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Welcome to the Era of Creative Meritocracy

Welcome to the Era of Creative Meritocracy
Published July 29, 2010 by Scott Belsky
Imagine a world where the best ideas have the best chance to succeed. No more favoritism that places the wrong people on creative projects. Cut out the middlemen that arbitrarily recommend cost-efficient talent over the most deserving talent. Forget the corporate nepotism that appoints leaders based on relationships over merit. Every individual, team, and industry would benefit from a world where the most talented people got the most opportunity.
I call this dream "creative meritocracy," and I believe that advances in technology, online communities, and platforms that empower career independence will make this dream a reality in the near future. Unfortunately, we're up against centuries of entrenched practices unfriendly to merit-based opportunity. Most industries – and society as a whole – are plagued with inefficiencies, middlemen, and tainted systems for determining quality. It's a sad truth: The quality of your ideas and talent is less important than who you know, who represents you, and what your name is. Why? Because the "old school" systems around us make it so. Without creative meritocracy, we suffer because our talent and hard work aren't enough to land the job. Clients suffer because they receive inferior work. Moreover, our industries and society suffer from mediocrity. Call it depressing or unfair, but don't accept it. Creative meritocracy is within our reach. It is our job as creative minds and leaders to foster an era where capability is matched with opportunity. Here are a few ways we can usher in the Era of Creative Meritocracy:

1. Proper Attribution

In the modern day of transparency and easy access to information, we should be wary of any efforts to isolate talent. Headhunters are known to find talent and then send around pieces of portfolios and resumes without any names attached. They purposely conceal the identity of talent and, as a result, are able to override meritocracy. Oftentimes, headhunters will use one person's credentials as bait and then offer up less qualified talent that yields a higher profit margin. Creative meritocracy relies on transparency and direct attribution. Appreciation for one's ideas and creative work must be directly credited to the source. The accumulation of appreciation (or credit) is the currency that buys opportunity.

2. Leverage the Opinion of "Credible Mass," Not Critical Mass

Community curation is probably the most valuable force of the Internet today. Amidst an endless flow of content from creatives with varying degrees of talent, the primary challenge becomes how to discern quality. Aided by tools like Digg and Facebook's "Like" button, communities are starting to curate themselves. Anything from articles to pieces of art can now be sorted based on consensus. Over time, community curation will gain more dimensions. For example, when evaluating the quality of a photograph, the opinions of 1,000 photographers may matter more than that of 1,000,000 random people. This is the difference between a critical mass and a credible mass. Once professional communities develop algorithms for credible mass, creative meritocracy will shine in unexpected places.

3. No More Static Resumes and Stand-Alone Portfolio Sites

Great talent must be more efficiently (and honestly) displayed. The time has come for the classic Microsoft Word resumé to be replaced with something more interactive, credible, and connected. A resumé should have hyperlinks to show rather than tell, and be fact-checked by community scrutiny. The power of live testimonials connected to one's resumé will become as important as interviews. LinkedIn has already provided a glimpse of what an interactive resumé would look like. For the creative professional community, the situation is similar. We must transition from the stand-alone portfolio site to a more interactive approach to showcasing work. Personal portfolio sites are great for friends or existing clients, but it’s an uphill battle to get prospective clients and employers to visit your individual website. Your work is much more likely to be found if you showcase it where people are already looking. Networks will empower talent to get opportunities from like-minded companies. They will not only foster more connections but better connections. Prospective clients and millions of bloggers, recruiters, and enthusiasts will benefit from having the ability to search and sort through a vast range of creative work all in one place. As some of you may know, we are working hard to address this challenge with our own platform for creative professionals, The purpose of Behance Network's recent integrations with LinkedIn, AIGA, MTV, and others is to help creative professionals efficiently display their portfolios across the web from one central hub. Creative meritocracy will thrive with the adoption of platforms that organize talent – like LinkedIn and the Behance Network, among others.

4. Crowds Cannot Be Subjugated

Central platforms for talent will only thrive if we protect them from abuse. I have written before in BusinessWeek and elsewhere about the promises and perils of crowdsourcing. Online communities, especially when they are curated, offer an amazing opportunity to source talent. However, when technology is used to source vast amounts of talent without pay, the entire community suffers. I don't call this crowdsourcing, I call it crowd-subjugation. The bottom line is that, unless talented people get paid for their time, output will suffer. Crowd-subjugation works against creative meritocracy because only mediocre talent has the time and willingness to participate. Clients get sub-par output (and worse, they often don't realize it). Participants quickly become disenchanted due to the low odds of actually getting paid. I liken it to discount sushi: You're likely to try it once but regret it the next morning. Creative meritocracy is fueled by incentives that are optimized for top talent.

5. More Reason To Do What You Love

Under current conditions, you can still get away with making a lot of money doing something you don't enjoy. Why? Because there isn't enough focus on authentic drive. Bureaucratic hiring, review processes, and HR training programs fail to reward creative potential and punish those who pursue the status quo. But this would all change under the influence of creative meritocracy. If the best talent were paired with the best opportunity, you wouldn't succeed unless you loved what you did. After all, creativity and ideas are inherently the result of proactive thinking which is, in turn, the result of passion. When you do work that you love, creative meritocracy is the wind at your back. I could go on and on about how academic institutions and Fortune 500 companies could help foster creative meritocracy. Suffice to say, it starts with rethinking evaluation, reward systems, and operating principles.

6. The Resistant Must Innovate

Of course, creative meritocracy is not good for everyone. Those with mediocre talent will need to develop their skills; they won't get lucky with undeserved opportunities. Entire industries that capitalize on our inability to source and measure talent would dissipate. Those that fear creative meritocracy should look beneath their resistance and, dare I say, innovate.
* * *
The best ideas will not see the light of day unless we let them. Our team at Behance is interested in the conditions (within a team, community, industry, or society) that support creative meritocracy. In our mission to empower creative professionals to make ideas happen, we know that creative meritocracy is an important part of the puzzle. In the spirit of creative meritocracy, I wanted to share this idea and see where it takes us! --

What Do You Think?

What industry do you think would benefit most from creative meritocracy? What other types of tools or techniques will foster creative meritocracy? Where will we encounter the most resistance?

More about Scott Belsky

Scott Belsky is the Chief Product Officer at Adobe and is the co-founder of 99U and Behance. He has been called one of the "100 Most Creative People in Business" by Fast Company, and is the author of The Messy Middle and the bestselling book, Making Ideas Happen.

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