Go Forth

Earlier in the spring semester, one of my Creative Strategy students asked me a profound question...

“…with all the people involved in the idea process, how does anything bad ever get made?” – UNC Senior, School of Media & Journalism

This was in response to our discussion of how the majority of brand communication and experiences are mediocre at best.

As the semester progressed, we spoke about many ways to keep this from happening in their careers. Part of the answer is inherent in the question – too many departments. Rather than /rant on bloated meetings and related topics in this space, here are five (5) ideas I left the students with for the semester, in their pursuit of making great things:

1) Make the World Better

Kid President says this better than most… And its simplicity could take the place of many discussions and books on business ethics:

2) Stretch Your Brain

You will be doing creative, inspiring work in whatever industry you enter. Make sure you keep building in time to play and stretch your brain. Go outside, go to the movies, read a magazine you’ve never read before, etc. As Twyla Tharp says, you never know where the inspiration is going to come from. 

"Reading, conversation, environment, culture, heroes, mentors, nature – all are lottery tickets for creativity. Scratch away at them and you’ll find out how big a prize you’ve won." ― Twyla Tharp,  The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

3) Ask For Forgiveness, Not Permission

This one is how you approach life. Do you want to react, or go out and make things happen? No one worth working for is going to be over your shoulder telling you what needs to be done all the time (giving permission), you’ll just need to do it. If something went wrong, it’s easier to say oops & ask forgiveness after the fact. Caution: use this with discretion. 

A computer pioneer with the U.S. Navy, says this best. And if she can say this about her work in the Navy, anyone working in a creative industry should certainly live this way:

"It's easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission." – Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, U.S. Naval Officer

4) Be Bold

I’ll leave this one to the expert on boldness:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt, as quoted in Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly

5) Kaizen

I learned the Japanese word Kaizen while working with Mizuno a few years ago. Its closest English definition is continuous improvement. I’ve seen many awesome people end up in a rut in life, and they wonder how they got there. Years go by and they look back thinking, how did I get here?

An annual look back at the end of each year is really powerful, and is not something most people do. But we don't want to be most people.

In order to make sure your life is on the track you want it to be on. If not, there’s plenty of time to make changes. Involve all the key people in your life. Another way to practice kaizen is to ask your boss or your clients for feedback after any project where you’ve had a major role…embrace the constant feedback. Over time, it will make you much better at what you do. 

Here's a simple guide to help you look back and plan ahead.

Josh Carlton is an Adjunct Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is also the Principal of 500THz, a boutique marketing strategy and research firm that delights in using creativity to solve marketing problems.

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