Archive: Crazymakers – November 11, 2005

Don’t submit to the demands of a “crazymaker” You have better things to do.

(This podcast is pulled “from the archives” and presented here as a service to more recent listeners — Douglas)

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We have all had some experience with them…creative geniuses, experts in their field, those who have accomplished much, but leave a path of destruction behind them. We see them as the brilliant movie director who everyone comes to loathe personally or the star programmer who alienates the rest of the staff. We see their staff catering to their every whim in a futile effort to keep them from lashing out. We see the regular workers just trying to get through a day without being abused. We see everyone apologizing for them or forgiving them because their genius somehow allows their attitude.


To borrow a term from Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, I call these people crazymakers. Crazymakers are often the most creative people you will meet, or so it seems. Nearly everyone will agree that they are the best in their industry, but, in the next breath you will often hear words like mean, cruel, unbearable and sometimes even, evil.“He is a great programmer, but no one else will work with him.” “She makes the best food in town, but she can’t keep staff.”

Whatever your business and whatever your industry, you will find crazymakers lurking. You need to be aware of them and do everything you can to avoid them. Even as they create great works, they do so at great costs to everyone around them. Even worse, once the project is complete, they receive all the accolades, while it was you who did much of the work and all of the suffering.

Crazymakers are often surrounded by apologists. These people have gone beyond simply tolerating the crazymaker and into the realm of enabler. They often attempt to explain away egregious behavior or simply apologize for it. They dedicate their lives to perpetuating behaviors that would not be tolerated in normal society. They may do this for a number of reasons. If their own livelihood is intricately tied to the crazymaker, they may have no choice. They believe that failing to protect the person may result in their own financial demise. In other cases, they are simply trying to justify the behavior as standard operating procedure, part of doing business.

Unfortunately, though, these people have made a disastrous career decision. They have decided that employment is more important than anything, even their own self-respect. They have decided that they have no other choice. Anyone who believes they have no choice left, even the choice to leave, has truly become trapped. These are the types of traps a crazymaker can create.

While apologists may experience some small benefit for the relationship, their own career suffers greatly. Instead of focusing on their own work, their own creativity, their own needs, they are constantly walking on eggshells and trying not to offend. In most cases, they continue to suffer the wrath of the crazymaker, even as they seek to avoid it. Meanwhile, the crazymaker grows in stature and power, pulling more and more willing apologists into their orbit.

It is a vicious cycle. People often express amazement at the wonderful work that a crazymaker might produce. They are praised and given awards, even when their behavior is outrageous, and in some cases, even criminal. Apologists will continue their work, claiming that it is the freedom to be eccentric, to be cruel, to abuse others, that allows the crazymaker to produce such wonderful things. I see it another way.

Imagine the crazymaker who is more kind, more giving and more open. Their greatness might be diminished slightly by being a better person, but everyone around them, from the lowliest part-time staffer to the highest executive will be given a bit more space to exercise their own greatness. Instead of being trapped in the dysfunctional orbit around the crazymaker, they will be free to grow, collaborate and create their own things. Instead of success being tied up in one over-arching major genius, you might have 10, 20 or 30 minor geniuses, each creating great results. The sheer number of ideas would be staggering if you can only break the cycle of enabling and control.

While a crazymaker might be considered “great”, often they are not very good. Their greatness sits firmly on the shoulders of those who protect them, enable their behavior and subjugate themselves to their power. Should you find yourself in their orbit, it is time to break free. It is time to explore your own creativity and your own abilities outside their damping influence. Do whatever you can, today, to free yourself from the crazymaker and engage your energies in your own career.

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