Creative Strategy |  Design  | Product


Honoring Justice Ginsburg

In a year that seems unrelenting in it's blows, the recent death of Justice Ruth Bater Ginsburg hit me right in the gut. I was home when I heard the news (because really, where else are we these days) and after checking in with a few friends, found myself unsure of what to do next. Watching the news was depressing. Scrolling through social media, agitating. And I had maxed out cooking as stress relief back in April.

Sometimes, we deploy Creativity with a capital "C" to solve big, important problems. But other times, we can use little "c" creativity as an outlet, an exercise, a meditation of sorts. Creating something - a drawing, a poem, a meal - transfers energy and emotion inside you into something that can be seen, touched, even experienced by others.

So while feeling restless, I decided to just make something. I sat down at the dining room table and illustrated a little portrait of RBG, which when finished reminded me of an old prayer card. I found some words that reflected what I was feeling and wrote them on the back. The thought was to print out a few of these for friends, but on a whim I decided to inquire if anyone on my social networks might like a copy.

Well, I ended up sending out close to 150 of these little cards - to old friends from high school, beloved college roommates, former clients, newer acquaintances, and even a few young women I've never met. Of course this little creative endeavor didn't solve any pressing, complex problems. But it felt good. It was something.

As we navigate these times of uncertainty and loss, let's find inspiration in how RBG wished to be remembered, as "someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability. And to help repair tears in her society, to make things a little better through the use of whatever ability she has."


Get Yourself a Crush

I had a friend in college who insisted you MUST, at all times, have a crush on someone. Happy as can be in your current relationship? Single and loving every minute? No matter. A crush, she asserted, was essential. It kept your imagination alive. 

I tend to agree with her, with a caveat - crushes need not only apply to people. I have an ever evolving list of inanimate crushes. (Not to be confused with "wants" - the whole point of a crush is the fun of knowing it needn't ever come to fruition.)

For as long as I can remember, I've been a real-a-stalker. I love imagining how I would renovate a home, decorate it, live in it, throw parties in it, where the Christmas tree would go (priorities!). I can crush HARD on a one bedroom cottage in Taos, while living as a family of six in Kansas City. Meanwhile, there is a list a mile long of projects needed in the house I actually live in - chairs that need recovered, walls that need painted, landscaping that needs addressed. So why don't I get as much joy out of tackling these projects as I do imagining doing them in a home I don't even own? As it so often goes, dreaming is fun, doing is work.

I've also been known to crush on imaginary business ventures. If I'm struck by an idea for a retail store or restaurant concept, it's almost as if I can't help it - an hour later I've mocked up a brand identity for nothing more than an idea that popped in my head. I usually lose interest fairly soon thereafter.

Occasionally, I beat myself up a little about these habits. What a time suck! However, I realize that while I'm imagining homes I won't live in, businesses I won't launch, parties I may never throw, what I'm actually doing is exercising my creative muscles. Creativity is a practice, and like anything else, the more you do it the more natural it becomes. Taking time to indulge my crushes recharges me for my real creative work.

So, my advice? Get yourself a real estate crush and imagine how you might make it your own. Flirt around with a business idea you know you'll probably never see through - but have fun working through the process. Always wanted to own a restaurant? Spend a few hours dreaming about what you would name it, what music would be playing when you walked in, and what your signature dish would be.

You may waste a little time, but your creative thinking skills will get a great workout. And besides, life really is more fun with a crush.


Creative Generalist Explainer

"So what do you do?"

Whenever I'm asked this, I always cringe a little bit. Firstly, because I think it's the most boring way in the world to start a conversation, but mostly because my easy answer, "I'm a designer", just doesn't seem to cover it.

Sure, at the core of my "work" is an expertise in design thinking and principles, and I'd admit to being an expert accordingly. Yet more and more, I'm convinced it's the skills I layer on top of that foundation that bring the real value to my clients. I write a lot. I'm a forever student of interiors, music, art, fashion, travel, books. I tend to "get people". I love finding surprising connections between disparate things. I have lots of ideas and I never take the bad ones personally. It's the combination of ALL of these things that make me a good designer.

For the last several decades, we've become obsessed with specialization. Youth sports is an example –kids traveling year-round on competitive teams by age 8, only to be injured and burnt out by the time they reach high school. Business is no different. Currently, I'm bombarded by digital ads from niche experts who will teach me how to create an online course selling online courses to others wanting to create an online course. Don't worry, I couldn't follow that either.

The problem with being a niche expert is that by focussing so squarely on your area of expertise, you can't help but overlook, or even undervalue, skills and strategies outside your zone.

For example, take Company A - a startup with a big idea. They know they need creative help, but who to turn to first? A product designer will surely tell them the product has to be superior to the competition. A brand strategy firm will labor over the perfect messaging, visuals and audience personas. A PR firm will instinctively explain how the right launch can make or break a new product. A digital firm will push the importance of an omni channel strategy. All of these things are valid, and very important, but here's the problem - Company A can't possibly engage with each of these experts (unless they have lots and lots of time and money to burn, and trust me that is never the case). What Company A needs first is some help navigating it all, and maybe even charting a course that diverges from the rigid ones "TM'd" by the niche experts.

Steve Hardy, of explains it this way:

"Generalists are very good at introducing strangers to one another. Generalists are keen observers and natural matchmakers. They explore possibilities (in the broadest sense), connect the dots, distill complex information down to relevant summary, and remind us of context and even humanity. For these reasons and others, generalists are in increasingly high demand in today’s companies, non-profit organizations, universities, governments, and institutions."

So while I certainly consider myself an expert at a few things, I know the most valuable thing I bring to my clients is my experience across a broad range of disciplines. So for now, until I'm proven wrong, I'm embracing my inner generalist. It's 2020 after all, all bets are off.


On Living Creatively

I was lucky enough to be raised by a very wise man. Not only was he full of wisdom, he had the gift of being able to transfer his knowledge to others in ways that stuck.

His words below were contained in a letter he wrote to my sister, Mary, on her high school graduation:

"Be brave enough to live life creatively. The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can’t get there by bus, only by hard work and risk and by not knowing what you are doing. What you’ll discover will be quite wonderful. What you’ll discover will be yourself.”

So what is the creative life?

The creative life is peaking around the edges of the expected, always knowing there is something new hiding back there.

The creative life is being completely comfortable not having the answers - it's so much more fun not to!

The creative life is a hunger for uncovering more options, even after you've found something that works pretty good.

The creative life is knowing there are always multiple paths to get to an end result.

The creative life is becoming a master of bad ideas, without them how would you ever recognize the good ones?

The creative life is being deeply in touch with your intuition - your gut - your "I'm not sure why but I just know it works".

The creative life is knowing where you are, but always, always dreaming of where you might go.

To live this way comes easier to some than others. For some of us, there is no alternative. But creativity can be learned, practiced, developed. The key is to see it as a way of living, not a talent bestowed. Let's all be brave enough life creatively. Imagine what we may find?

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