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Big Ideas

Get Over Yourself: How Your Ego Sabotages Your Creativity

An inflated ego can surface in the most subtle ways. Know the difference between confidence and arrogance so you can do your best creative work.

One of the most destructive of creative sins is an over-inflated ego. When many people hear the word “ego,” they immediately think of the know-it-all manager charging into the room and insisting that everyone bend their life and work around his every whim. This is certainly one exhibition of ego, but there are less obvious types that we must be careful to avoid if we want to do our best creative work consistently. 

Brilliant creative work requires a willingness to take risks, to experiment, and to venture into unproven territory in the pursuit of great ideas. When an inflated ego becomes the norm, you may become inflexible and unwilling to take the small personal risks necessary to break out of your comfort zone and pour yourself fully into your work. Others hover close to their safety zone, because they’d rather live with the perception of invulnerability than to take a risk and find that they have limits. This is obviously a recipe for underperformance, so be aware of these hidden ego-fueled dangers that can come with creative work:

Ego Trap #1: Playing the victim

I recall several instances as a child when playing a game with others that there was a disagreement over the rules. When the argument got heated, the disagreeable party would inevitably say something like “Fine! Then I’m taking my ball and going home!” They would rather opt-out of the game than be flexible enough to find a compromise and continue playing.  

While very few people would actually be so obvious about their protest in a work context, the results can be comparable. It plays out in a much more subtle, behind-the-scenes kind of way. When we’re playing the victim, our internal dialogue goes something like “if they won’t listen to my ideas, then I’m just not going to offer them any more” or “there’s no use in trying very hard on this project, because my efforts won’t be valued anyway.” At first, this may not seem like a form of ego, but it is. You are putting your own need for recognition ahead of the work and ahead of the mission of your team.  

Unfortunately, this kind of disengagement means that you are not putting yourself fully into the work in front of you, and thus are abdicating your contribution. You are allowing someone else to control your efforts rather than taking charge of your own engagement. You must stay alert to the “victim” voice inside your head and not allow it to cause you to withhold your best work.

Ego Trap #2: Aggressive defense of your “turf”

When you sense that someone else is encroaching on something you perceive as your area of influence, you feel a need to protect your standing or authority and refuse to allow others to become the leading voice. You may even take credit for the ideas of others, or refuse to allow them to stand in the spotlight. This can also play out as snark, cynicism, or extreme criticism of the work of others. You immediately call out things as “too obvious” or “amateurish” in the effort to make your own work look more valuable.  

There is a vast chasm between confidence in your abilities, and an over-inflated ego. Ego says “I can do no wrong”, whereas confidence says “I can get this right.” Confidence says “I’m valuable” while ego says “I’m invaluable.” This is a critical difference in mindset. Be aware when you are generally contributing and when you are simply trying to protect the status quo. Losing some of your “turf” may seem scary, but it’s really an opportunity to stay one step ahead.

Confidence says “I’m valuable” while ego says “I’m invaluable.”

Ego Trap #3: Being easily offended

Have you ever met “that person” who perceives everything as a personal attack? It doesn’t matter what you say to them or how nicely you say it, they will somehow twist it into an insult. Similarly, some people treat any disagreement as an indication that you are questioning their competence. Both of these are a subtle displays of inflated ego. 

When you put your self-perception ahead of the work, you are in danger of compromising your best efforts. Collaboration also becomes more challenging, because others grow tired of walking on eggshells. You must nix the tendency to be easily offended, and instead embrace the opportunity that disagreements or disconfirming information provide to sharpen your thoughts and skills.  

For sure, there is a right and a wrong way to deliver criticism. The correct response to poorly delivered criticism isn’t to get offended, it’s to offer a helpful suggestion on how you’d like to receive feedback in the future. 


Do not allow the subtle effects of an inflated ego to rob you of your contribution. Yes, be confident, but also be adaptable. Pour yourself fully into your work, but be willing to listen to disconfirming information and opinions. If you do, you will be far better positioned to unleash your best creative work every day.

More Posts by Todd Henry

Todd Henry is the author of the new book Louder Than Words: Harness The Power Of Your Authentic Voice. Learn more at, or follow him on Twitter at @toddhenry.

Comments (137)
  • Rob Busby

    This is impressive & clearly hits home. In echo of Janet M (below), “…I really needed to hear this!” Great article!

  • mama78

    Thank you for this article

  • Hatem G. Kotb

    The articles on this website are amazing 🙂

  • Ben

    I would say that ego also gets in the way by pressuring you to design or create for the “audience” in your head, instead of finding a great solution to the problem at hand. You design for what you think people will think, which leaves you about two steps away from solving the actual creative problem.

    • Fed up with psychopaths.

      When in that position I offer two solutions, one that fits the pressure and one that solves the problem. The real solution wins out 99% of the time. If you design to solve the problem and actually solve the problem then no amount of ego can argue with that. If you make sure your solution is the most effective one possible then the confidence you have in it will sell it to everybody.

      • Peter Brown

        One need only to ask what this “confidence” is based upon however. There-in lies the validation of ego playing a roll in the visibility of your success. Inflated or deflated. These are two extremes.

  • MerzInTally

    These are fantastic points and I have been guilty of this behavior to a horrible fault when I was a little younger and in a very competitive overstaffing situation. Anyway, it is refreshing to see these reminders again and check those attitudes at the door! Thanks!

  • gerrybombs

    yea-it can sabotage your creativity-but you can’t make much money on creativity

  • Rachel Rozen

    Great article, thank you!

  • Vijay S

    Thanks, Todd. Im currently in this situation and was struggling between project’s vision and people’s ego. Now, this bring clarity and i know what to do next?

  • joan

    Great insight, namaste…

  • JC Cavanaugh

    Awesome article and so many points resonated with me!

  • Peter Brown

    Ego has nothing to do with creativity. Unless you have no ego at all. Then, there’s certainly no creativity.

    • Leakwon

      (FTW) As Peter has mentioned. Although creativity was spawn from the ego’s lack of ability to act on anything other than immediate threats. Survival is all the ego is concerned with.

      • Peter Brown

        The jury is not in yet on ego playing a roll in creativity. Personally, I think courage, honesty, determination, love and inspiration can’t really penetrate the walls of an abusive ego. Again, ego has nothing to do with creativity. You sabotage all opportunities for your success if all you want is for people to envy you for your accomplishments. The above virtues mentioned don’t harmonize with anger, desperation and frustration. Ego at it’s core, oppose those virtues and fight them every step of the way.

        We create ourselves as we go along, constantly redefining ourselves and mirroring our true inner selves in the work we do and the creativity we produce. We are what we produce. We are the music we make, the paintings we paint, the stories we tell and the films we produce. When you have a powerful goal to achieve, nothing can stand in your way. Others with like minds cooperate to help achieve those visions. Interwoven in the fabric of this whole process is where the ever elusive ego will be found, straying farther away from the true essence and original vision of the project.

        Success isn’t “out there” somewhere, It’s within all of us when we prioritise and clearly identify the goal. Ego, like love, is indefinable and can be as elusive. But, everyone knows it when they see it in action. The same as love. Henry Ford, Marlon Brando, HG Wells and Mohamad Ali all had egos. So does your father.

      • Terrell

        of course everyone has an ego. he was talking about inflating your ego to sizes out of proportion..

  • Ms.Woe

    Great Article! I could identify with some of my ego instances. Right now I am trying to figure how to work a situation. A close colleague, a bit junior thinks I am getting on her turf. She seems to be trying to protect her territory by pre-working a quick solution for a project I have been assigned and bump me off the project. (It’s getting dirty). I am only trying to do a job I have been assigned. I have brought this to my superiors notice in her presence, clearly, saying that we are working on the same brief. However my superior also seems to be in playing devious mode trying to undermine me. This has happened several times and I feel like walking away. Need suggestions on how to deal this.

    • Fed up with psychopaths.

      Take credit for the colleagues ideas and work.

  • Frans Pootjes

    Yep. Spot on. I see that the best stuff made so far at our agency is egoless. Why? Its’ made by ego’s that decide that collaboration. Mutual respect and effort powers great work. Cherish your ego. Try to use it as a tool instead of a mere stick to defense turf in the daily marketing mayhem…

  • Maria

    I work in a government department where it’s design by committee. Mostly nit-picky women who overthink and overwork things to the detriment of any good design. Most of the time I give over to them, but a lot of time I feel redundant. They often say to me “we can do it, but we don’t know Indesign.” Whatever.

    • Fed up with psychopaths.

      There is a trick you can use. Talk about your ideas as if they were their ideas. Kind of like “You make a good point, it ties in perfectly with something you mentioned the other day about this design/idea *insert your idea here* ” Then to drive it home “I wish I’d thought of that” Works every time 😉

    • Narendra Upadhyay

      you are valuable Maria. Yet we often suffer from the otherwise known symptom of de-individuation as confounded with boredom and competition.

      Anyway, your observation about games is appreciable.

  • Pete1313

    I didn’t read the comments section so I’m not sure if someone mentioned this point, but I think deflated egos (using your terms) are just as bad. You need a team of confident but participative team-oriented, result-oriented, people to be creative. Scared or selfish people have no place around a creative table.

    • Angela Baumbach

      The social environment is what dictates the culture (in most cases). If an individual is under or over ego-confident, then one can usually find an issue in leadership. Additionally, creative styles are usually associated with the quiet communicators. It is the loud personality styles that prevent the quiet-creatives from expressing. Leaders are the gate-keepers when it comes to leveling the playing field and get input from everyone.

  • Steve Rugg

    Todd good points, very insightful. Personally, as an AD for almost half a century, I finally arrived when I would feel awfully full filled and excited when the team clicked like a well oiled machine. Starting with the CEO to the Graphics Production people. I have had to supervise many people that, in my opinion, were superstars of creativity and production. My job was to keep everyone on track and meet the crazy time crunches. If everyone feels like they are important to the end result it is a win win. Now when it comes to looking for work, dealing with freelance accounts I think one needs a great deal of confidence in ones talent and abilities, which could be misunderstood as a big ego.

  • kivenaberham

    i completely disagrees with you. i have design some very famous logo. (wcw) i use to work for a brand design studio. we would change from design a few hand full of concepts to massive quantity of diverse logos for one client. the client don’t want the one best design logo. he wants what he is paying for. and that is quantity. as many as you can crank out. (over 500 concepts) sometime it would be a committee of men and women that would be the client. the women would vote one direction the men would choose another. (we did sports identity) this article is over simplify the problem of an designer. like so many of these article it defend the client’s point of view as if they know what is best. the simple fact is they don’t! they have no back ground in design nor taste. i can give some really good examples of really bad logos out there done this way, approved by the view point of the client and his own vision. a client who is arrogant and self delusional or a group of committee who can’t set aside there differences and come to a crazy mixture of 2 different style that just does’t work! ( by the way i am just dying to tell you the logo example.) this and every crazy client that a burnt out teams and teams of devoted artist . this is what i believe you have shame with your get over yourself article.

  • kivenaberham

    this is the reason united state’s middle class is dying. so many nitwits who really have no passion or pride for their work. really the client is alway right? design by committee is good? i guarantee not one of these post are done by a REAL designer. especially TODD who posted this JOKE of an article! a real designer have been burnt out by their client at lease a dozen times. client’s vision in many way is perturbed, and need to paying a good some of money for a job they have no clue what they want but expect quantity vs quality. art director who are spineless and too much of a coward to care about designer’s job and are willing to use this as a flimsy excuse to sit back and collect his paycheck.

    • GerryS

      Could you possibly sound more ironically egotistical? Such vitriolic bile in response to a well-reasoned article shows an alarming lack of self-control….and self-awareness

  • Baran StockPicks

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    So how what are the steps to fix an Inflated Ego?

  • Chuchk

    Thank you for the article and the insight. Criticism always seems hard to deal with but when I take it the right way the results are better than if I do not.

  • Lynx Firenze

    whenever you add a committee or team to a project there is always going to be that one guy (or several, women tend to do this more in my experience) who just shoots down any idea or suggestion that doesn’t fit what they want to do. In said situations you need to have an inflated ego of your own to be bothered to bite back and improve the project as a whole. The problem isn’t people have an ego (after all your ego is that magic little voice in your head that won’t stop bugging you to keep trying until you win) the problem is that they let it override their logic

  • John Deacon

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, great article.

  • Alfredo Lopez

    So interesting that I found this post today, Todd, since I’m a week removed from having finished your “Die Empty.” Serendipitous

  • Guest

    lets not forget this quote by akabe kabeeb”an idiot will mistake your confidence for arrogance”

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