Before The Wheel

One thing you learn after a few years of professional creative work is this: money loves certainty. Not just any kind of certainty, mind you. Not the kind we produce in science labs through decades of careful experiments; not the kind that comes down from the mountain on the lips of old philosophers. It’s the feeling, the sensation of certainty: that wild glow behind a gambling addict’s eyes that compels them to bet their savings on roulette.

This should not be especially surprising; what is creative commerce, after all, if not an exercise in risk? We gamble the money of our financiers (and, often, our own livelihoods) on outcomes no honest person could predict. Will we complete our project on schedule, if indeed we complete it at all? How many people will like the thing we make; how many will pay money for it, tell their friends about it, come back to us for more? How many people will even hear that it exists?

If you are a creative executive—someone tasked with determining how much money to spend on which idea—you must attempt to predict these very outcomes, honestly or otherwise. You sit on a pile of money your bosses ordered you to spend very carefully. Your job, as we’ve established, is to gamble it; yet if you said so out loud you’d be tossed from the building and replaced with whomever had the good sense not to speak. Instead you must convince many rooms full of high-powered biz people (most of whom privately want to strangle each other) that something, anything is a sure thing: that the money they entrust to you will turn like magic into more money, and later into more money still. This is all money ever wants to hear.

What follows is a story about the ways creative people can and cannot be certain. It’s a story of gamblers, crafters, hucksters and true believers. Mostly it’s a story about the age-old gulf between artists and business folk, which only seems to widen as we cram ourselves into smaller and smaller rooms. If we read this story together, and we read it with sympathy, I think we can make it across.

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