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Creating Your Inner Circle for Creativity

Creatives are notoriously independent, but that doesn’t mean they should be. Whether you have a professional team to work with you or just a group of friends who lift your spirits as needed, having an “inner circle” can work wonders for your creative efforts. So how do you go about creating your inner circle for creativity, and why does it matter so much?

Why creating an inner circle for creativity matters

Many creatives have a strong “do-it-yourself” sense—a need to prove themselves, their talents, and their creativity. But interdependence is just as important as independence (maybe even more so) when it comes to creativity, so having “your people” can make a big difference.

Before we go any further though, let’s establish what we mean by “inner circle.” These aren’t casual coworkers or acquaintances. These are the people closest to you—the ones with whom you have mutual understanding and trust. It’s important to deliberately identify who these people are, because they are the ones that will give you:

Honest feedback

In my experience, the vast majority of critique groups/partners are far too nice. They might be afraid of hurting your feelings or damaging the relationship, but whatever the reason, the result is feedback that may boost your ego, but does very little to improve your work.

With your inner circle, this problem should not exist. These are the people who should be able to give you honest (ahem, critical) feedback without it feeling personal or rude. You should trust each other enough to know that it is all about the work, and if tough love is required, then tough love will be given. 

If you want to do your best creative work, then you need honest feedback. You can take it or leave it as you wish, but getting it and being open-minded to it are beneficial to the creative process.

Moral support

Your inner circle will sometimes have to deliver tough love, but the good news is that they’ll also be there when you need love love. 

More than anyone else, the people in your inner circle should be able to make you feel positive and hopeful about your work, especially in those times when you are feeling down on yourself. 

Having this kind of social support can help reduce stress, improve motivation, and inspire healthy decision making—not to mention, it will help you feel more willing and able to explore your creativity and take creative risks.

People you can count on

Whatever you really need, your inner circle should be able to give it to you. You should be able to count on these people to:

  • Hold you accountable
  • Share their experiences
  • Offer relevant (and welcome) guidance
  • Show up when they say they’re going to show up
  • Tell you what you need to hear
  • Listen to your struggles

We all need different things at different times. The beauty of having an inner circle is that because they know you so well, they can often pick up on what you need and give it to you effectively. It’s hard to overstate just how valuable that is. 

How to create your inner circle for creativity

An inner circle isn’t usually something that can just happen organically. It’s much more effective if you deliberately create it. Here are some ideas for how to go about that.

Be deliberate.

What do you need your inner circle to do for you? What purpose do you need these people to serve? Are you looking for a cheerleader, an accountability partner, a wisdom giver, a mentor? Knowing what you need from your inner circle is a great starting point to creating one.

Think specifically about your creative efforts. What kind of person could help you reach your creative goals?

(For this step, just think about the kind of person you need in your inner circle. Specific names come next.)

Start with who you’ve got.

You probably already have people who are close to you, who you can trust to be honest with you, and who you can count on. Who are these people? How do they contribute to your creativity? How might they fit into the roles you outlined above?

Be creative with this. Think about the people you know best and how they might help you in unexpected, less obvious ways. 

Resist the urge to choose your best friends.

It’s smart to start with who you’ve got, and it’s great if your best friends fit into your inner circle. 

That said, remember that you aren’t forming a group of friends. You’re creating your inner circle for creativity. That inner circle may not be composed of your best friends. It may not be composed of people who are friends with each other (in fact, it probably won’t be). 

You don’t have to organize a group of people who meet regularly and talk about your creative problems. The chemistry among them doesn’t matter, because they’ll likely never meet each other. Your inner circle just has to include people who will help you, in the ways you need to be helped.

Think aspirationally.

Who is your “dream team?” That is, if you could have absolutely anyone as part of your inner circle, who would you choose?

It’s fine to dream as big as you want at this stage — but it’s also important to be realistic. By all means, put Jeff Bezos on your aspirational list, but use that as more of a guideline to direct you toward more realistic options. 

Those realistic options might include coworkers, friends, or other acquaintances you admire, even if you don’t know them very well. Anyone is game, as long as you think they will fill a vacancy in your circle.

Keep it small.

It’s called an inner circle for a reason. Don’t overwhelm yourself by establishing a 12-person roster. Limit yourself to 3-5 people, and certainly no more than 8. In my coaching work, we have an 8-person group and that seems to be a good size to allow for individuality in time, attention and processing everyone’s ideas. If you have questions, drop me a note at hello@design.org anytime.

Foster those relationships.

Once you’ve created your inner circle, you have to keep it strong. Establish regular times to meet with or talk to the people in your inner circle. Commit to being open with them. Share your creative struggles, and be open to their insight (after all, that’s what they’re there for!). Let them help you!

Also, here’s a good rule of thumb: be the kind of person that others would want in their inner circles. This will develop mutual respect, which will strengthen the relationship.

Creating your inner circle for creativity can be a game-changer for helping you leverage the power of interdependence in your role as a creative. Be deliberate, be open, and find your people. With any luck, your inner circle will serve you now and for years to come. 

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