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The Column icon The Column: Issue 17

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The Column is a monthly feature that explores the world of creativity and aesthetics.

Creative Ambition
Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable

Some view ambition as the root of all achievement, for others the ambitious person is self-centred and often ignores the needs of those around them in their voracious appetite to achieve their aim. In this column I explore the idea and nature of 'Creative Ambition'.

Defining Ambition

Ambition is the will to achieve the fulfillment of a dream. The word 'Ambire' in ancient Rome was used to describe candidates soliciting votes for office. This striving for popular favour was spoken of as ambitio. Today ambition in the Collins English Dictionary is defined as 'a strong desire for success, achievement, or distinction. Something so desired; a goal; an aim'.

Although ambition is sourced from the ego and fuelled by personal desire, it may have a social or uneconomic aim. You might for example have an ambition to be a great parent, or perhaps you're aim is to design your own home one day.

Ambition is common in commercial and competitive contexts, but not confined to them. Ambition can be as much focused on achievement as rivalry, and 'Creative Ambition' is a term I want to use that describes the pursuit of excellence in the things we make and build.

The Gene of Ambition

Whether it's a painting, a story, a website, or program, whatever we create requires Creative Ambition to see it through: a dogged determination to get to where we want to be despite setbacks and discouragement. This need to achieve the very best might be stimulated by our upbringing and experience, but I've also little doubt the fire of ambition is hard-wired within us from birth.

There are for example very able people with tremendous potential to achieve at the highest level but who have little ambition. Their path is very different than those whose 'ambitious gene' is the fulcrum that transforms their dreams into reality. It is not talent or ability alone that achieves the fulfillment of potential, but the combination of innate ability and ambition.

Ambitious Types

Perhaps it might be useful to categorise three types of ambitious people:

Those who create, innovate, or pioneer like artists, designers, programmers, authors, and other creative people.

Those who define new infrastructures of distribution: an example of whom is Tim Berners-Lee, the man whose work at Cern created the language of the Internet.

Those that consolidate, such as professional managers, museum curators, film producers etc.

It is this last group of ambitious people whose focus of ambition is in the commercial world that has often led to a notion of ambition as carrying negative connotations. When someone says of another 's/he's ambitious', it's far from being a straightforward compliment.

Secret Ambition

We all have our secret ambitions. When we're young ambition is at its most fervid, the world is full of opportunity, and anything seems possible. As we age the realities of life often deflate our ambition and drain our dreams. In some however, ambition persists, despite the skepticism or mockery of others who either have little vision, or have long since given up their own dreams in favour of a quiet life.

The Need for Ambition

Ambition does not always go hand in hand with social assertion, insensitivity, and aggression, nor does it have to be a battlefield with rivals that must be defeated, although some will do anything in pursuit of their goal.

There are many things out of our control that thwart our ambitions: bad luck, ill health, and time passing. Ambition however is something that defines us, and without it we have no desire to improve our present or create a better future. It is the unbreakable belief in this that drives the highly ambitious person on in the face of adversity.

After Ambition

The nature of Creative Ambition is cyclical. A work is born of the imagination, modeled and refined, then reaches completion before the cycle starts over once again. This makes Creative Ambition a particularly challenging and psychologically difficult task as the length of time between each 'ambitious cycle' is often short lived before a new focus and purpose must be defined. Some thrive in this state, other's dwell on their past achievements, or become disheartened by the frequent effort required to begin afresh.

Financial reward for having attained a goal is also an important factor for many in further motivating their Creative Ambition. A few however continue to be motivated by the pure aesthetic and pleasure of the medium alone.


Creative Ambition aims for excellence in the development and production of original work. A characteristic of Creative Ambition is how the focus of ambition (achieving completion of a creative work) resides outside the ego. The individual becomes the observer in the final realisation of a creative project.

When Creative Ambition is realised there is a moment of great exhilaration, and a powerful desire for others to share in that excitement. I guess the reason we developed ambition as a species in the first place is that it furthers our chances of survival. Using that ambition constructively is a deeply rewarding activity, and the progress that Creative Ambition affords us is invaluable.


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Authors background
Mike de Sousa is the Director of AbleStable®. Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music composer, photographer, print and web site designer, and author.

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