Are You a Consumer or a Creator?

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Truth be told, you’re both. We’re all both. And that’s a good thing. It’s called “comparative advantage.” It’s what makes the world go ‘round.

But that’s not why I ask the question. Whether you’re disposed to behave like a consumer or like a creator certainly depends on the specific situation.

Here’s the important question: Do you more often find yourself in situations where you’re more comfortable taking the role of consumer or of creator? And how might this impact the depth of your overall happiness?

Here’s the twist. It’s why you really need to know the response to this question. If you own a business, if you operate a business, if you work in a business, this answer does more than tell you about yourself.

It reveals what your customers might be thinking. When you know how those buying your product or service think, you stand a better chance to sell more.

Moreover, this advantage goes well beyond the business world. How often do you find yourself in the position of convincing someone to “buy” your idea? It might be what movie to watch. It might be the color and style of a piece of furniture. It might even be to persuade people to vote a certain way.

All those situations can be described as “transactions.” Some, like going to the store, involve the exchange of money. Others, like watching a movie, merely require a promise to simply agree to go along.

In all cases we have a buyer and a seller, in other words, a consumer and a creator.

Before delving into the differences, you might be surprised by the similarities both consumers and creators share.

Both can be antagonizingly analytical and frustratingly vapid.

In 1967, Martin Fishbein and Icek Ajzen developed this Theory of Reasoned Action. According to this theory, consumers use a rational decision process to make purchases. Similarly, the Engel, Kollet, Blackwell (EKB) Model of consumer behavior cites four (or five, depending on your source) separate steps buyers go through before acting. These steps include data collection, data analysis, data processing, and decision-making.

The steps sound strikingly comparable to one type of creative process. For example, Dr Mark Batey at the Manchester Business School describes four traits under the category “Idea Generation.” They are fluency (collecting ideas), originality (accessing the value added by those ideas), incubation (pondering the best ideas), and illumination (the moment when it becomes clear which idea stands out).

Do you see how tricky the “consumer or creator” can be? In many ways, you’re doing the same identical thing.

And that’s only the analytical method. Just like “impulse” buyers (itself, a separate theory of consumers), creators often take a “ready, fire, aim” approach to trying new things. They can be bold risk takers who appear to quickly make moves with nothing more than an intuitive feel.

Here’s the difference, though. Consumers buy on impulse to meet an immediate need. Creators adopt untested ideas to meet consumer needs as fast as possible.

See how the process is the same but the motivations are opposed. Consumers look inward, seeking to solve their own problems. Creators look outward, seeking to solve other people’s problems.

This is not a judgement. It is a reality. And we all need to act like consumers or creators at distinct times in our lives.

Yet, some are quick to judge both consumers and creators. Unfettered materialism or buying just to “keep up with the Joneses” speak of ancient sins of greed and coveting your neighbor’s goods. Likewise, the creator’s tendency towards strong-willed ambition and over rule-breaking harken to trope of hubris in almost every Greek Tragedy. This combination of arrogance and over-confidence, so critical to successful creators, can lead to a justified downfall when taken to an extreme.

You may wish to focus on these negatives, but that might harm you more than you think. It’s best just to recognize the potential these traits possess and follow the advice of Aristotle: “All things in moderation.”

In the meantime, consumers would not be happy without the products of the creators, and creators would not be happy without consumers to buy their ideas.

Ah, but which type of happiness endures?

OK, to be fair, this is subjective. How many people do you know just watch the Home Shopping Network non-stop? That is their world. They define themselves by it. They plan around it. It is an important part of their life but it doesn’t unnecessarily intrude on any other part of their life.

And they are happy. And that is a good thing.

How many other people do you know that are a fountain of ideas, yet none of them ever come to fruition? Not just one or two (or even a dozen) unfinished symphonies, but no finished work at all. Everything remains “in process.” For these people, creation is just an after-hours hobby. They’re productive workers in their chosen fields. Though they never stop talking about an ever-changing plot, they’ll just never sit down and write that Great American Novel.

And they are happy. And that is a good thing.

What if these two types of people weren’t content with their self-defined happiness?

That’s when the problems start. Compulsive buyers become addicted. Creators who need constant acceptance condemn themselves to insufferable mood swings.

Yes the consumers and the creators who take control of their own destinies stand to achieve a thick wall of impenetrable happiness.

And that is a good thing.

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