In a galaxy far far away, in a time past, designers only used their gut to make creative decisions. They had to "feel it" before doing it. I was the same.
All of this changed some years ago when I went to a lecture and book reading by author Daniel Pink at Art Center College of Design. During this lecture Mr. Pink gave an overview of what he believed was our destiny. Here is a taste:
"The keys to the kingdom are changing hands. The future belongs to — artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, big picture thinkers. We will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys."
Daniel Pink, A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Own The Future
The question I had was how will we own the future? Can creatives really run the world?
I am the flakiest man in the world, the poster child for an 'intuition driven creative.' How can I "Rule the Future?" It took me 18 years to acquire the strategic skills which now allow me a seat at the table of CEO's and business leaders. An actual chance to change the world. I want to share some of it with you.
1) First creatives should understand strategy! So lets start with answering the question; What is strategy?
Strategy is how to get from from point A. to point B.
It is the 'overview' or the plan not the individual steps. Think of it as a "Macro" or an "Action" Adobe Photoshop. Each step on their own is a called a 'tactic'. For example in war the commanders have to define the broad strategy to "Take the hill". Their goal is simply to define the intent, why and suggest how. It is up to the platoon leader to determine which tactics to use and in what order to execute them based on the intent of "Taking that hill." In the military it's called "Commander's intent".
The challenge is that creatives can often confuse a specific "technique" (brush stroke) for the whole painting.
A great painting is an aggregate of many brushstrokes. I am such a visual thinker that I need to see the "whole" picture first before applying the brush strokes. In business you rarely see the whole. You only see specific actions. Why? Because for the most part we are not brought in on the "strategy." Designers are seen as "tactical" and only brought in at the end.
Creative Directors are usually brought in once the brief is done. But great creatives are also great strategist. Knowing how to get from point A. to point B. has always been important ingredient for powerful creatives. Whether you are a fine artist or a commercial artist. Often we see very successful artists and wonder "How did they get there?." My experience is that if you dig deeper you will find that they are either innately talented in strategic thinking, they learned it or where mentored by someone.
A barrier to learning strategy is often the false belief that you can't be creative and business minded at the same time.
We fear that if we focus on making a living / thriving as an artist we will compromise our integrity. Have you ever wondered where that idea comes from?
The idea comes from the 20th Century. It comes from an industrial mindset where specialization allowed for companies to control the means of production. And therefore they taught us this idea. If you step back centuries ago you will find that artisans where also merchants. They made and sold their own wears. And this is where we are heading again.
2) How do you get design to be at the center of a business?
The end of the 20th Century also means the end of an industrial economy. And era where mass production and buying on features and price have been the norm. This is now ending because it is not sustainable, economically or otherwise.
Low skilled manufacturing jobs and even design and production jobs are leaving the U.S. Even skilled designers are having a hard time competing in this global market place. How do we compete? Do we go back a few centuries ago and we become both makers and sellers of our own creations? The answer is yes. We have to become more balanced as both creators and entrepreneurs. We are entering into a new 21st Century role for designers.
What do we need to learn to step into our 21st Century role?
3) How do I become more entrepreneurial?
First you need to understand that you can't do it by sitting in your studio on your own. You will have to leave the comfort of the inner mind and share your ideas, socialize and interact with others. This is HARD for many of us. But A. You have no choice. B. It less hard than starving. C. What is the worst that can happen? You will have some great conversations? You will meet new type of people? You will get more opportunities. So as my friend Nicole Johnson would say "Get ahold of yourself" and get out of your studio.
Second, you will have to let go of the "technical orientation" that you learned in Art School. It's not about what techniques you know it is about how well can you learn and how willing you are to make lots of mistakes. Mastery in the 21st Century is not about "Doing" and this means being present to the need to to adapt, how to adopt new ideas and quickly experiment with them. The 21st Century is about being uncomfortable with being uncomfortable. Here is something that will make you feel better about this idea - the secret to life, to being happy, is also the same. The more comfortable you are with trying new things the happier you will be.
Radical Participation is another principle you will need to adopt. Entrepreneurship requires teams and this requires you being willing to collaborate in many different types of efforts. The more you do it and the more experience you get the better. And this will mean doing lots of not paying activities such as creating movements, building communities and simply just doing stuff with other people. It takes time to learn the in's and out's of co-creation and the only way to learn this is by doing it. So the sooner you get out of your studio the better.
Join a non-profit, volunteer at your church or school, join an improv class, got to Burning Man and help build a camp. Do whatever it takes to get this under your belt.
Finally you are going to have to feel comfortable with selling. The reason why you are so uncomfortable with sales is because you where programmed to be so. Think about it. Centuries ago selling your wears at a market was simply a natural form of value exchange. You knew the buyers, they where your neighbors, family members and friends. The industrial scale at which products where made and sold in the 20th century is what caused us to loose trust in our merchants and makers. Simply because we became "Customers" in a spreadsheet vs the community around the seller of the product.
This is changing. You are now seeing a rise in transparency, "authenticity" and even the word "LOVE" being mentioned in corporate board rooms. This is not a "Trend" to watch as many business people would say but simply a natural return to a human order. The rise of the computer machines is giving an exit to the industrial machines that caused us to loose our humanity. What we did in the 20th century for the sake of profits and the wealth of a few men is now becoming undone. And don't get me wrong, many of these "few men" will fight tooth and nail to retain their ill gained wealth. But a few conscious leaders at the top of the computer age have made a commitment not only to give away all of their wealth but also to help correct the course of human history.
It is your calling as a fellow creative to fulfill your destiny. To let go of the fear that binds you to your studio, to let go of doing what is supposed to "be right" and start experimenting and "trying on for size" your new role of leading us into the future.
I am not here to tell you that it is going to be easy, I am not here to tell you that this is for everyone. Many of you are being called very few of you will be choosen, but those who accept the call and start the journey will truly inherent the future. Look around you, if you are like me (Generation X) it's your responsibility to help nurture the next generation (Millennials), if you are a millennial it is your responsibility to continue to ask for more from us. This is not a matter of choice, it is a matter of courage, it is a matter of integrity and most importantly it is a matter of survival.
Boomers sang about the upcoming "Age of Aquarius" in the 60's and began to experiment and seek meaning within the industrial age that they where living. That age is upon us and it's not some hippie concept or astrological marker, it's an evolutionary transition encoded into ever major philosophy, religion and even science. To survive we must evolve. To evolve to the next level creatives must revolt against 20th Century thinking.
As a wise man once said. "Luke, fulfill your destiny."
In the comment below tell me A. Who said that? B. What did he mean?