We’ve all been there.
And by “there” I’m talking about that special place where creativity is questioned. Whether you’re in A&D, industrial design, or the jungle called branding and advertising where this Cat stalks, you come face to face with it. Often.
Collaboration is a nice word. The reality of a true collaboration is the candor that is the foundation to an open discussion. An open discussion where anyone worth their salt should have no problem using the most powerful word in the business.
That word is no.
No is where trust happens. And trust is the WD-40 in the engine of creativity. Yes is easy to say. Though it might feel good to see a lot of nodding heads in a room, the reality is, as someone once opined “if everyone is agreeing to the same thing, are we all thinking.”
Many times I’ve watched clients and others alike go through the motions of what it’s like to truly look in the mirror for the first time. Within a 24-hour period, they may have several different opinions of their perception of the presented creative. This is human. This is ok.
Many times, this can turn into reviewing creative in a vacuum, where only “I like” and “I don’t like” exist. Or sharing work with a well-meaning friend who will surely show how smart he or she is by overtly critiquing the work.
This, my friends, is a dangerous place, but it is also a fascinating place when you step back and keep your tongue firmly in cheek. As I’ve said many times, I’ve learned more about human nature – and in some cases this “nature” is a tempest – than the actual business of branding and advertising.
Our job in the creative business is to stand firm, but not put one’s head in the sand. Somewhere in what may be a misguided opinion may be something of merit. I’ve found that keeping an open mind and my sense of humor intact can be a good place to exist. That doesn’t mean no becomes yes but I’ve certainly seen “no” become the beginning of a new conversation.
No isn’t the conversation ender – most of the time. It’s the conversation starter when working with forward thinking companies who trust that great creativity starts with true leadership. That’s authentic and that’s where all creative should strive to live.
What was the last concert you went to?
The last concert I attended (believe it or not) was The Beach Boys in Atlantic City. It was their 50th Anniversary tour. Now you’re probably thinking “man, way to show your age, Steve.” The sad truth (though I’ve got some serious grey that would make even Clooney jealous) is that I’m only 27, but I’ve been a Beach Boys fan since I was a little kid. In fact, Brian Wilson, the writer/producer/singer/genius of The Beach Boys has been a tremendous creative influence on my life.
For the first time in over twenty years, Brian joined the group once again to celebrate their 50th Anniversary. I’ve seen a lot of great bands/shows (Van Morrison, Neil Young, Rush, Fleetwood Mac, Coldplay, Phoenix, Elton John/Billy Joel) in my life, but this concert takes the cake—truly one of the best experiences of my life.
Watching these guys harmonize as well as they did in the 60′s and enjoying hit after hit was remarkable. Not to mention, sitting twenty feet away from the man, Brian Wilson, was a treat in itself.
When thinking about the concert, I tried to think about why they’ve been such a big influence on me, and why the music has been so loved by millions of people over the world.
What was the secret sauce? Then I realized it’s pretty simple:
California Sunshine & Good Vibrations.
What’s your favorite movie and how many times have you seen it?
I think I like my brain to hurt. I’m constantly drawn to movies with quirky mind-bending sci-fi backbones, time-defying story lines, and unrealistic environments. I love when a plot gets all twisted and juxtaposed – as long as there’s a great story carrying all of the chaos through.
I’ve been saying Time Bandits (1981) was my favorite movie for years. Maybe I was just an impressionable youngster the first time I saw it. But it left a mark. Kept me drawn to the abstract for my popcorn spilling couch sessions all the way up until today. The movie is literally crazy. It’s like watching a live action Salvador Dali painting, but with added humor and adventure. A young boy escapes his bedroom and a huge screaming holographic head by pushing one of the walls into oblivion, while following a group of greedy dwarves through time who plan to steel treasures from every era of history. Yeah, Its bizarre to say the least, but its worth it. There are lessons to be learned, characters to align with, and imagery you’ll never forget.
Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to film makers and writes like Terry Gilliam (12 Monkeys, Time Bandits) and David Lynch (Twin Peaks, Mullholland Drive, Wild At Heart). Both of these guys — almost to a fault — see the world, time and conversational details much differently than most people. These movies can be dark, but extremely aspirational in theme.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not all doom and gloom. As much as I like to twist my brain around a complicated world-warping drama, I’m still a sucker for most goofy 80′s John Hughes-esque flicks like Weird Science. Which I’ve honestly probably watched more than any other movie I own. I’m pretty sure I can monologue it scene by scene, if you like.
So, is it Time Bandits? Or Weird Science? I can’t decide.
Oh wait, Pulp Fiction. Should I talk about how much I love that movie?
What’s Your Favorite Room in Your House?
While most people that know me expect my house to be painted black with pretty skulls everywhere, it’s actually very homey instead. Our living room is a vibrant blue that always puts me in a good mood. Our master bathroom has a lock to enjoy a steaming hot shower kid-free. But my favorite room in our house is definitely our basement. Recently redone so people wouldn’t think the 70′s was our favorite decade, the space is home to a cozy fireplace, comfy couch and a lovely big TV for movie nights. My two boys house a good portion of their toys down there as well. The storage closet/laundry room is conveniently located in the basement which makes for a quick cleanup for parties. We will be storing all of their big toys in the closet soon in preparation of Christmas Day. My family of almost 20 comes over and after we stuff our faces full of food, we head downstairs to mess up the clean space with wrapping paper, cardboard, string ties and tissue paper. I’ll allow that mess. Actually, I am looking forward to it.
What’s the best thing you ever built or created?
In grade school, I was a relentless mad scientist and frequent finalist in the annual Invention Convention. So here is a retrospective look at my approach to solving the world’s problems, through the lens of a fifth grader.
There was the Humane Mouse House, born out my desire to trap furry country mice while providing desirable interim living quarters. This was basically a dollhouse for mice with one way in and no way out. The miniature flowers and canopy bed were supposed to make them feel comfortable before their demise.
Then there was the Fever Alert, which was a thermometer bracelet for babies designed to give round-the-clock temperature readings to parents. This seems diabolical of me, as it really just gave already stressed out parents another reason to freak out.
And then there was the Soap Boat, intended to be the world’s awesome-est go cart propelled by its Ivory soap skis. I had visions of Cool Runnings but that didn’t exactly work out.
But my all time favorite was the Flavored Reeds. I did not play an instrument but how, pray tell, had no one ever invented sugary woodwind reeds for musical instruments? So I dipped the reeds in melted Jolly Ranchers, certain I’d be swimming in patents, praise and cash. Until the fifth grade band tested them without the conductor’s permission. The results? A bunch of chubby kids holding saxophones clogged with sugary spit. The kids thanked me for the candy, but the music teacher was pissed.
Despite my half-baked ideas, the Invention Convention was the most character building exercise I can point to as a kid. It was the beginning of free thinking for me, of throwing all doubt to the wind and just trying something radical. My parents still have the Humane Mouse House. They’ve also affectionately called me the “Bowmar Brain with the short circuit” since I was eight.