Recently I was asked by a college student finishing graduate school to answer a few questions about my creative education, career path and what creativity means to me, specifically as it relates to advertising and industry change. His interest and trust in me was prompted by an RT on Twitte from a post I made – “Don’t be afraid”.

I’m always happy to help out young people aspiring to grow their creative interests and enter the world of advertising. There’s a couple of reasons I do this: to remind myself why I love being a Creative Director in advertising and to be challenged by new perspectives from those leaning new solutions to old ideas.

The following is my response to this student:

First let me say that I appreciate your initiative to take responsibility for your creative destiny. Many people don’t take ownership in their personal/professional growth. It is the only place to start, continue and never finish. I will do my best to answer these questions and provide further reading from others who are scholars and people I trust with my personal development – mentors. On that last note, here are some authors you should follow and books I have read, each teach either leadership philosophy or creative guidance – all with the understanding of how taking risks and embracing failure will get you past the ceiling that most people hit and stay:

Talent Is Never Enough: Discover the Choices That Will Take You Beyond Your Talent
by John C. Maxwell
Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?
by Seth Godin
The Culture Code: An Ingenious Way to Understand Why People Around the World Live and Buy as They Do
by Clotaire Rapaille
Emotional Branding: The New Paradigm for Connecting Brands to People (Hardcover)
By Marc Gobe
MTIV: Process, Inspiration and Practice for the New Media Designer
by Hillman Curtis

These books were inspirational to me and they cover everything from how to use and develop your talent, to understanding how you should be innovative and think differently. Some cover personal process and others explain how we should measure cultures to build strategies around them.

Ok, where to start? When students ask me where they should take their creative interests to be successful in their career I have to ask them a question. What is most important to you? Is it the degree or the ability to be great that you’re after? If you say the degree and that it will make you great, then you have some priority issues. Most think a degree is all they need and believe that process will make them creative, talented and great. Not true. An educational environment will only inspire and coach you to be great. Greatness comes from personal growth and creativity isn’t a talent, it’s an obligation.

The creative field you have chosen can grow you in ways that only you can achieve through experience and personal relationships (mentoring). Most industries can say they experience change rapidly, but I will say that when you are dealing with human behavior, culture and entertainment you can expect change at rate that is almost impossible to keep up with. That said, aside from the fundamentals, what you learn today in school will be mostly obsolete when you graduate. The reason: today we need design thinkers and strategic farmers based on human connection and culture alignment, not better artists.

Now to your questions:

How and why did you get into a creative field?

I went to college to study psychiatry and sociology. It wasn’t until my Sophomore year while taking a journalism class that someone said I should look at being an Advertising or Graphic Design major. Why? Because I was creative and was fascinated with human behavior. It’s the last part that I never really learned in school but I knew advertising had to be all about that – the artistic thing I was kinda born with and the rest just happened due to others I studied from and constantly challenging myself to be better. I found mentors to learn from.

Did you attend a book school? If so, what school?

I went to a University. One that had a pretty good Advertising and Art program. MTSU – Middle Tennessee State University. I never attended a “book school”. Book schools push you to be good, but that ability comes from within and the desire to learn from others with others (collaboration). You can definitely benefit from a portfolio school but ONLY if you have the tenacity. These schools are rigorous and difficult. The best part about them is that they teach you to trust in your abilities and to not give up (the realization of your potential). This is very similar to boot camp in the military – you learn just how far you can push yourself without breaking. If you are not an artist by nature, these schools will not make you one. Believe me.

What’s the major characteristic(s) young and creatives alike lack they MUST learn?

Simple. Belief in yourself and the ability to grow…on your own. Meaning, you have to give a shit. You have to want to learn from others and surround yourself with people who are better than you. Always ask why and challenge yourself and others to better solutions to the same old problems. Communicating with human beings can be difficult to keep up with. You must embrace change. I’ll say that again, you must embrace change. It’s ok to say that what you learned two years ago doesn’t work anymore. Was it a waste? No, ’cause two years ago it worked. Jay-Z says, “On to the next thing.”

What have you heard about Miami Ad School San Francisco?

These schools have reputations for a reason. They have been farms for big agencies to cultivate from. They teach you how to keep pace and push yourself, to never give up and work hard, because that’s what big agencies need. I’m not saying they aren’t beneficial, they are, especially on a resume. But I have hired students from these schools and it’s funny, some are really talented and some aren’t. It’s your last question that they didn’t get.

I don’t think traditional media is dead, integration will save them. Thoughts?

It’s definitely not dead, we just have to find better ways to use them. You’re right about integration. People want transparency and they want consistency. And they want you to be everywhere they are. Traditional media has taken somewhat of a back seat lately due to the economy and profiteering. Media companies have been raking us for decades. When the economy dropped out, online media and other untraditional paths to communication took over because it was cheaper and easily measured, WITHOUT ratings and dependency on media buyers. This AND change happened. People aren’t in the same places they once were.

What is advertising to you?

Advertising to me is the ability to connect with people in an interesting way. Period. To better their lives or to act in a way that is beneficial to others. Meaning… to make a difference. In the end we are allowing others to look at culture and ourselves – to laugh and and be honest with how to communicate with each other. Lastly to help others enjoy and appreciate art and creativity. You’re probably asking, Where is the part about selling products and services? If you are doing all that other stuff right, that is automatic. Make someone’s life better or get them to trust and believe in you, then you can introduce product and service to them. Here’s the catch, today you have to be honest about it. YEAH!

I hope this was helpful. It’s tough to get it all in a short e-mail. I will say this one last thing. You control your destiny, not someone else or a school. These things can certainly help you, but only in the sense that you make the most of it and continue to push yourself past it. Growth should never stop.