Tag: Kate Canada Obregon

13
Mar

The Creative Work Series: Part 3

    What's your inner creative process?

In creative professions, nothing kills imagination like a juicy ideology.

An ideology is a set of beliefs, ideas, and expectations widely held in an industry, company or office. Ideologies conceal themselves as conventional wisdom. They feel habitual and natural.  Sometimes ideologies are “best” practices in agencies few openly question. You’ve probably experienced an ideology at the office: “We use x method for our brainstorming, presentation, pitch or creative work sessions… that’s just our process; I don’t know why…it just is.”

It’s not always easy to recognize ideologies in creative work. That’s because rules and conventional thinking don’t apply to jobs that ask people to run into the frontier of imagination. Creative work is highly personal, idiosyncratic, messy and peppered with gray areas. And yet there are methods and tools to pull forming ideas onto screens, pages, conversations, meetings, and whiteboards.

There’s safety in Conventional Wisdom

In creative work, and in agencies, in particular, a few big “idea” systems are popular right now. Design thinking, postmodern, neuroscience-driven design are big buzzy ideologies we’ve all come across.  Of course, best practices are vital processes for creative work, that isn’t a problem, what company couldn’t use a system to get everyone collaborating and creating together?  At the heart of design thinking, for example, are kernels of practical truths creatives can use—changing habits in terms of capturing high-quality creative ideas, style, technique or approach.

I’m not calling out the icons in creativity, neuroscience, or design thinking.  I’m interested in opening up a dialogue about how we adapt and accept tools in creative fields. How we often dismiss our internal mushy hunches and follow convention. How tips or wisdom meant to free our minds become roadblocks.

In fact, my aim here is the opposite of criticism, it’s a dialogue.  It’s important to question and turn over popular ideas, separate them out from the what’s mere marketing filler. As any creative will tell you, coming up with novel ideas requires flexibility. The best creatives are eager to test out new tools or processes. But we shouldn’t cleave to an idea because everyone in the office loves it unquestionably.

 High-Stakes Creative 

Creative work is a high-stakes trade.  It’s applied imagination with expectations of a big return on investment. Corporations want creative brand, marketing, products, words, visuals, logo, design, and thinking done on their behalf out in the world.  Creativity adds equity, contributes to bottom lines and boosts shareholder confidence.  Research shows that creative advertising and content tends to be more effective and memorable than tradition-bound ads. People enjoy and remember what’s novel, strange or delightful. This matters in our crowded public sphere.

For on-the-ground creatives the pressure’s on to ideate, produce, perform and scale new aesthetic and experiential heights. I’ve talked to amazing and talented people who describe feelings of dread and excitement with assignments. They feel pressure to run out into the frontiers of what’s possible, making sure consumers or audiences, like, buy, share and circulate.

The creative product, they say, must look original, radically inventive and beyond the corners of the assignment with ROI.  An ask worthy of an existential sigh.

With these expectations, creatives seek out the latest tools, coaches, tips, hacks, models, programs. Anything promising creative empowerment.

Don’t Default To Others

Lots of strategists and designers come through our offices, and some speak authoritatively and enthusiastically to the disruptive qualities of design techniques, a leader they love or the latest news in design thinking. We listen and politely nod. We don’t judge. We get it.

It’s hard to resist cleaving to beliefs we think matter to decision makers. When knowing design best practices and trends can tip the scales in your favor, who wouldn’t want to talk expertly about the new tools in creative and professional worlds?

As I listen to talented creatives, the conversations are always smart and interesting. Even if some people stumble on how exactly they’ve applied design thinking or other similar frameworks to projects, I still eagerly listen.  After these interviews or talks, my mind goes to Pablo Picasso’s summary of his creative process. “I close my eyes and begin.” Closing the eyes, to me, means turning off the surface layers of brain chatter and venturing into the quieter, unknown parts of the brain. Shutting off ideologies, beliefs and what everyone else is doing.

You’re Creative Signature

There’s a radical equality in creative professions we overlook. It begins with our interior process. Our imagination, flashes of ideas, hunches, skills we’ve honed transformed into stories, campaigns, plans,  buildings, projects, products-you name it.   Any tool teaching methods, systems we use can only channel our raw materials.  A teacher or tool isn’t creativity.

Writer Zadie Smith describes these raw materials as a signature of skill, flexibility, skill and sheer will.

When I meet creative colleagues I’m more likely to ask questions along the lines of  ‘What books are you reading? What’s your latest piece of technology? What assignment taught you the most about your skill level? What manager/leader inspired you to tweak your skill set? What’s the most important creative fail of your career, so far?’  These questions set the stage for design thinking or any thinking for that matter.

In other words, creativity and imagination start with the what’s inside our heads.  What’s known, latent and lurking.

I think where creative ideologies fail most for people is when they default to what others believe over their own intuition and knowledge.  Instead, let’s look inside. What’s our signature creative talent, skill, curiosity, capabilities? This translates into action: What are we reading, doing, experimenting, studying, thinking about? In what ways are our eyes set on stretching our capabilities and frontiers into the new?

That’s a creative ideology we should all endorse.

16
Aug

Dare To Vacation

Summer is quickly coming to an end.  And with friends and colleagues chasing the coming eclipse we’re talking in the office about the importance of vacation, time away from solving complex problems, working toward new solutions, an ordinary day at work.

Vacations, while important, are fraught with anxiety. Often times, I think I can’t be away from projects, clients, and deadlines.  At the same time,  I crave retreat time and the unfolding of my thoughts, habits, and routines, I’m anxious at stepping away from my devices. And I’m not alone.

With Americans working more hours than any other industrialized nation, and with research making it clear that all of our overworking isn’t getting us ahead, it’s time to take a look at our work/life balance.

As we’ve explored before, creative brains lose focus when they don’t get enough sleep and can greatly benefit from disconnecting. But in an industry where there’s a seemingly never-ending line of projects to finish and deadlines to meet, sometimes, things fall a little off balance. A recent study found that 87% of knowledge workers admit to working more than a typical 40-hour workweek, and 23.4% put in more than 50 hours a week. And 71% of responders admitted that they were unhappy about putting in the extra time. The corporate, and even creative, work cultures have unwittingly created an environment that is literally wearing us down.

As one of the founders of a creative company, I see the importance of maintaining work/life balance not only for myself and my own well-being but for our teams and employees. If we’re not setting a good example at the top, it’s likely the rest of the team won’t feel they have the freedom to take care of themselves as well. With that in mind, we put together a list of ways that we maintain work/life balance for ourselves and encourage our employees to follow:

Put Health First
From mental health to physical ailments and even sick family members, when our well-being is on the line, we must take the time to take care of ourselves (or our loved ones). From exercising and eating right to taking a sick day when we need to, in order to bring balance back to our lives, we need to put our health — and that of our employees — first.

Encourage Passion Projects
We are firm believers that passion projects drive innovation, and encouraging those passion projects for ourselves and our team members allows us all some much needed creative freedom and the ability to take a sanctioned break from our day-to-day. The result, hopefully, is that we’ll all feel re-inspired and reinvigorated.

Respect Creative and Personal Refresh Time
Creative companies tend to lead the corporate pack when it comes to setting examples for prioritizing the importance of “free time.  Reclaiming weekends and evening hours makes for happier and more productive employees. It’s simple, and yet many companies still cling to the ethical virtues of round the clock availability.  Certainly, emergencies happen, snafus occur, but establishing and maintaining clear signs around peoples’ free time sends a clear message, we can’t lose sight of our or our team’s humanity.

Promote Vacation Time
Maybe we can’t all offer unlimited vacation time, and there’s some controversy on whether or not it actually discourages employees from taking time off, but we can make it clear that vacation time is meant to be taken. From working with employees who never seem to use their two weeks, to touting the benefits of travel directly and taking our own vacations, we need to ensure that taking time off is seen as a worthy path to nurturing the creative soul.

That’s just a small list of how we can begin to incorporate better work/life balance into our days. How do you or your company encourage better living through less?

 

photo courtesy of Leio McLaren/Unsplash

26
Jan

Mary Tyler Moore And Broad Girls: Why Culture Always Needs Funny, Strong Women

 

 

Broad City

This week saw the season finale of two different series about women whose story arcs have been surprising, fresh and appealing, not because they’re shocking in their bad behavior, but in how realistic it is, especially to a Millennial audience that desperately craves authenticity. HBO’s Girls and Comedy Central’s Broad City may not be on-air ratings smashes, but you can be sure that their target audience is binging — perhaps on their laptops or with their parent’s HBO Go passwords; most likely with a second screen in hand, but they are tuning in for the kind of authentic, experience-driven content that marketers should take note of.

Even as ad sales models are shifting in our ever-changing industry, audiences will always be drawn to television, so long as the content feels culturally relevant and speaks directly to them.


Forty years ago, America’s Sweetheart on the small screen was Mary Tyler Moore, a traditionally beautiful good girl, who’d risen to fame playing the eternally patient wife to Dick Van Dyke on his title show, before being granted her own namesake series, which lasted seven seasons and won, at the time, a record-breaking 29 Emmys. From 1970 to 1977,
The Mary Tyler Moore Show appealed to a wide audience of women, especially those who were young and working full-time, because it was one of the first shows to portray an independent, childless working woman who, on top of everything, was succeeding. Mary was smart, driven, hard-working, kind and gorgeous. She had the career, a love life on her terms and strong female friendships, to boot. Mary had it all.

But where Mary succeeded — in both her fictional life and the very real network ratings — by being aspirational, creating something today that appeals to this generation of young working women must be approached differently. Instead of searching for role models, today’s Millennials want authentic and complicated, experience-driven characters.

Which is why the girls of Broad City and the broads of Girls are so appealing to this generation.

They defy inherited expectations about career, clothes and relationships. Which isn’t to say  Abbi and Ilana are dismissive of looking good and having glossy ideal lives, they certainly want careers and love. In their sketch comedy humour is used to hilariously pick apart these expectations.

Unlike Mary, none of them are in truly successful careers, relationships or even necessarily well-dressed. On Broad City, Abbi, the straight-laced of the two, is desperately trying to work her way up at a SoulCycle stand-in that doesn’t fully embrace her, while Ilana, her sexually fluid, polyamorous best friend drifts from job to job as she’s asked to leave each of them. They drink, they get high, and they navigate dating in the era of Tinder and “Hookup Culture” in a way that all feels fresh, and, most importantly, real.

It’s no coincidencegirls that both series were developed by their stars, who took their real-life experiences to parlay them into fictional versions of themselves. In Girls, show creator and star Lena Dunham’s main character, Hannah’s, friendships are as dramatic, if not more than her romantic relationships, something Dunham has said was important to portray in contrast to shows like Sex in the City, which had previously set the standard for portrayals of female friendships among young working women.

Says Dunham, “I kind of also felt like it was aspirational about friendship… for me, that kind of friendship is elusive. I feel like a lot of the female relationships I see on TV or in movies are in some way free of the kind of jealousy and anxiety and posturing that has been such a huge part of my female friendships, which I hope lessens a little bit with age.”

Millennials defy our expectation. Their lives are complicated, messy, exciting and unique. They don’t want to be spoken down to, they don’t even want our encouragement; they want to see themselves, or at least recognizable version of themselves, in their entertainment and even marketing. And as the business of television and how we reach our audiences continues to change, now, more than ever, content of any type has to be more than just marketable and engaging. It has to be real.

10
Mar

Think Like A Tourist: Yurt Style

photo courtesy of ChoongChing, Flickr

photo courtesy of ChoongChing, Flickr

Think Like A Tourist: Find A Yurt

Creativity often flows through us and into our projects, campaigns and ideas. Part mystery and part an ability to focus intensely, creativity in popular consciousness remains a murky mystery to most. We may not know what creativity is exactly, but we do know we want it.

Neuroscience continues to pull apart what was once the mythical and peculiar brain activity of ideation, imagination, and creation. Early results suggest a small but powerful shift in our thinking. We should frame creativity through the lens of  “skill” rather than a character-based temperament, nature or disposition. Creativity isn’t something people epitomize or resemble, but a tangible skillset with corresponding characteristics.

And given our traditional definitions, thinkers and educators have focused less on how to sharpen creative thinking skills and more on the best ways to “funnel” our chaotic emotions, thoughts and unconscious snippets.

What cannot be studied or scanned in the neuroscience lab is curiosity. That quality we humans should always have; the desire, interest and hubris to tromp into our world and explore every crevice, and piece of technology or experience around us. #thinklikeayurt

Stepping out of the everyday world of deadlines, habits and our curated digital lives is a vital part of staying curious and interested. Oishii designer Amanda Trovela recently stepped out busy L.A. life and dropped into a yurt in Malibu. Yurts are tent-like structures that come from the ancient Turkic peoples. And while going nomadic isn’t necessarily what we should — or could — be doing full-time, yurt-living is an increasingly popular mode of escape as it is a symbol of individual freedom and clear-headed thinking in an age of enforced distraction.

We think yurt life is an excellent tool to Think Like A Tourist.

Are you ready to reinvigorate and #thinklikeayurt?

 

09
Jan

Winter Offers Creatives Opportunities To Quiet The Busy Mind: Are You Listening?

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Creative Commons, John Lagzo

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Creative Commons, John Lagzo

With the arrival of a new year, we are filled with anticipation and excitement. We can feel transition working its way through our minds and into our desks; the old giving way to the new, the future’s blank slate awaiting our touch, time and efforts.

Many of us make the mistake of turning our focus to lists of highly structured goals in the new year. And often when we share them with others, we conflate our anticipation and discussion for change with actual change. Instead of approaching 2015 with a list of resolutions and to-dos, try starting it off by doing nothing.

A difficult concept for those in our laborious and demanding industry, but this liminal time is a great opportunity to rethink our creative craft. We don’t often get opportunities to settle into the terrains of our minds, relax and daydream, or step back and ponder how we ply our trade.

But we must.

For one, the idea that long days and nights will fuel our creative selves is simply not true. On the contrary, we must recede into our brains and engage the senses. Because, whether you’re daydreaming, reading or listening to music, a relaxed and diffused mind reinvigorates creativity.

For creators of every stripe, it’s an always-looping process of doing work and then stepping back to prime the pump, so to speak, and starting all over again; it’s how we re-acquaint our talents with our profession.

The good news is, you can start 2015 by creating an atmosphere of productivity and energy, bringing vigor and awareness to your work. So, keep some of the following in mind as you clear out your calendar.

First, you have to fully appreciate the value of doing nothing for your creative work. Most artists visualize their creative preparation as “time out of time,” such as being out of sync with schedules, offices, obligations, phones, or the demands of our narrowly focused attention. Writer Don DeLillo describes this as transitioning into a new world. Ancient philosopher Plato so revered the time for creativity and thinking that he thought artists and philosophers shouldn’t be attached to any form of work because it took them away from contemplating “the good life.”

Writer Henry Miller thoroughly plotted his time spent prepping to work. He scheduled time in cafes, chats with friends and even booked himself solo explorations of whichever city he happened to be visiting. Time to doodle, draw graphs, diagrams and charts were ways Miller relaxed his mind to broaden his perspective and ease back into the work of holing up to write.

We can apply these same principles to the cluster of days at the beginning of the New Year, when colleagues and clients are still transitioning back into the workflow and meetings and schedules are noticeably, but temporarily light.

We must harness that crux of excitement and possibility with the openness of time we are temporarily allowed. Unfettered and unabashedly unproductive thinking fuels your creative work. It provides the big picture and the background noise for your creative process.

So, rather than spending that precious free time poring over upcoming budgets, projects and strategy, clear your calendar for nothing. Nothing except time spent to remember how you create.


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