This was tomorrow once

“Whirling Room of Light” photo by Jon Mueller.

The headline of this post is actually a tweet I favorited by my friend Jon Mueller.

I think it’s worthy of being a principle you tape to your bathroom mirror or laptop screen so you can see it every morning.

How many days do we regret watching too many Sunday afternoon games and not engaging with our children? Or when we twitter and fritter time away instead of working on our art?

I’ll make this post brief, so you can get back to that great thing you can’t wait to bring to life.

After all, this will be yesterday soon.

Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable

To take one step is courageous;
to stay on the path day after day,
choosing the unknown, and facing
yet another fear, that is nothing
short of grace. 

—Excerpt from Sangha, by Danna Faulds¹

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Believe it or not, about 15 years and 30 pounds ago, I used to run marathons. Yes, the 26.2 mile kind of marathons. The crucial part of training for marathons is the weekly long run. Each week over the course of a 4 month training period, you add one more mile to your long run than you ran the previous week. Near the end of your preparation for the race, you’ll probably have logged three runs of 20 miles or more. The rationale of this type of training—or madness, depending on your point of view—is getting your body used to being comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. After all, there’s really no way to avoid being uncomfortable at some point during an endurance race that covers 26 miles.

Two cases in point. During my first marathon in the Fox Valley, we were treated to 40 degree temperatures and a 20 mph tailwind for the first 18 miles of the course. At mile 18 we turned back into that cold wind, at which point my entire body immediately cramped up—with eight miles to go. Uncomfortable is not the word. Excruciating and soul-destroying come to mind. But I eventually finished the race and was given the customary finisher’s thermal foil sheet, medal, and long-sleeve t-shirt. Two years later at the 1996 Grandma’s marathon, I absolutely cruised for 25 miles, until I hit a complete power outage. But with only 8 minutes of exertion left, I knew I could easily gut out those last moments of discomfort to get my finisher’s medal.

Uncomfortable circa 1996

Now that I’m older, I run much shorter distances, but I’m still faced with many days when it just feels flat out uncomfortable. I have to actively remind myself in those instances that eventually this feeling will pass, and I’ll be better conditioned because of it.

So what does this have to do with what we usually write about on this blog? Okay, confession time. The last three years have been the most uncomfortable period of my professional career. Allow me explain.

In late 2008, I decided I had enough with advertising. I had done everything I wanted to do. Got in all the important award annuals, won multiple best of shows, and worked in Minneapolis for an agency I had always admired. But I didn’t love what I did anymore. In fact, it had become boring and tedious. Campaign after campaign after campaign. Telling clients we actually affected their business, but what we really did was just delivered was marketing materials. Great ads with great thinking, but in the end they were ads.

There were still things I liked about my profession. I loved design, more so than ever. I had discovered a design blog called Grain Edit, and I started tinkering with the simple “mod-style” of illustration that Charley Harper and Saul Bass pioneered, and that shops like Invisible Creature carry on today. I loved thinking and strategy—I just didn’t want that freedom of thought to be limited to ads. I had gotten my first taste of digital, and loved all the moving parts, and the need for collaboration that was talked about often but rarely put in practice at traditional shops. I had an idea for a creative school for special needs kids. I had ideas for businesses. And I really liked this thing called social media. But what was I going to do with all that?

With no finish line in sight, I pushed myself to be uncomfortable. I admitted what I didn’t know. I was willing to learn, in exchange for sharing the valuable things I did know. And I was willing to give up a position of respect in an industry that I had worked in for over twenty years, in exchange for something unknown, for psychologically starting over. There are lyrics from an old Yes song that say “don’t surround yourself with yourself,” and that’s basically what I did. All I had was experience, guile and my work ethic.

I was really good at making stuff like this. And then I walked away. (sorta)

Nothing would come easy. I moved back to Milwaukee from the Twin Cities (something I swore I would never do—heh) to work for Fullhouse, which at the time was a fast growing digital shop. It appeared to be a good match. They were interested in my experience developing creative and working on brand strategy. I was interested in taking that and applying it to digital, and learning as much as I could about digital, social, and technology.

I tell this story often. Having been spoiled by some of the strategic and creative minds I had worked with while in Minneapolis, I doubted I would find that back in Milwaukee. Call it snobbery, but when you work with some of the best, your expectations are forever changed. On my first day at Fullhouse, I was put in the third floor conference room with @deziner. I remember 15 minutes into that meeting I caught myself wondering about her: “What on earth are you doing here?” She belonged in New York or Minneapolis or London. I knew in a 30 minute meeting that Cindi Thomas was someone I wanted to work with and learn from for a very long time. I got the chance to work with a lot of other really smart people there as well. Perhaps some of you have heard of guy named @augieray who went onto Forrestor, and is now VP of Social Media at USAA. There was also @cullenob, still one of the most driven professionals I have ever met, and the wicked smart digital strategist @gkalantzis. I’m not sure what was more amazing about James Newell—his front-end development skills, or his ability to remain so centered with all the talent and intellect he possessed. I often commented it was a little bit like working at NASA in the late 60s. There was a similar attitude of just figuring out how to do things.

If you haven’t heard, things did not work out at Fullhouse. Ironically, ownership could not get comfortable with being uncomfortable at a time when the industry landscape was changing for everyone. Twelve months after I started, Cindi and I along with Andy Wright, left to start Translator. Within the span of just over a year, I was not only back in Milwaukee, but I was back to being involved in a startup agency. Add to that I felt a bit like an insect in mid-metamorphosis. I was completely out of traditional, but still not embraced by digital.

Translator got off to an unexpected slow start—a large local client that promised to bankroll our first year if we left Fullhouse, backed out after we quit. This was financially devastating to the three of us, to say the least. (See mile 18 of Fox Valley marathon above). The immediate setback challenged why we had started the agency in the first place. Was it the promise of money, or our belief system?  In a variety of rather surprising situations, my abilities were second guessed. This led to a stunning loss of self-confidence, something I hadn’t experienced in over 15 years. After only five months, we went through a partnership change at the agency. This contributed to us losing control over the product idea Translator had created—Meet-Meme.

When work finally did start to come in, it wasn’t a trickle, it was a flood. The zero to 120 mph pace led to more issues. I was left thinking, maybe I made a mistake. Maybe I’m too old for all of this. Maybe I can’t change.

It was all extremely uncomfortable.

But at the same time, progress was also being made. Through our former Fullhouse colleague (and all-around good guy) Micah Eberman, Cindi and I got a chance to work on a huge project for R/GA, an agency we both greatly admire. The work we did was extremely well-received, and it provided validation for the type of thinking the two of us had been collaborating on since we first met at Fullhouse. That style of thinking—what I would describe as a mash-up of the Diageo brand essence wheel, user-based behavioral research, and creative storytelling—is really the key to our current success. It results in complete stakeholder buy-in at the highest levels, and is what continues to attract new clients to Translator.

polish moon

Mod-style illustration and packaging hits the shelves soon.

We started to have success. My confidence came back. Not only in myself, but in delivering on the vision that Cindi and I had for what it meant to be a modern “agency.” We executed in what we believed in, even if that was outside the defined norms of what it is to be an agency. The compliments we receive from our clients are not ordinary. “You took what was in our heads and finally made it clear and actionable.”

Earlier this year, we were fortunate to be recommended to Brendon Thomas, who had an idea for a crowd-powered music booking platform. Shindig is about to launch in beta, and today we are closing on first round funding (w00t!). The hard lessons we learned on the first product partnership didn’t stop us from trying again. This time around the partnership was built upon mutual respect, and the experience has been vastly—and pleasantly—different.

We’re funded. Dig it.

My old ad colleagues ask me what Translator does, and when I explain it to them (without getting into deliverables), they say “I still don’t get what you do.” And that’s okay. We’re not defined by our work. We’re defined by how we think. Our clients—who are often C-level or company founders, are drawn to that and like it that way. Our approach to idea architecture and experience design is focused on transforming their entire business—not just their marketing.

In addition to morning lab sessions, we started the Translator XSMKE series. Rather than start or join yet another local committee to try promote creativity, we just decided to do our own thing. So far we’ve put on 5 events this year, including a live performance for the launch of Nineteen Thirteen’s first EP, a screening of the documentary Miss Representation, and a live staging of The 3six5 with @LenKendall. We’re interested in promoting and cross-pollinating all forms of creativity, in art, music and technology. It has nothing to do with being a typical agency—and everything to do with being us.

It’s often said about marathoners and professional endurance athletes that there’s no talent gap between winners and losers; rather, it’s the mental trait of not accepting your limits that decides who wins. Whether it’s growth, progress, innovation, change, none of it comes without a price. It’s human nature to stay away from things we don’t think we can pull off. Failure is embarrassing. And so we stick to doing what we know how to do. It’s safer that way.

Not that long ago, I seriously thought my best days were behind me. This weekend, I will turn 50 years old and I am here to say I survived being uncomfortable. I got through it, and I love what I do again. I’m better now than I was at 40, plus I can do a lot more things I never thought I could do. And what’s best, is that I especially love the people I work with everyday at a single long table we all gather around at Translator—Cindi Thomas, Kirsten Corbell, and Ben Leisch.

Yes, some days are still uncomfortable. That’s part of growth. As with running, I try to remind myself to breathe, ask myself why it’s uncomfortable, and remember that I am on the path day after day for a reason. When I stick to this the sky is the limit, and there’s never any finish line.

I’d love to hear if you have a similar story, or maybe if you’re going through the trials that come with being uncomfortable.

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¹Special thanks to my Kripalu Yoga instructor Heather Burkart for reading this during class on the night of November 2, 2011. Roughly translated, Sangha means a community with common goal, vision or purpose.

As @deziner has taught me, there are no coincidences. None.

Here’s to the crazy ones

Somewhere in the basement, I have a photo that was taken of me as a young, long-haired art director in 1987. It is a polaroid of me sitting at a drafting table, using a burnisher to rub Letraset into a headline that would be pasted on a key line to create an ad that would run in the newspaper.

Yes, read that sentence again and let every bit of irony sink in.

There will be many blog posts written about the passing of Steve Jobs. I can’t pretend to offer commentary on the magnitude of his contributions to the human race, but I can offer my own personal experience of how Apple changed my own world.

Shortly after the aforementioned polaroid was taken, the art department I worked in purchased a Macintosh SE loaded with Aldus Pagemaker, a scanner, a printer, and a black and white monitor the size of Volkswagen. I believe I used it to do rough layouts that would be used as a blueprint for a paste up artist at the Milwaukee Sentinel (yes, more irony). In 1991, I took out a $10,ooo loan so I could buy a Mac SE30 loaded with something called Photoshop, a monitor, scanner, printer and a Syquest drive so that I could do free-lance work. Believe it or not, even at that cost it was a good investment.

At my first agency job in 1993, I got to drive a IIci. By then, we were using Quark Xpress, Illustrator and Photoshop to create final files. I still remember pushing Photoshop to its limits. Back then, layers hadn’t been invented. If you wanted to do anything cool, you had to save each individual file change every step of the way. Doing a simple blur in a 300 dpi file back then took at least 90 seconds to process. I scanned images out of stock photo books, because back then the internet was called the information super highway, and only one person in the agency had access to it.

The mid to late 90s were the dark era for us Mac users. There were clones, threats of bankruptcy, and the hardware and OS were notoriously unreliable. My IIfx at Kohnke Hanneken would literally crash 12 times a day. Hence the term, “Save early, save often.” But we continued to believe. If the electric guitar was the symbol of free thinking, creativity and coolness in the 60s and 70s, then the Mac became that symbol for our generation. Because of the Mac, advertising and design began to look different.

Then crazy uncle Steve came back.

First, there was the candy colored iMac, the computer for the internet. Agencies, publishers and production companies bought the G3, then the G4. OS X may have been the most important thing Apple ever launched, because mercifully, the computers stopped crashing. Within a few years, everything that used to be sent out to a high-end retoucher could now be done on Mac. Macs began showing up in video and audio suites. In no time at all, internet bandwidth and processing speed increased exponentially. Every six months, crazy uncle Steve would show us something new, an iPod, an iMac that looked like a lamp, a Mac that looked like a toaster. The introduction of the MacBook Pro literally changed my life. As an art director/designer, I used to be chained to the desktop. Unless you had a system at home, you stayed at the office until all hours of the night. Now with a laptop you can work anywhere, anytime, on anything.

One day in 2007 Steve Jobs took the stage with an iPhone. The world spun really fast that day, and it hasn’t slowed down since.

The iPhone made me sidestep careers, going from advertising and design, to wanting to understand digital, social and human behavior. After all, who are we without our smartphones? My good friend and client Jim Atkinson of Guinness Atkinson Funds puts Jobs on the same level as Leonardo da Vinci. I don’t believe that is a stretch. Never before has so much power, knowledge and creativity been put in the hands (literally) of so many people.

Apple suddenly became cool for everyone. Those who had derisively dismissed Apple a few years earlier “swearing by their PCs at the office,” now carried iPhones and purchased iMacs for their home. They took pictures, made movies, and listened to music. They bought iPads without even knowing why they needed one. Apple made us all more creative. Technology could indeed make us all more human.

If the legacy of a person is to be a bridge upon which others can cross to fulfill their future, Steve Jobs is (not was) the Golden Gate. His greatness is impossible to measure. Count me among the millions of grateful fans, believers, and crazy ones. We know what it means to Think Different:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Steve Jobs, 1955-2011, To Infinity and Beyond

Human Behavior: Green and Gold, Through and Through

I can never remember not being creative. I can also never remember not being a Green Bay Packer fan. In fact, these two traits are somehow intrinsically linked. Some of my earliest formative memories from age three or four, are the joy and freedom of drawing scenes from Packer games. Piles of stick figure bodies with a stick figure ball carrier jumping over the top. These crayon drawings would adorn the Westinghouse refrigerator in our home at 2304 Lawn St., Racine, Wisconsin during the 1960s.

In those days—before North Face and Mountain Hardware clothing—my mother and father would layer up with bulky long underwear before making the pilgrimage to attend a Packer game at Lambeau Field in December. They’d go to the games in Green Bay with friends of our family, the Maritatto’s, who just happened to live two blocks from another Italian household by the name of Lombardi. During a weekend visit to their home, I tagged along with my older brother on a walk to the Lombardi house. He rang the back doorbell and asked for an autograph. We were ushered into the house, and Marie Lombardi led my brother to the den where Vince was reading. I stayed in the back hall entry way, peering down the darkened basement at a Packer rug at the foot of the stairs. Over forty years later, this encounter of me merely watching Marie Lombardi cook Vince some scrambled eggs for dinner somehow has taken on mythic proportions.

We had these before Wii

Long before there was Madden NFL 11, I had a collection of mini plastic football helmets that you’d buy from a gum ball machine. We had sand colored tight pile wool carpeting in our tiny living room, and I drew a football field with white chalk on the carpet in order to stage a football game with the aforementioned helmets. My makeshift field pretty much looked like the frozen tundra. Oddly, I don’t remember my mother complaining much about having a gridiron sketched on the living room floor. What I do remember is there was a Detroit Lion helmet with a pencil sharpener in it. Man, that little helmet could bust tackles.

For two seemingly never-ending decades, Dan Devine was followed by Bart Starr was followed by Forrest Gregg was followed by Lindy Infante. I held out hope and never wavered. I passed the years by hating the Bears, because the Vikings had not quite reached that level of hatred. Yet.

Then there was the moment. If you are a true Packer fan, you remember where you were when Brett Favre hit Kitrick Taylor for a touchdown to beat the Bengals in Week 3 of the 1992 season. Because it was then and there we had a flash forward that took us all the way to a victory in Super Bowl XXXI. If you’re like me, you just knew it in that instant.

I am a Packer fan. I watched year after year of stinging playoff defeats in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, and finally in 2007. I watched our flawed hero think he had actually become bigger than the team we loved. Horrified, I watched Hector willfully climb into the Trojan horse. In an epic story that demands an ending worthy of the great Greek dramas, Aaron Rodgers must defeat the Men of Steel, whose best player Troy Polamalu is suffering from a bad achilles. Pinch me, although I may never want to wake up.

I am a Packer fan, even though I own only one piece of licensed clothing which I won’t even wear today. Instead, I will watch Super Bowl XLV in a black Nike knit hat, a navy fleece Red Cross pullover, with a brown scarf my mother knitted wrapped around my neck. I wear this because it is what I wore when we destroyed the Giants 45-17 which began the current winning streak. If I do not wear this, somehow the gyroscope in the universe that connects my every move to the outcome of the Packer’s fortunes will become unbalanced and we stand the threat of defeat. I cannot allow this to happen.

A few weeks ago, @deziner asked me what the obsession with football is about. I answered the speed of the game, the violence, the fact that there’s so much hand-to-hand combat, quite unlike any other sport. But if I was asked what my obsession with the Packers is, I don’t know that I’d be able to answer. Certainly, geography and lineage play a role. (I mean, we can be brand loyal to detergents our parents purchased). Although despite my fanaticism, my two boys have zero interest in football, let alone the Packers. They’ll probably be drawing comics during the game, so they have the creativity gene, but not the Packer gene.

I am a Packer fan. In fact, I love the Packers. It’s a weird behavioral thing that certainly needs some user research. I find it to be completely irrational. I yell and scream at the TV. I read about the team incessantly. I will text 6 other Packer fans just like me throughout today’s game. I am blindly brand loyal, even though I have never once—ever—seen an ad for the team that states its features and benefits.

I am a Packer fan. It’s been a lifelong experience that continues to build on experiences.

Huh.

Packers 31 Steelers 17.

Just sayin’.

Creativity: Thought or Expression?

Translator friend @raffel just recently captured and shared in a blog post notes surrounding a discussion that was held at lab hours a few weeks back. The topic: the definition of creativity. The discussion was spawned from the talk myself and @rohdesign did for @mke_ux about sketching. In the talk, we discussed the notion that sketching is not drawing, and that people discount their ability to be creative because of their inability to draw well. My stance? Creativity is the act of thinking outside the expected. The counter point? Creativity needs to be expressed outwardly in order for it to be proven to be creative. Both sides have validity, and there will never be a definitive answer (how creative would that be?), but I happened upon this tonight:

Making Future Magic: iPad light painting from Dentsu London on Vimeo

Here’s why this struck me. I spent most of my time with the upfront frames of this video. The ones that actually explained how they did it and what they combined to produce the result. In fact, I got a bit bored with the movie. Yes, the execution of the idea was cool. And yes, now I want to try it. But the point being that it’s not the output of the idea that was riveting. The idea was. The fact that people understood the capabilities and outputs of the 3-D modeling software, the CT scan concept, the iPad capabilities and the art of capturing moments on “film” and combined them to make something else. Well, that is damn creative.

So the question becomes… if this movie was never made, is this idea less creative? I’m going to venture out on a limb and say… no. Because even if the video was not done, the art here is the ability for these contributors to see overlaps as well as new uses for old and new techniques and technologies. If it never got created, it wouldn’t have been shared. Which is different than not being creative.

It’s kind of the “if a tree falls in a forest…” dilemma. If you dont see an expresion of creativity, does it exist? What say you? Is expression a requirement for the definition of creativity?

An 8 iron for creativity: what you can learn from one club golf

First of all, a definition of one club golf. No, it is not golf played by members of advertising’s famous One Club. Rather, it is a round played with a single club. That is correct—one, single solitary club and all the skill, creativity and talent you can bring to that particular round of golf. And yes, you must putt with this club as well.

It’s become my favorite way to play golf. Just last month I played a round with Joe Sorge, a.k.a. @ajbombers at the wonderful Missing Links par 3 golf course in Mequon. Missing Links is pretty much the perfect course for one club golf. It’s a Jack Nicklaus designed layout with holes ranging from 75 to 210 yards, where water seriously comes into play on 4 holes. Joe chose a 9 iron while I played the round with an 8 iron. We had fun, laughed, and of course tweeted updates of our match to the eagerly listening Twittersphere.

Four holes like this, one club to carry the water

Without getting too much into the details of golf, one club forces you to hit all kinds of shots with a club you ordinarily wouldn’t choose. I hit my 8 iron about 155 yards, so hitting a shot 100 yds downhill straight over water takes a fair amount of thought, some skill and a lot of guts. And a four foot putt with an 8 iron? It ain’t no gimmee. Forcing yourself to do things you ordinarily wouldn’t attempt gives you an entirely different perspective. And it’s refreshingly fun.

Ian Baker-Finch would say “Ah, lovely recovery shot there by AJ.”

So what does all this have to do with digital, strategy or creativity which is what I usually write about here?

A lot.

Let me ask you this: How many of us are hindered by thinking we can only play with a “full bag of clubs?” Think about it. The following is an incomplete list of complaints I’ve heard over the years for reasons you can’t come up with a creative solution for a client:

  • The budget isn’t big enough
  • We don’t have enough time
  • The creative brief sucks
  • The product is boring
  • The client doesn’t get it

Really? If you buy into this type of thinking, you’ve disqualified yourself before you even started because you can’t see a way to succeed without the proverbial “full bag of clubs.” How sad. Because in my experience, how often do you actually get to play with the “entire set?” Instead, I’d suggest seeing those limitations for what they are: things you don’t need to worry about. If you only have a week to work out an idea, then get to work now instead of kvetching about the several weeks you’d like to have.

Yes, all this rah-rah talk is empty without any real life examples. So I offer you one of my off-the-course one club stories. A few years back when I was still toiling for my agency Octane, we were working on a project for the local chapter of the Salvation Army. We had no budget. We had zero time. I literally had one day in the schedule for conceptual development. One morning I left at 5am to drive to Minneapolis to work with my long-time writing partner Rob Franks. We started concepting at 10am at a funky coffee shop in Uptown. We had lunch at Bryant-Lake Bowl, then finished the day outside at a table at Dunn Brothers. I got in my car at 4pm to drive back to Milwaukee. Six total hours of work. (Okay, we talked about movies, music and the Packers too). We had a notepad of ideas. We presented the next week and produced the campaign within another two weeks. One of the ideas—not a TV spot, but a sign that hung above the famous Salvation Army kettles—ended up in Communication Arts and The One Show (heh, One Club, see?). The campaign led to a huge increase in holiday donations that year.

It can be done.

I still remember sitting outside that day coming up with ideas on a beautiful September afternoon at Dunn Brothers. There was no time to worry about what we didn’t have at our disposal. We had X amount of time, Y amount of talent and we flat out had to execute.

Son, give me that 8 iron.

Maybe you have a story about embracing limitations, and then going on to do something you never imagined possible. If so, I’d love to hear about it.

Overcoming Creativity

Ever feel like this is what you need to overcome in your quest for creativity? Yeah. Me too.

Over the last several months I’ve been participating in a discussion group (IRL… can you believe that?) centered on the topic of removing roadblocks of our individual creativity. It’s been a fascinating journey to say the least. Not only is the subject of creativity wide open for interpretation, but openly facing how you might be sabotaging yourself in the manner can be a bit eye-opening. Nonetheless, I delved into the cerebral examination of what creativity actually is, and is not, and have landed on a few key descriptors:

  • Creativity is not the ability to produce a piece of art
  • Creativity is the ability to be comfortable with being uncomfortable
  • Creativity is not simply doing things differently
  • Creativity is an emotional endeavor

Much of the group discussion about what hinders creativity has centered on fear; of making a mistake, of being judged, of not delivering. And I agree. Creativity involves social risk, and we are social creatures. Try as we might, we are ingrained with avoidance of failing, of looking bad or making mistakes, even if we are the only ones watching. At the core though, there is a belief, a want, a drive that ultimately is based in personal emotion. It’s a delicate balance of acting on our internal drive, and delivering what others perceive as valuable.

Simon Sinek talks about the Golden Circle

To circumvent this emotional risk of creativity, defaults come into play. The safety of checklists and guidelines and the established tried and true. Simon Sinek, in his TED talk “How great leaders inspire action” so beautifully and simply lays out out the very biological push and pull of the old and new functioning brains of the human species, and how we are always caught between logic and emotion. If you haven’t seen it, I suggest you do. If we can’t rationalize it, we fight it. It’s uncomfortable. And clear cut solutions that have experience and rational support behind them are safe. But it’s that “gut” feeling of knowing there may be something more, a different way to see or do things that is the essence of creativity. True creativity is not the ability to think differently, it is the ability to push past the uncomfortableness and fear of doing so.

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” - Scott Adams

I’m determined to continue digging into the subject of creativity, and thinking about it’s implications, especially in the digital space. There’s been a lot written about it, and many opinions on the subject. I’ve been reading, observing and absorbing as much as I can, and I’m sure you will read more from me on the matter. In fact, I’ll be sharing some of my perspective and experience in this space at the UnGeeked Elite event coming up this week, when we discuss being creative in how we think about and approach our digital and social endeavors.

But honestly the best way to learn is to discuss, so I’m interested in your experience with creativity: Specifically in your digital planning and designing, what has pushed you into creative thinking? Let’s chat. I’ll make the coffee.

Collaborating without others

Sounds contradictory, right? Collaboration by it’s core definition means “two or more working together in an intersection of common goals.” (Thank you wikipedia.) How can one collaborate without others?

Twyla Tharp, in her book “The Collaborative Habit – Life Lessons for Working Together” (highly recommended btw) speaks of the work she did on “Movin Out” – a musical featuring the songs of Billy Joel. She writes:

“When you’re collaborating with a megastar who’s already written the music you’re going to use, there’s no way to have equal collaboration. As a practical matter, there was no reason to drag him into the production. This was a collaboration with Billy’s music, not with Billy.

The last line struck me. The overused term “collaboration” often conjures a vision of teams of people sitting around tables. Inputs and opinions and insights all ridiculously powerful and helpful. People working together to make something better. And you will never hear me dispute it’s worthiness.

But the essence of collaboration, I think, is not people. It’s respect and open-mindedness and the creativity to build upon and shape something built upon something else. A willingness to not devalue the source, but look past it to something more.

You don’t need the author to collaborate with his story, or the artist to collaborate with his music. You don’t need the team to collaborate with their ideas. You need the story, the music, the ideas, and the willingness to respect each and offer them a seat at the table.

We see this in digital, all the time. Open-source code, crowd-sourced ideas, user-generated comments. There are people behind it all, but we actually end up collaborating with the code, the idea, the words much more than the people behind them. We build on them and make them better. And digital experiences make this collaboration process incredibly accessible.

So if you can sit in a room, or on the other side of the screen, real-time with people, oh my goodness… do not pass up that opportunity. There is magic to be had there. But if you can’t, don’t let that stop you from collaborating. Collaboration is a state of mind and a way of thinking. And we don’t need anyone else for that.