The Six Honest Men Method: How to de-risk your creative projects from failure

How to remove the assumptions that lead to creative failure
The Six Honest Men Method: How to de-risk your creative projects from failure
Jake McNeill
May 27, 2021
5 min read
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Failing is an essential part of growing artistically and creatively.

The more often you fail creatively, the more you get used to it, and the more creative risks you take as a result.

Succeeding with creativity is about standing out in saturated markets.

That means taking risks, pushing boundaries, and sticking two rebellious fingers up to averageness. 

So the first principle thinking behind artistic and creative success is building the courage to take creative risks.

Taking risks and pushing boundaries increased your chances of creating extraordinary work. But it also increases the chances of failure.

That’s the deal. There’s no way round it. 

Low risk vs high risk cost opportunities

We need to define failure. We do so on low risk cost opportunity projects. 

Low risk: in financial outlay, time, and opportunity cost.

What does a low risk opportunity cost look like?

An article that doesn’t get many likes. A song that doesn’t get many streams, a video that doesn't get many views, etc, etc…

These are low opportunity risks. There’s enough content to have an impact if it works, but they don’t cost us too much in time or money if they flop. 

What you need to avoid is a failure on high risk opportunity cost projects. 

High risk: cost a lot of money, time, and opportunity cost. 

Projects like a book that took two years to write. Or an album that is over a year of solid work, tens of thousands invested not to mention the high emotional investment attached. 

Or a creative start up project that is your baby. Something you’ve been dreaming about for years. 

We need to do everything we can to avoid those failures: 

We need to de-risk the opportunity. 

De-risking the opportunity

Launching a creative start up or releasing a new creative project is inherently risky.

The biggest reason for failure is assumptions of your audience’s wants or needs.

We need to do some testing first. 

In the start up world creating a minimum viable product is a standard way of testing the market with low risk opportunity costs before committing to the high risk stuff.

  • If you are an author test your book idea with a couple of blog posts covering the idea and gauge interest. You can always guest post if you don’t have a blog. Or test your ideas out on social media. 

Examples: Mark Manson’s biggest viral post was called “ The subtle art of not giving a fuck” 

James Clear’s was about “Atomic habits” both of those blog posts became million selling books. 

  • If you’re an artist, release a track in the new sound/ direction and see how it lands. 
  • If you’re a creator wanting to build products test the market with articles and 1-1 client sessions. 
This way you can test your concepts, remove some of the assumptions and iterate your ideas without committing lots of time and money into them. 

But it’s not enough. You should do a critical evaluation to consider the opportunity from different angles.

Basically, you need to ask yourself some difficult questions. 

The six honest serving men method is an excellent and simple way to do just that. 

The Six Honest Serving Men Method

Rudyard Kipling was a Nobel prize-winning author. 

He’s most famous for writing The Jungle Book. 

He was also a journalist, poet, travel literature, and children’s writer.  

In 1902, he published a book of children’s stories titled “Just so stories”

In it was a short poem called The six honest serving men. It’s a poem about curiosity and the six men are called What, Why, When, How, Where, and Who.

Over the years this has become a method of critical evaluation and lateral thinking exercise for academic work and papers. 

We can also use it for critical evaluation for evaluating our creative pursuits and creative business opportunities 

Or you may be you want to improve your MVP before going to market and see it from your target market’s perspective. 

Using the questions:







Here are the questions you need to be asking yourself before you start creating. 

What is your goal?

What is your why? 

What does success look like?

Where are we? 

What is the status quo in your creative field? 

How can you stand out against mediocrity? 

Is it better to iterate and improve on what everyone else is doing?

Or is it better to do the opposite? 

What does that look like?

Why does your audience need a change from the status quo?

Why does your audience want change?

What do they want?

What problems need solving? 

How do we get there?

Take more creative risks?

What will those risks look like? 

Can we test an MVP before committing?

What does the MVP look like? 

How will you reach your audience? 

What is your content distribution?

How much authority do you have on your distribution?

Who will do it? 

What resources do you need?

What services?

Who else do we need to help us?

When do we get there?

What is the timeline?

How much content do we need to get out?

If you ask all these difficult questions you will be in a much better place to launch your creative or artistic project. 

A bit about me

I help maverick artists and creatives hack into their true creative genius, crush the creative blocks that hold them back, and create their best work.

Every creative rebel’s worst enemy?

Creative mediocrity: Being bland. Staying in our lane. Creating in our comfort zone and following the crowds.

The Goal? To create authentic work that matters. Take creative risks, avoid creative burnout, and making a racket in saturated markets.

I’m a former multi-platinum artist manager who got burnt out and became a creative blogger, coach, and consultant.

I’ve challenged myself to write 50 articles in 50 working days. 10 down, 40 to go.

Find out more information on my website or connect on my LinkedIn

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