August 7, 2014
Why does it take something dramatic, life-changing or frightening to shake our belief system? Some would even argue that the mere state of comfort in one’s own understanding or environmental surroundings is an inhibitor to growth. Simply, we only know what we think we know. Or worse, what we’ve been told.
There have been three times in my life where I have been at the altitude of 35,000 ft. I know this might be very common for people who travel across the globe on a regular basis, however it took two tours in a combat zone to the Middle East and East Asia and then finally again this year to South East Asia for me to understand its significance in my life. In the first two trips, I was a soldier in the US Army. The third time, I was a soldier of God on a missions trip with my church in Thailand. These experiences, two very contrasting perspectives, challenged everything I know.
By now you’re probably asking yourself how this has anything to do with nonprofits. If you consider the term in a different light, the way we invest ourselves with specific expectations, then “nonprofit” could bring about a whole new meaning. For instance, if I invest my time, talents, finances and an emotional sacrifice without an expectation of any return (profit), then the endeavor is more of a “mission” than it is a nonprofit venture. This means that the goal is no longer predetermined, but instead a trust in an outcome that is predestined. The focus now is about the doing vs the results. Try writing a business plan around that!
It was during these three times in my life, 35,000 ft, that my investments started with predetermined outcomes. All three instances resulted instead with something predestined. Meaning, the expected return on my investment didn’t result in the “profit” I had imagined. In this aspect, all cases turned out a “nonprofit”. And just to clarify, I’m not talking about financial gain. I’m talking about a new point of view.
The terms “altruistic”, “philanthropic”, “humanitarian” and “charitable” all come to mind when we talk about nonprofit organizations that are designed to be unselfish and generous to a fault–all in the effort to better our world. But the actual meaning of each of these terms stems from a perspective that there exists something good that should be extolled. And, we are the ones who should initiate, control and protect it! I would like to challenge all of us to view this in a different light. That the “good” in everything was created by God. He alone initiates it, controls it and protects it. We are merely participants in his almighty plan–a predestined outcome. The fact that there exists things in our world that are opposite of good is because some of us choose not to participate in this point of view.
What if the investments we all make to better our world were rooted in a selfless action without any expectations of a profit? What if, in this perspective, we all wore the badge of a nonprofit? It would mean that the outcomes of our investments would result in the beauty of something we can’t even imagine. Something bigger than ourselves, a “good” that can only come from doing hands that expect nothing in return. I wager that the results would lead us to the next thing, then the next and so on. A predestined path to peace with ourselves, with God and with others.
Hello, my name is Bruce. And I’m a nonprofit!
January 2, 2014
It’s officially the start of a new year and with it comes a new occasion to leave yet another year behind, especially my struggles, failures and missed opportunities. However, forgetting my successes, triumphs and personal growth shouldn’t be part of what gets left behind. The new year brings new hope and a chance for reflection. Why did I fail? How did I succeed? Can I have confidence and peace with all of it moving forward?
Human nature compels me to focus on the worst aspects of myself. Why is it so hard to leave the shame and guilt of past mistakes where they belong–in the past? Or better, how can I forget the hurt that was caused by someone else?
I was reminded of these things from a letter that was written to my wife by a dear friend. She so perfectly stated the truth and reminded me that this validity can’t come from this world. The world doesn’t offer peace, only fear of myself and of others. I must look to my creator and savior for this understanding and wisdom. She writes:
“I promise you, there will come a day when you will have peace with the past. You’ll look at, bleed, scream, shake, mourn – and you will leave what makes no sense at the cross. And there will be a day when all of the sudden, you’ll feel so light, so free that it will scare you to be free of the moorings that have suffocated you. You will find God will rush into every crevice, every dip, and the lightness will become Light. And then, my dear girl – beware!!! Everything will look different, smell different / more alive, more vibrant.
And it will scare you enough that you may want to run back and try to shove all that junk back in there, because its safe and known to you. And you will have to look it square in the eye, and walk it back to the cross, where it belongs. Each time, you have to be valiant, because once you give it over to God, you have to keep returning it. It was a long time during which I would have to say “no. You don’t belong in my head anymore. You go back to the cross” to those sick, sorry, sad memories.
The day I realized I couldn’t even TRY to be wounded by that junk anymore was the day I understood God’s love.”
When I focus on my hurt, from myself or from others, I can’t grow, I can’t love, and I can’t even use my talents and skills to their potential. Why? Because I lose confidence, ambition and I fail to take risks that allow for progress. As a creative professional, this can be destructive. As a human being, this perspective leaves me with no hope.
Here’s what Paul, an apostle of Christ, says about this dilemma in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” This means that at ANYTIME I can choose to be renewed in Christ–leaving my past failures and hurt at the foot of the cross. It, however, doesn’t mean that these things will go away, it simply means that I can have peace with it. “Here is a new heart, and a new spirit, and in them new light and life, new affections and desires, new delights and joys; here are new eyes to see with, new ears to hear with, new feet to walk, and new hands to work and act with…”–Gill’s exposition. Of course there’s some further understanding of this as it pertains to “living in Christ” and I encourage you to read about this and more. Continued readings can be found at BibleHub.com.
Everyday I interact with students who are reinventing themselves. Many struggle with leaving who they were behind and can’t embrace who they are becoming. It is a process, it doesn’t happen overnight and you have to find some humility in the learning methodology. For some it happens quickly, for others it takes awhile. Yet sadly, I watch still others who never seem to put the effort into what it takes for this kind of growth. I teach the portfolio class for illustrators and designers during their last semester of Nossi College of Art. It is the most rewarding part of my job to see how these students overcame their fears and found confidence to start a new life as a creative professional. It reminds me of how the “student mentality” can achieve great things. We must all carry this same perspective if we are to be successful in life, in faith…in hope.
So, today I can apply this truth to my profession–my willingness to learn and teach others, my relationships, my responsibilities and obedience in Christ, and even how I value myself. I’m leaving 2013 behind and focusing on what 2014 may bring and that’s exciting and adventurous! I’m supper pumped about starting off this new year! My hope is to embrace this truth and run, not walk, into 2014.
October 1, 2013
Creativity is communication. Plain and simple. From the time cavemen painted on cave walls humans have been communicating to each other through the things we create. Try creating something without desiring a response and see what I mean. Better yet, create without the desired response and consider it even more.
Today’s graphic designers and art directors are faced with understanding how to communicate creatively in a world that has evolved through technology – allowing for cross-culture messaging in an array of new media vehicles. If there ever was a time to break down the walls of stereotyping, prejudices and empathetic sincerity it is now. Recently, AIGA and Adobe partnered to define the designer of tomorrow, specifically within the next two years. Their findings, through several years of research, are six major trends that will shape the designers of tomorrow. Basically, the development of visual, verbal and visceral communication is much deeper than mere design.
As an educator to college design students, the biggest challenge I face is convincing young creatives to abandon creative trends and develop a clear understanding of deeper communication strategies. “They must understand the social sciences and humanities in order to understand the content they are asked to communicate and they must understand how to work collaboratively with other knowledge and practice specialists.” – AIGA, Designer of 2015 Trends
A chameleon blends in, finds safety in looking like its environment and doesn’t attract any attention. Finding the “unique” in design is nothing new. So slaying that Chameleon has been put to rest. However, in terms of today’s communication channels, jumping on the latest technologies designed for short attention spans and redundancy of content can be catastrophic to design without considering how to narrow your audience, design within a believable context, customize messaging that aligns with other social conversations and relying on engagement strategies based on cultural realities. In other words, media complacency has watered down creative executions and messaging into a pool of swirling color. Slaying that chameleon will take a deeper knowledge in design thinking than ever before.
Educators are speeding to offer the latest software and technology training without teaching the bigger understanding of how to use these new medias in a unique way. Just having an “app for that” is no longer the goal. Recommending creative solutions with these new resources, including possible considerations to product evolvement by designers, will be the key to success. Tackling creative issues within a bigger perspective outside the designer’s capabilities will now become their responsibility.
Just because a new technology is available to a designer’s creative strategic tool belt, doesn’t make it necessary. Discerning between what’s needed and what is not will be key. However, when it comes to today’s new design education practices, understanding the skills within these new capabilities will be imperative. For example: the creative development of print and e-medias will be essential to tomorrow’s designer. The creation of visual content is completely different with each user. Furthermore, adopting a “student mentality” will be the norm. Meaning, self-growth in continued education, wether on your own or within the confines of an educational institution, will be necessary to maintain continued success. In a recent article by Katia Colucci with The International Council of Communication Design, she states, “According to some experts the current half-life of personal knowledge is five years. In other words, in five years, half of our personal knowledge will be outdated. This means that to be competitive in future professional environments, we need to renew our knowledge by investing in continuous education.”
Slaying the creative chameleon has always been the challenge of graphic artists. Being unique and standing out from your surroundings is heresy to the existance of the chameleon. In contrast, it is essential to the survival of the designer. The term “cliche’ “ will now be applied to new technologies and how we use them to communicate in a transparent world.
To find out more about the future of graphic design, visit AIGA, Adobe, The Bureau of Labor Statistics or contact Bruce Stanley, Graphic Design Coordinator, Nossi College of Art.
July 19, 2013
In a world of “sign-ups”, it’s easy to disregard things we’ve already committed to. We rationalize why we had good intentions, but how life is crazy and things come up that keep us from fulfilling our obligations. As Jerry Seinfeld once said, “making the reservation is the easy part. Anyone can make a reservation. Now, keeping the reservation…that’s the important part.” Seriously though, I feel this act of justified thinking is what’s tearing apart the fabric of social altruism.
And then there’s the difference between “showing up” and SHOWING UP. There’s a big disparity between physically present and actually being present. Some of us think we’re pretty good at faking this, but we aren’t really fooling anyone. It’s the polarity of selfish and selfless action that either contributes to the status quo or to change.
Time is precious. And that’s not a cliche’. It’s just the truth. So when it comes to committing to something, I’m hesitant to say yes. I think most of us are like this. We are all so busy doing our daily grind that we just can’t fit anything else in. But what if the talents and skills that we have and do so well could be put to better use? Say, the selfless concern for the well being of others.
The irony here is that getting involved in this way would actually bring purpose to my life. A real reason to why I’ve worked so hard to achieve success. To be able to help someone, something, some anything! Looking back, I think I’ve missed way to many opportunities like this. Life has a way of making us all selfish. There’s just not enough time to help everybody so I help no one…except myself.
Their idea was to bring together creative professionals (geeks) for a common good for the city of Nashville. A way to give back to the city we love by volunteering our talents during a twenty four hour event for one needy non-profit. All they asked – sign up and show up. Physically. Mentally. Heartfully.
They asked me to join them as the Creative Director for the event. It was good timing too. I had just left my last job as the CD of a Nashville ad agency, and I was rethinking my whole career. After fifteen years in advertising I was already burned out and desperately needing creative inspiration. I had no idea what I was walking into. Honestly, I don’t think any of us did.
I’ve been involved in many crowd-sourcing events before. Mostly driven by egos, recognition and an attempt at attracting “real” clients post the event. Being physically, mentally and heartfully present wasn’t a requirement. Just follow the process, get the work done and go home.
We recruited over thirty volunteers ranging from copywriters, graphic designers, web developers, marketing strategists, social media geeks and PR folk. The non-profit was a start-up to help stop generational incarceration. No name, no brand, no nothing but the passion of an ex convict who personally saw a need and wanted to desperately do something about it. Twenty four hours later a brand was born – Youth Turns. Complete with an estimated $80k worth of marketing deliverables. They had all they needed to start getting awareness, communicate with others about their mission, recruit volunteers, and get funding. The best part was they now had over thirty brand ambassadors to boot. People who signed up , showed up and by the end of twenty four hours, became a coalition of volunteers who found purpose in their lives. Helping others.
We realized we had created something special so we did it again in 2011 for Safe Haven, a refuge for homeless families in Nashville trying to get off the street and reestablished in society. Again, we achieved the same result. A different group of volunteers but the same result. Happy non-profit, happy volunteer hearts.
So when Ian asked me if I was up for it again in April, 2013, I didn’t hesitate. This time it was for a bigger challenge – helping the Tennessee Literacy Coalition (TLC), a state wide organization located in Nashville, trying to change the course of illiteracy for the entire state. July 13-14 was the date held for the third annual Designathon and again, the same result.
I’m still amazed at the amount of work that is accomplished in that twenty four hours. For TLC: A much needed updated website including SEO capabilities, the ablitiy to measure analytics, share content and most importantly, how to cultivate volunteers, donors and help learners find providers; PSA’s for tv, radio and outdoor ads; four testimonial videos; a blog site with enough sharable content for a month; marketing strategy; social media campaign, strategy and training; corporate giving collateral; press releases; news coverage; and once more, over thirty new brand ambassadors – geeks for good. Here are just a few examples of the work we did for TLC. To see the entire list, see here.
I could go on and on about the benefits of this event and how I’ve personally witnessed the result of people selflessly giving up their time and talents to help others. I truly believe that the desire in our hearts to extend a helping hand to those in need was planted by our creator. And It’s my faith and trust in God and his call to us to help those in need that should be the only rationalization I need to sign-up and show-up.
My only wish is that Designathon could somehow be duplicated, multiplied and extended to the rest of the world. I guess that’s the basis of writing this blog. To hopefully inspire others to a new understanding of why we should be present for the things we should prioritize in our lives. Helping others.
Here are just a few of the heroes that were brave enough to take that leap of faith and signed-up to be part of something bigger than themselves. I’m proud to say that I know these folks – all twenty fours hours of them.
June 20, 2013
I’m often asked, “how do you come up with creative ideas?”. I usually answer, “It’s a process”. It’s true, understanding how ideas are cultivated and developed into great creative executions is why I also say, ”Creativity isn’t a talent, it’s an obligation”.
It’s this obligation that most people never learn to respect and incorporate into their creative personal and professional lives. Every great artist, designer or director of creativity uses some sort of process, bringing successful appreciation or effective results to what they create. But how much time did they spend getting there? Or, did they use the same methods every time to achieve their goals?
Author John Maxwell, author of, Talent is Never Enough, writes, “The key choices you make – apart from the natural talent you already have – will set you apart from others who have talent alone. Talent + right choices = a Talent-Plus Person.” If you have read this book, you’ll know that he is referring to a 16-step process to recognizing and behaving in a way that takes your talent to new a level of value. His steps are not just about cultivating ideas, they are about understanding your abilities and being in-tune with them to reach farther to achieve peak performance – a skill that takes an obligated attitude.
Sure, I have a process. It’s a 9-step journey to uncovering insights and developing ideas. It is also a path to appreciating persuasion, respecting measurement and being in-tune to my creative balance – perspective and objectivity, including steps that allow for ideas to mature (incubate) and finally, understanding the difference between “execution” and “production” – there is a difference.
So if everyone uses a process, why is it that so few actually achieve greatness? It is this question that points to whether someone is seen as successful or valuable. Using a process can make you successful – just ask any ad agency. There have been many books written about process and the science of creativity. Removing subjectivity and adding a proven system for getting results differentiates one ad agency or designer from another.
It is when a creative person becomes so in-tune with their process that he or she pushes the aspects (the details) of that process to a commitment level more similar to an obsession than anything else. He becomes obligated to things like exploration, collaboration, measurement and the art of persuasion, thus becoming more valuable than others practicing the same process. Taking it to another level, this person incorporates balance in her life with other creative outlets of inspiration, helping to remove emotional bias and instilling clarity between their creative professional and personal life.
The difference between good to great shouldn’t be measured by success. Instead, greatness, associated with talent, should be valued by obligation and commitment.