The Point of Playing isn’t to Win

Creativity is an infinite game

Herbert Lui

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Photo: Mars Plex/ Unsplash

Writing a book was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The next-best decision was to write something I wanted to make.

That may sound dead simple to you, but to me, it wasn’t. I experienced what my friend Hamza Khan calls “marketing brain”, which he describes as, “We think about the product, we think about the design, we think about the reception, and then we try to create something that will meet that moment.” In fact, you could say I was trained to experience it; as an entrepreneur and marketer, I could only stay in business and grow it by focusing on making things that other people wanted.

I happened upon the decision to write a book on creativity; to be clear, there was some evidence in favor of it (“creativity books” are a relatively clearly defined category, and over 200,000+ people read this article I wrote), but my marketing brain was telling me that, “strategically speaking,” I was probably better off writing a book about content marketing and re-envisioning what it could look like. I’d find more clients for my editorial studio, I’d establish my reputation in the space, and it’d fit into the my overall business ecosystem a lot better.

The main problem was, I didn’t want to do it! To be clear, I didn’t hate content marketing — in fact, I actually had a blast writing this relatively popular series on Slack’s copywriting, web content strategy, and blog content strategy, which 60,000+ people have read altogether — but I just didn’t want to keep playing the game. I chose the game because it made me money, and I felt the pressure that it was choosing me; the goal with content marketing is to stop doing content marketing.

For me, I was playing content marketing like what author James P. Carse calls a finite game, which was basically to win and stop playing. Bestselling author of self-help tomes Mark Manson writes, “I’ve said this many times: The whole point of self-help is to leave self-help. If self-help works, you don’t need it anymore.”

By contrast, I’d unconsciously chosen a different game — one that I believe I’d want to keep playing, which was creativity. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I’d already been obsessively researching people’s creative processes for almost a…

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Herbert Lui

Covering the psychology of creative work for content creators, professionals, hobbyists, and independents. Author of Creative Doing: https://www.holloway.com/cd