I’m a bit late for New Years, but when does life change and growth land on the button of an arbitrary date with champagne pops? Pretty rarely. So, here’s what I learned in 2014:
1. I used to be precious with my ideas. I knew the adage “don’t be precious,” but I certainly didn’t practice it. I kept them close, trying to be particular about who I told, who I wanted to work with, and in what mediums I would manifest these ideas–it all had to be exact match for each idea; a hatchling needing perfect care. Over the past few years, and this year in particular, I have learned that having good ideas is not the hard part, being able to make them happen is. I know the hardest part is finding the time, support, tools, and ability to develop and iterate and manifest them. The sooner you can get them out of the nest, the sooner they can fly. And the more people and mediums who get to interact with that idea, the better it’ll become. So share, evolve, and don’t be afraid to let them fly. There will always, always, always be more good ideas.
2. Time Management. I still have a long ways to go, but this year I learned a LOT in the time management department. I come from the world of all-nighters, passion projects, staying up too late after day jobs and hours of classes and work in order to make things. I’m used to eating, sleeping, and breathing my projects. This year, I spent a lot of time being creative on strict timelines, proposing those timelines & work plans myself, and tracking hours. I learned how to be more efficient, but still give myself the chance to percolate and marinate. (One of my new favorites: The MacGyver Method. Who knew getting your dishes done could be part of the creative process?)
3. This year I worked with a lot of amazing brands, including some of my absolute favorites. I learned a lot about how to work with existing stories, characters, locations, brands, and conceits to create something new, while still evoking and invoking the original spirit. I also became better at articulating, sometimes you really don’t need so much of a story. Sometimes, the details of a story will get lost, because the spectacle, delight, and emotion, are enough. A one-liner nailing what the guest/user experience is can speak more than thousands of pages of exposition.
4. In a company of impassioned extroverts, everyone is fighting to get a word in edgeways at almost every brainstorm. It can pay off to sit back and listen. Listen to what people are truly saying, not just the surface level.
5. On the opposite end, I realized how important it is to knowing when to articulate your ideas, versus when people get them. People are smart. They are creative and can draw the lines if you give them the dots. Nothing kills a presentation or bogs down a project meeting quite like nitpicking through seemingly obvious details and belaboring the point to the Endless Plains of Obvious.
6. Similarly, don’t go full 180. While I noticed the trend of what happens in the point above, more often than not I personally need to talk out the process I followed, not just the conclusion. When the Notoriously “Out There” Creative Director in the studio turns to you in a meeting, and asks, “what even happens in that brain of yours?” chances are, they missed the line of logic you followed.
7. I come from a world where by the time I came on board in a design process, the project had to ship. Subsequently, I used to measure success as “pulling it off,” no matter the cost. I had the satisfaction of the fact that the overwhelming majority of the time, I could pull it off well. However, over the past few years, I have moved increasingly earlier in the design process, including concept and blue sky thinking–where many times the project can’t or shouldn’t be pulled off–ranging from resources to timelines to safety to the fact it’s just not the best idea. How do you measure a project’s success? That’s something I’ll try to be able to find and articulate this year. I’m beginning to think it’s a lot more about process and people now.
8. Always, always, always, the sheer truth of difference between taste and skill. In my photography, I KNOW that I am not as good as my taste is. But I keep shooting, knowing I’m disappointing myself, but seeing tiny bits of improvement with every shot, and knowing that I am closing that gap. (Take 2 minutes. You must watch this: Ira Glass on The Gap)
9. No doors close forever.
10. You are harder on yourself than anyone else is. When giving yourself advice, take a moment and see what you would tell a friend or loved one who came to you with the same problem. So give yourself that support–this is a lot of work and a stressful planet–we need more empathy.
Bonus: Just do it. You will never be fully ready, and there’s a lot of bravery in learning to try when you aren’t ready. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, or admit your novice, but still. just. do. it. (This year I stepped up and dove in through a lot of major ways professionally, but on a quick personal note: I wrote and drew my first comic book this year!)