Before I could graduate, I needed a few more hours to complete my degree. I took a couple of studio classes in the first summer term of 1989. One was a sculpture lab, which I loved. The class was small, and I quickly struck up a friendship with an architecture student. Being a senior as well, we would often get into deep conversations about life after graduation.



I will never forget one talk. We both agreed that we would never go out and sell our services. Our good work would begat more good work. Word would spread like wildfire and all we needed to do was sit back and let our creative genius solve all the world’s problems. Talk about naive.

As a professional over the years, if there is any one thing I have learned is that you never stop selling. Whether it’s your services, your ideas or yourself. To be a successful practitioner of any creative art you must constantly be selling mode. You take chances, make cold call, network, write blog posts, connect with people however you can, all in the hope that you will land make a solid connection.

It’s not easy. Especially for introverts creative types like myself, who dream of being able to sit back and have people knock on my door.

If you know what’s good for you, you never stop selling. Even when you have so much going on you cannot possibly manage anything more, you have to keep selling. At some point, the well will run dry, so even though you cannot possible squeeze anything else into your day, you’ve got to replenish the workload.

Over the years, I have found that I like being a salesman. I like meeting potential new clients or partners. It’s fun to compete and even more fun to win new business. I don’t know that I could go out and sell things I do not believe in, but when I go out and talk with people about my work, it’s as easy as bragging about my children.

The 22 year old version of me would be aghast at all of this. But if there is any one piece of advice I can give young creatives, is get out there and learn to sell.

Growing Older in a Creative Industry

Steven Heller wrote a fun article on Design Observer this week entitled “How You Can Tell If You Are An Old Fogey Designer”. Being of a certain age, there is much I can identify with in his essay. But, despite his jabs at us old folks, there are a few other thoughts about growing older as a creative that are not quite so fun, and unfortunately are quite real.

Getting older in the creative fields is both a blessing and a curse.

On the plus side, there are so many problems that used to stump me as a junior designer that are instantly clear to me. I have the tools and capacity to tackle much more complicated tasks, offering solutions to problems that are thoughtful and multidimensional, the kid of answers I would not have been able to even comprehend a decade or two ago. With the radical  changes in the media landscape over the past 30 years, I’ve yet to get bored with the business or not found something wildly interesting, whereas my younger self rarely saw that something amazing was right in front of my face. I suppose some of that is maturity, or maybe wisdom.

The downside to being older is that I don’t have the strength I was once had. Recently I pulled an all-nighter, and it left me wrecked for a couple of days. Although no one wants to admit it, there is certain amount of ageism and discrimination. I can be viewed as being out of touch because I don’t use Snapchat or am not up on the latest and greatest. In my defense, that has nothing to do with age —  I’ll use a new technology or platform once I find a good use for it.

And the pay can be lousy, comparatively speaking. Most of my contemporaries are engineers, accountants or members of more respected professions, not designers or creative marketing types. Few are Art Majors and all make considerably more than me. They always have, and odds are good they always will. That is a thought that never occurred to the younger version of me who pursued the things he loved rather than chasing down a bigger paycheck. I sometimes question if this was a good route to take as I help put my daughter through college.

It’s hard getting older and working in a creative industry. I thought by the time I was 50 I’d be set. I figured I would have all the answers. Instead, every day is a new day, with new challenges. I’ve worked harder and put in longer hours over the past couple of years than I ever have. Never saw that coming. I thought my working life would get easier. Instead, it has gotten stickier.

In a way, that is a good thing. Creativity thrives on adversity. And the last thing I want to have happen in my later years is to find myself coasting. As a cyclist, I’ve always enjoyed the struggle of going uphill more than the ease of freewheeling downhill. Perhaps the same can be said of my creative life. And yours, too, as you grow older.

Thoughts on Creative Direction: Be Invisible

I was with a number of executives recently reviewing a huge project. They were presenting to their boss while I played the role of fly-on-the-wall, observing and taking notes. The review went extraordinarily well.

As we were leaving the meeting, a thought occurred to me: I was invisible. Not just during the review, but throughout the entire process. The executives I worked for were the heroes here, as were members of my team who contributed to the project. But I was completely invisible. This got me thinking.

As a Creative Director, you should be invisible. The last thing a presentation, or just about anything for that matter, should be about is you. The work should be the center of attention. Your client should shine. Your boss should be the hero. Your team should get the credit. If everyone around you is getting the accolades, you did something right.

This is a foreign concept for many CDs to grasp. So much of the creative business is fueled by ego, often times the bigger the better. You may be familiar with “Imposter Syndrome”, there also exists “Creators Syndrome” and the myth of the lone creative genius. I’ve even been overheard declaring “if your ideas are good enough, you can be as big an asshole as you want.” That may be true, but being an asshole does not make you a good leader. Getting the best out of people and making certain the work is excellent does.

Do you run a risk by being invisible? Sure. Everyone wants to be seen as being valuable and contributing to the success of a project. When you’re invisible it is hard to quantify what you did; your role as the leader may not become apparent for weeks, months or ever. If all goes well, your success comes later on down the road, like when you are chosen for another plum assignment, or repeat business keeps coming in the door, or you retain employees who are happy, healthy and productive.

It may be hard to put your finger on it, but that is when your success becomes tangible. People around you feel and understand why they are successful. Your role then becomes all too apparent.

Working on a new word that more accurately describes the stuff I do. I seem to fall somewhere between advertising and design. Designed, but not too designy or designerly. Idea driven, but not entirely verbal; you have to be able to describe it before you visualize it. The lines between the two have always been a bit blurry. Kind of like trying to explain the difference between and Art Director and a Designer to your mother.