Why You Should Ask “Who Benefits?”

Cui Bono? is a latin phrase that translates to who stands to gain? or for whose benefit? I’ve heard it tossed around in political conversations lately, as a reminder to think about the motivations of those involved in a given situation.

I think there’s an application for this phrase in our work as creators.

I firmly believe that a creator cannot be truly successful if his or her main goal is to make money or become famous. If the answer to Cui Bono? is “solely the creator”, then the creation will suffer, or fail.

There are many reasons for thinking this – I believe it’s a law of nature; I believe it is a true, eternal principle; I believe it is a prideful and selfish notion and that those desires stem from the darker side of who we can often be tempted to be.

Charles Haanel, who wrote The Master Key System, often touted as the “original” self help book, taught this same principle in a lecture back in the early 1920s:

“Every transaction must benefit every person who is in any way connected with the transaction, and any attempt to profit from the weakness ignorance or necessity of another will inevitably operate to his disadvantage”

When we’re looking to turn our creative output into a money generating business, we must maintain the pure motivations we had when we were creating just for ourselves. The only art that I personally care about is art that was crafted by someone who cared about the creation, not the monetary result of creating it.

Seth Godin, another self-help pioneer, speaks about mass marketing. If you’re creating work for the masses, the only real way to differentiate yourself is by price. The only reason you would ever do that is to compete in the marketplace – for money.

Who wants that life? Who here cares if they get heinz or some other brand of ketchup? It’s a mass market condiment to slather on mass market hot dogs. It doesn’t matter who made them, only that the product does what you want it to do.

What we’re setting out to do is to create work that changes people. You want people to see or read or experience the thing you’ve created and feel something. That takes a ton of effort to not only infuse the creation with a bit of yourself, but also to have that desire to change people and benefit people as part of the process. From the very inception of the idea, you have to think about why you’re making it, and if the reason is “to get more followers on instagram”, I think you should stop right there and find something else to do.

If we truly care about the work we are doing, we’ll also care about how it can potentially benefit others, how it can change people. That, to me, is the definition of work worth doing.

In the comments, let me know what you think of this principle. Do you agree? Does it feel true? What else would you add, or what would you remove from what I’ve argued?

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