Seek creativity

June 20, 2010

When we are surrounded by creative people and ideas on a daily basis we forget to infuse our lives with other creative inspiration. We may think that our personal world is full of creativity and don’t have the time to seek it elsewhere.

For me, finding creativity is just part of my life in general. I can’t turn it off. From County festivals like the Annual RC Cola and Moonpie Festival in Bell Buckle, TN, to the local Murfreesboro, TN Hotrod Association which gathers over 200 cars and trucks at a local mall parking lot every Friday night – yeah, every Friday night, seeking individuality and inspiration is what I’m after.

The creative arts and crafts and the custom executions of upholstery and paint are enough to walk away content. However it’s the people I enjoy talking to most. The personal pride in their creations and the stories behind them all are just inspiring.

Sometimes you can find local shops with antiques and I dig looking at the old graphic art found on packaging.

For those who know me, you know one of my creative outlets is hotrodding. And finding a local hotrod chapter hanging out in large numbers is a chance to get ideas about projects I’m working on and to chat up fellow hotrodders and share challenges to creative things we’re working on.

In the end, it’s about seeking creativity and making it a part of my life. The reward is unmeasurable. All the images and events from this post happened in one weekend. I feel empowered starting my week fueled with creative inspiration and can’t wait to get back to my own work.


Love what you do

May 24, 2010

We’ve all been told to pursue a career so that you end up loving what you do, yet so many of us fall short somewhere along the way. For me, following my creative interests was a no-brainer; however, my journey wasn’t an easy path.

Looking back, the only thing I did consistently was follow people smarter than myself and be willing to listen and take suggestions. That’s not to say that I don’t have some chops yo! But someone once told me that if you surround yourself with those that can mentor, challenge and inspire you to be something you can’t yet see in yourself, the day would come when you will love what you do.

Today, I still follow that same path. Sometimes I think I can’t learn enough fast enough. My obsessive behavior and thirst for knowledge have filled my creativity cup to what feels like the brim at times. I’ve found that the only way I can make room for more is by sharing my expertise and experiences with others. As long as I’m willing to accept input from others, I know I’ll continue to grow.

It is this process that allows me to say that I truly love what I do. Will I love what I do in the future? I can’t say, cause I’ve also learned not to predict too far ahead of myself, unless I’m measuring your brand and you’re paying me to do so. Hehe. Sorry I couldn’t help that. Seriously, to “love what you do” you have to humble yourself and explore what’s going on today. Believe me, there’s enough of it to keep us all busy.

So what am I doing that I love so much? Take a look around this blog site and you’ll see that I enjoy being a Designer, Art Director and Creative Director. Although, one thing you won’t find here, and is a major contribution to my happiness, is teaching students and leading faculty at a local art college see their potential for creative value. I’ve found that I enjoy giving back so much that I now dedicate a lot of my time as the Graphic Design Program Director and Sr. Faculty Coordinator at Nossi College of Art.

This school’s vision for arming art students to be not only successful but valuable in the industry will not doubt help them to love what they do. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be there.

I encourage everyone to continue seeking out what makes them happy. When you find it, don’t forget to feed it everyday. It will grow into something you can’t imagine and you’ll find yourself saying, “I love what I do”.

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.


Don’t be afraid.

February 14, 2010

I just finished judging the student Addys here in the middle Tennessee region. For those of you who don’t know, this region leads the nation in entries and the number of schools that enter. That said, it warms my heart to know that there are some real teachers out there that give a shit. Horah to those that coach and mentor young aspiring creative thinkers who dream of being talented. The collection of work proved it. Here is some of it.

James Button – photographer/Nossi College of Art

People are born creative. It’s society and conservative teachers that lead us to believe that creativity is something only meant for those who want to struggle through life. Not true. Sure it takes effort being creative and you do have to show up everyday (read my last blog post “Show up.”).

The work was impressive which made it truly difficult to decide from so many entries. From illustration, photography, advertising, copy writing to graphic design, packaging and digital development, these guys can hold water to actual agency work. To those of you who aren’t challenging yourselves in the market right now – look out.

And this is a good thing. Infusing new talent, aspiring not to beat you out, but who seek to challenge you and want you to challenge them is how “staying fresh” is supposed to work. Yes, you have something they don’t: experience. They’re craving it. Let them in.  Collaborate with them. Learn to bridge new frontiers in design and technology with them. Hire an intern if you can’t afford to pay a new salary. Interview and hire those who are testing their own creative growth and actually want something from you. Then give it to them.

There is a catch though: you have to be committed to their growth. But you already know that, right? You’re already growing your own talent, right? And you’ve already given them tools and the freedom to know how to grow it on their own, right? Because you know that’s how you get to a level of consistent company growth that produces great work, right?

It’s simple. Fear kills creativity. Don’t be afraid to say to people, “That’s not good enough”. Interview hard. Don’t be afraid to express and implement your philosophies of personal growth and insist on collaboration with the talent you have and with others, introducing perspective and objectivity into the work. Hire people that are better than you. Always. What should be motivating is that someone is doing better work than you because it forces you to step up your game.  Just make sure your competitive heart is humble and fair.

I always enjoy working with young talent.  It reminds me of why I started in this business – to find purpose and  to make a difference. And more importantly, when I work with others who share that same ideal, we can make a HUGE difference. As long as we’re not afraid.

Show up.

February 9, 2010

Working with other creative people is why I chose my career. Add working with some of the best creatives, judging some of the best work in the U.S. – it’s the makings of a perfect job.

My trip to Virgina Beach was one interesting event. Mostly due to the weather. It snowed almost a foot the weekend three other talented people and I were asked to judge their 2009 Addys. It also made for interesting travel. At one point, due to flight delays and over-booking, I had to board a plane by walking up to it via the tarmac.

The creative WOW was left to a few, as always, but what was more telling was the work… that wasn’t even close.

I guess it bothers me when some people call themselves creative and they don’t even understand the groundwork for what it takes to be good, let alone great. I’m talking about just getting the rules of graphic design and good ol’ advertising strategy down. We were judging the Addys right? I’m just sayn’.

I enjoy coaching people and their creativity. Especially when THEY define what is great and at the very least, good enough. That’s because they know how to set the bar is for what is great. Not because they just do know, but because they learned something along their journey of creativity to actually want to be talented, not just to be “creative”.

They show up ready to do what’s necessary to do great work. They seek out others who inspire them and see the things they are creating. They look for mentors from whom they can learn from. They find others who challenge them and they challenge others. Quite simply, they give a shit. And these people aren’t always in the creative departments of where we work, they exist everywhere. From owners of companies and CEO’s to Marketing Directors and Account Executives, we’re all responsible for “great”. It’s the difference of whether or not you show up and work hard at what you believe you can achieve and what you can accomplish with others.

Are you “being creative” or are you a “creative being”? Everyone has the capacity to create, and to judge what’s “creative”. But just because you’re standing next to the President doesn’t make you the VP. In other words, just because you ran an ad doesn’t make you creative, let alone a creative great. It takes more than osmoses to actually understand how to be really good. It takes effort, you have to be obligated to it.

Talented people work hard at their skill. Their work shows it. It’s obvious. And it stands out against work that, well, doesn’t show up.