stage. This means not doing what others have done or what's already been published. This means not taking what your audience or clients say they want exactly at face value, but instead digging deeper.
Make no mistake: there's money to be made in playing for the seats, in creating work that pulls its inspiration from what's been done before. More importantly, there is nothing inherently wrong with this. If creating work that is on trend rather than being the one who is setting trends is how you want to pay your kids' tuition, then more power to you. There are literally hundreds of thousands of couples who simply want a pretty wedding and an awesome experience for their guests. This is a completely legitimate choice. Target makes zillions of dollars selling products that are on trend, but they are not the ones setting the trends. It is not their business model and it doesn't have to be yours.
Here's the thing though: you can't have it both ways. You can't play for the stage and for the seats. You can't be known as the most creative company in the history of ever and simultaneously be copying ideas from other artists.
The fact of the matter is that playing for the stage is hard. The work is hard, pushing yourself to be creative after you feel you've spent all your creativity is hard, attracting the right clients is hard. Playing for the stage requires a level of grit and moxie and thick skin and tough conversations that playing for the seats does not. Playing for the stage means you will be judged more harshly and that you will have to forgive and forget more generously.
If your goal is to be unique though, then playing for the stage is really the only option.
Originally published September 2013