A lesson I was told a long time ago but have taken a lifetime (so far) of learning is this: being successful in professional creativity means getting uncomfortable.
It means not returning time and time again to the things you know and love. It means being curious.
I was once told: “don’t be a purist; be a sponge, spread your wings, put your tits on the line.” It’s a mantra I try to embrace every day.
To put this into action means continually expanding upon my ‘personal reference library’. To collect the little tidbits of life that I experience and keep them up my sleeve for a rainy day.
Ultimately, I aim to soak up the world and all its characters, stories and situations. To get uncomfortable. To pry, prod, poke. To reach beyond my usual parameters and stop mingling with the usual suspects, so that I may curate content that extends beyond simply what I like.
Because, if we are to only dwell in the what-I-like-land, we might just find there’s not too many people who live there. For when the job is to communicate ideas to hundreds and thousands of people from all walks of life, having empathy for other points of view is crucial.
This is not to suggest we lose our voice in the midst of listening to voices of others. Or agreeing with every perspective. Rather, it’s about finding ways to connect to those who don’t see the world the way we do — and then using our creativity and voice to form a connection.
As an advertising creative, my job is to learn about the products and services of my clients inside and out. To find an insight — the one human truth about life that will resonate with my audience. Then, create an idea that will sell that story back to them via television commercials, radio ads, social media posts or billboards on the street.
To only stick to what I know in life means I’ve cut myself off from all kinds of audiences and insights. I remain naive to what makes other people tick — what cultural references they will understand and what’s going to click with their world-views.
It’s in my best interest to understand things I don’t necessarily like or get or believe. Not everyone who will read or watch or listen to my work will dig the kind of things I like. And so, I read books that I would never normally pick up, and watch television shows or movies that challenge my taste (although, confession: yet to make it through a Star Wars film), and go to events that push my thinking further.
During my thirty-something orbits around the sun, I’ve amassed a pretty interesting set of skills and experiences that added a huge wealth of knowledge to my reference library.
I learnt the art of sales and suds by selling handmade soap to the great unwashed; I discovered the fascinating details that go into everyday life when working for a blind physiotherapist; I met some of the most fascinating people and four-legged friends while dog-walking in the streets of New York City; and now, in my spare time I sing in an indie choir with around a hundred people of all kinds of backgrounds and makeups, teaching me more about the world through the enchantment that is four-part harmony.
Our world is full of so many interesting people, topics and places. If we only stick to what we know, we might not only find ourselves bored after all a while, but we can run the risk of becoming boring. More importantly, we run the risk of not truly connecting with whom our creative hearts desire to, through whatever medium we use.
Connection through creativity. My challenge to you is to find the emotional, insightful uppercut to the story you want to tell and really sucker punch your audience.