Two False Assumptions

5 min. read
February 17, 2023

Peter Thiel cofounded Paypal, and in his book on startups called Zero to One, he shares one of his favorite interview questions:

“What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”

That question helped me produce this one:

“What do other people believe that you don’t?”

That question was a lantern lighting up the path ahead in 2018 when I started a branding studio.

There were thousands upon thousands of studios, creative shops, we’re-too-cool-to-just-call-ourselves-an-agency agencies. As I looked at the crowded space, my skepticism welled up.

Did the world really need yet another one?

What ultimately made me decide yes was unearthing a couple of false assumptions.

Maybe you agree that they’re false. Maybe you’ll think I’m a terrible apostate gorgon who deserves to be stripped of my title. (What’s my title again?)

Either way, take note of how my spinoff of Thiel’s question helped me suss out the available advantages.

False Assumption #1 – More time produces positive outcomes

This simply isn’t true. Creatives waste a lot of time because they think they have to. Good craftsmanship takes time, right?

To some extent this is true. Aging copy for two days or ten typically can raise the quality. But even that rule of thumb assumes that the rough draft was intelligible. Cosmetic improvements won’t fix a fundamentally unsound sales page or blog post.

Most creatives don’t need more time; they need better process. When process is absent or lacking, the only other propellant is time and iteration.

Unfortunately, even after dozens of hours and iterations some clients still won’t be happy. Why? They never had clarity around their own desires. With increasing disappointment they will reject each round of new logo concepts. “Sorry, I just don’t like it.”

The client’s constantly evolving feelings become the project’s moving target.

Whether the client knew it or not, she was counting on a process of elimination to eventually pinpoint an option she liked. This is both inefficient and expensive, and besides, time is no substitute for muddy thinking.

Our agency will succeed where many others haven’t by using process to uncover the client’s true desires and needs first. Once we have settled on a destination and we have earned the client’s full confidence, we can use process to accelerate toward our destination.

False Assumption #2 – Brilliant creatives produce positive outcomes.

Most agencies don’t have a well-defined process for complex creative projects like identity design, branding, copywriting, content marketing, UI/UX, and development. They shoot from the hip. They improvise. They rely on brilliant creatives to carry an organic process between their ears.

Unless they stumble across a sound, repeatable process or have a natural bent toward process-driven approach, the creative’s approach and goal are opaque: “Try to produce something good for the client in 10 hours or less because that’s what we have allotted for this piece of the project.”

Every once in awhile, creatives capture lightning in a bottle. More often, however, they must use trial-and-error. This experimentation takes time. If the designer or writer finally produces an iteration that the client likes, he interprets this as a false positive: “See, all the effort was worth it in the end.”

Even the best designers and writers can’t pull a rabbit out of a hat, in the time allotted, every single time. (And those who can are working from a process and either don’t know it or haven’t shared it.)

So each project’s success or failure leans against a shaky wall. Sometimes, the ingenuity and cleverness of a select few creatives can support the weight, and sometimes, the wall falls over.

Brilliant creatives aren’t a sustainable solution to a lack of process. Instead, we can create a beautiful compound effect by asking brilliant creatives to run brilliant processes and improve upon them.

There will still be plenty of opportunities to add glitter. There will still be room to improvise. Artists, like grapevines, need structure to produce the highest yield. They need more structure than the constraint of time: “Finish this in 10 hours or less.” The rules of rhyme and meter force a poet’s creativity to the surface.

Crystallizing process takes a significant effort and an upfront time investment.

But by becoming less dependent on a handful of brilliant creatives, we reduce risk.

What if Google or Facebook offered one of our all-stars a design position? What if a national agency offers her a promotion and a raise? What if she decides her freedom and autonomy trump the relative safety and predictability of a full-time staff position? What if he gets burned out, sick, bored, angry, or depressed? What if he gets overwhelmed or goes on vacation, or, for whatever reason, can’t keep performing at the same level?

We still have the brilliant process. We find someone else to run it.

Our agency will succeed where many others haven’t by being less dependent on individuals and more dependent on rigorous process.

As you consider how to stand out in the crowded freelance marketplace, you may find it heartening to look for advantages in your competitors’ or frenemies’ assumptions.

Fantastic businesses have been built by people who had the audacity to challenge norms and conventions.

Savannah Bananas broke a whole bunch of unspoken rules while making baseball fun. And back in the day, Zappos offered free return shipping when no one else was. Suddenly, ordering shoes online was risk free.

What are the false assumptions that prevent your freelance frenemies from innovating? How can you succeed where many others haven’t?

Sometimes, being different is better than being better.

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info

Austin L Church portrait photo.

About the Author,
Austin L. Church

Austin L. Church is a writer, brand consultant, and freelance coach. He started freelancing in 2009 after finishing his M.A. in Literature and getting laid off from a marketing agency. Freelancing led to mobile apps (Bright Newt), a tech startup (, a children's book (Grabbling), and a branding studio (Balernum). Austin loves teaching freelancers and consultants how to stack up specific advantages for more income, free time, and fun. He and his wife live with their three children in Knoxville, Tennessee.


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