When I first left a corporate job back in 2001 and began this site as a way to chronicle my journey of becoming an artist, what I initially didn’t realise what how terribly undefined ‘artist’ was and that ultimately I would end up not being one (which would turn out to be a blessing in disguise).
But in the beginning, I was so determined to be artistic in whatever capacity that meant. I tried to draw, to paint, to write, to design but the problem that I would come up against time and time again was – I am not artistic. At all. Despite initially selling a lot paintings, designing book covers, and writing for a lot of magazines and books, true artistic skill eluded me. I did – and do – not have the ability to really do those things well and make a real living from them.
I liken discovering the fact that I’m not artistic to those that go on televised talent shows thinking they can sing but it’s so obvious to someone else they can’t. At first, you’re cheering on the person that takes the stage only to start cringing when they begin to sing off tune. You wonder why they can’t hear how bad they sound. Is their belief and desire that strong? While you watch the train wreck you wish someone would tell them the truth and feel both relieved and bad when the judges reveal how horrible their performance really was. Then one of two things happen: the singer walks off with crushed dreams, thinking everything is over or they walk off in complete denial because they want their dream to be true and continue down a path of never being or feeling successful because they couldn’t change course to find a dream and talent that’s right for them.
For me, I think because I wanted to be artistic so bad and I didn’t want to go back to a ‘traditional’ work life (I thought it was either corporate or artistic, there was no in between), that it took me a long time to get the message that I being artistic would never be right for me; I’d never feel secure in it, I’d never be good at it, I’d never really be successful at it. My initial excitement gave way to frustration and the dream became more of a nightmare. Instead of giving up and going backwards, I stayed stuck in something that wasn’t working. Too stubborn and afraid to admit the truth: I just wasn’t artistic.
Around this time emails came in and the phone rang from friends and companies who needed an idea, an opinion, help connecting things together or putting a bigger picture together. All the travels, all the jobs, all the industries and people I’d worked with over the years had given me unique perspectives and experience that allowed me to connect ideas and people in ways others simply couldn’t. Initially I couldn’t see this because I was so focused on being an artist but when people and companies asked for my help to think new and different in areas from technology to design to finance to social media to creative, I said yes. I’ve been working with top companies and people ever since, building out incredible business, sites, brands, films, content, operations, service and creative ideas.
And guess what – I’ve been incredibly happy and successul. I found out what I’m good at – being creative, not artistic.
At first, I felt strange about this new role because being creative in this capacity almost felt too easy. I felt guilty in a sense that I wasn’t creating in the way I thought creating was meant to be done – like drawing, painting, writing. I wasn’t the production artist or the copywriter – I was the kick off, the idea starter – but I’d pass it over to someone to finish. I was the inspirer of ideas, the big picture thinker and, even though I’m a hands on person in a lot of things, there’s a lot of times I have to let go to let the artistic person take over.
It took me awhile to realise that being creative in the way that I am is a job, is a talent and is needed. I believe it’s my job to inspire more and especially inspire those who are artistic and can physically create that of which I can only think of.
Steve Jobs said it best about creativity:
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”
Now I work with amazing artists on a daily basis who are able to take my visions and ideas and make them real. The collaboration that I have with them is incredible and I feel really fortunate to work amongst talent like that. I confess to being at times very envious! But I realise I’m part of the puzzle that creates this amazing bigger picture that all works. And that feels really good.
Before I make it sound as if I’ve abandoned writing or art all together I’ll add that I haven’t. I still write lot both personally and professionally but the drawing? That I definitely leave to the professionals unless I can work one of my infamous stick drawings into the picture. I channel my artistic inclinations and desires into other ways that serve me without the pressure of judgement. For me, it’s a lot more satisfying.
I share this not to scare people away from being artistic or give up on a dream of making a living being an artist. I share it as a way to hopefully look at things in a new way if you’re feeling stressed, unsuccessful or unhappy as an artist that you keep trying to be because you want it so bad, but the talent is perhaps not there. I say from experience that don’t let that feel like failure but think instead, are you just creative? And if the answer is yes, well a whole new world of possibilities just opened up.
And lucky you, you’ll know how to connect an idea to something else and you’ll soon be on your way.
“It is a poor workman who blames his tools – the good man gets on with the job, given what he’s got, and gets the best answer he can.” And I suggest that by altering the problem, by looking at the thing differently, you can make a great deal of difference in your final productivity because you can either do it in such a fashion that people can indeed build on what you’ve done, or you can do it in such a fashion that the next person has to essentially duplicate again what you’ve done.
It isn’t just a matter of the job, it’s the way you write the report, the way you write the paper, the whole attitude. It’s just as easy to do a broad, general job as one very special case. And it’s much more satisfying and rewarding!”
WHAT: Subversive Collaborators
The truly “kick-ass” people in our organizations, don’t wait for permission to lead, innovate, or strategize. They do what is right for the firm, regardless of status. They bring a combination of “curiosity and passion” which Thomas Friedman once said “are key components in a world where information is readily available to everyone and global markets reward those people.” There’s a different set of rules and assumptions by which we’ll thrive and succeed in this new, networked society, and it comes down to this: while you can be a rebel or a subversive without being a leader, you can rarely be an effective leader without also having a little bit of rebel in you.