Creators vs Consumers

Profile image of Mattias Geniar

Mattias Geniar, April 20, 2020

Follow me on Twitter as @mattiasgeniar

Whenever I want to give people career advice, I inevitably start saying the things that worked for me. I project my career path onto others:

  • Oh just work hard
  • Oh just write a blog
  • Oh just start a newsletter
  • Oh just record a podcast
  • Oh just-

And every time, halfway through my internal dialogue, I get stuck on the same points.

It’s not just starting a blog. Or just writing code. Or just anything. It’s the difference between identifying primarily as a creator or as a consumer.

For the last few days, I’ve been thinking more about why there are fewer creators than there are consumers. This post is a way to organize my thoughts and put into words the power of creation and what I prefer.

What’s the difference?

When you’re creating, you’re aiming for a 1-to-many ratio:

  • Writing words that have the potential to be read by 100’s
  • Writing code that has the potential to be used by 100’s
  • Recording audio that has the potential to be listened to by 100’s

There’s power in the creation because there’s the ability to be consumed by so many.

Consumption, on the other hand, is often a many-to-1 ratio.

  • When reading, you can only read one sentence or paragraph at a time
  • When using applications, you can only operate them one at a time
  • When listening, you can only focus on one stream at a time

You can consume from a catalogue of hundreds or thousands, but you can only consume one at a time.

Inbalance of creation vs. consumption

If you think about it, the inbalance between creators and consumers can be found in a lot of places.

  • Leaders vs. Followers (Social)
  • Builders vs. Users (Hackers)
  • Politicians vs. Voters (Politics)
  • Writers vs. Readers (Authors)
  • Seeders vs. Leechers (in BitTorrent parlance)

The ratio is similar to the 80/20 Pareto Principle, it’s even called the 1% rule in Internet Culture. I’m not sure about the exact ratio, based on gut feeling it’s a 10/90 split.

If you’re a creator, you’re almost always in the minority.

That asymmetry is the opportunity

It’s a powerful position to be a creator in this day and age. There is an ability to reach an asymmetrically large audience.

You can build, write or create - and instead of a 1-to-1 ratio, you can distribute it 1-to-10, 1-to-100 or 1-to-1000. The only limit is your imagination, perseverance and skill.

If you look at this professionally, this kind of ratio is almost impossible to achieve by doing consultancy or freelance work: your ratio is always 1-to-1, and the company that hires you is hoping your work will get them to a 1-to-many ratio.

It’s for this very reason I’m giving all my consultancy work very low priority, and am focussing on creating products and solutions that can reach many more users.

Sometimes, creation is a sacrifice

If you’re creating, you probably aren’t consuming (much).

If I look at this selfishly:

  • If I’m blogging, I’m not watching Netflix
  • If I’m writing code in the evening, I’m not reading a book
  • If I’m tinkering with technology, I’m not reading Twitter or Facebook

The sacrifice is about giving priority to the creation and not the consumption.

I far enjoy creation more than I do consumption.

I might spend one evening watching a movie or a TV show, but on an average week I’ll send the other 6 evenings creating something.

Sources of energy

Whenever I’m tired - either physically or due to an overabundance of social contact - I recharge by creating. I reach for my happy spot.

Most of my friends or family around me recharge differently. They consume. They spend an evening watching TV, reading, going for drinks, hanging out.

That’s not what recharges me, that exhausts me.

Am I wired differently? Are other creators experiencing the same?

Consumption for the sake of Creation

I do, however, still read books. And watch screencasts. And read white papers.

That activity almost always serves a goal: to become a better creator. It’s either researching new technology, improving the efficiency of existing tooling, learning new methodologies, …

Is one better than the other?

I don’t think so.

We’re all driven by different needs and desires. For some, what makes them happy is the ability to take a break, relax and watch some TV.

For others, they prefer something different. That doesn’t make it any better or worse. It’s just what works best for you.

I do believe that if you want to change, it requires a lot of effort. It isn’t impossible, but requires willpower and dedication to not automatically return to old habits and behaviour.

The goal of creation: financial independence

All of this is a very long way for me of saying … that I’ve realized I much rather focus all my time and energy on the asymmetrical potential that is creation, than focus on the 1-to-1 that is consultancy.

One of my (professional) goals is to achieve financial independence. To me, this means having the ability to work when I want and how I want, on the things that I choose.

To reach that, I first need to automate my income to the point where I can work less hours for the same income.

The only way I can do that, is to focus even harder on that asymmetry.

As a creator.

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