What Creative Legends Can Teach You

Do you give yourself enough “thought space” at work? Despite the fact that CEOs believe creativity is the most important leadership skill, research suggests that 80 percent of workers in the United States and the United Kingdom are under more pressure to be productive than creative.

Perhaps this is why today’s professionals are often too preoccupied with their work to spend much time in the zone where creativity thrives.

I’ve spent decades working directly with high-level creatives and innovators across industries, including as part of the team that founded Apple’s music and entertainment division. I’ve built a successful career by bridging the gap between Silicon Valley and Hollywood.

I’m constantly interested in and inspired by, how they handle the creative process, whether they’re creating a song, producing a smash record, directing a film or music video, authoring a best-seller, or designing a game-changing product.

Related: Ways to Overcome Self-Doubt

The following three speakers (among others) shared insights that can help you be more creative at work, no matter your industry, at the Portland Creative Conference in Oregon—a unique exploration and celebration of the creative process across a diverse range of creative industries, including film, music, TV, animation, advertising, industrial design, architecture, fashion, and more.

Make Use of Your Creativity.

Brian Michael Bendis, the directing force behind Marvel’s legendary Ultimate Comics series and an award-winning writer and illustrator, lives by this guiding question: “How do you make imagination?”

To create images, you must first consider abstract metaphors. The world is Earth to the literal mind. “All the world’s a stage,” says an abstract one. (Also, as I just did with Shakespeare, feel free to steal from other areas.)

My greatest triumphs have come from organizing “blind dates,” as it were—both connecting individuals and connecting ideas (aka making imagination). The Mac’s initial popularity had plateaued during my time at Apple (as the company’s first head of music and entertainment). To reclaim the market, I realized we needed to connect the hearts and minds of prominent musicians and filmmakers with Mac’s extraordinary capabilities.

To create images, you must first consider abstract metaphors.
We hand-picked the best luminaries in the arts for our “Apple Masters” campaign, showcasing their work on Mac computers.

The Mac became an invaluable tool that creatives today use to bring their visions to life when consumers saw these aspirational case studies and the “Think Different” ad campaign, leading management to fully embrace Apple’s music and entertainment vertical.

Related: Never Set Out To Break the Rules.

Accept the Dangers.

Former Apple director of industrial design Robert Brunner is as well known for hiring his successor, the now legendary Jony Ive, as he is for designing seminal items like the Apple PowerBook and Beats headphones.

Brunner’s creative process starts with determining what’s worth developing, aiming for brilliance, and owning the design process from beginning to end (including the packaging).

He’s also willing to take responsibility for both the dangers and the rewards.

You can’t control everything, no matter how brilliant your notion is. What level of risk do you think is acceptable? What is the maximum amount of money you can afford to lose? While taking chances that result from poor execution is never a good idea, you should take risks that will help you reach your overall goal.

It is not due to external factors such as a lack of skill or insufficient resources that the gap between conception and implementation exists. Accept that any creative risk comes with some measure of uncertainty.

Related: 3 Steps to Starting Up in Innovative Thinking

Don’t Make Any Adjustments in Order to Locate Your Incentive.

The critically praised feature film C.S.A: The Confederate States of America, written and directed by Kevin Wilmott, is a vision of America if the South had won the Civil War. IFC Films purchased the picture for distribution after its presentation at the Sundance Film Festival.

Wilmott believes that the best creatives (including himself) are “creatively maladjusted,” a phrase he borrowed from a 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King speech that had a profound impression on him. That is, you should pursue the problem, solution, or cause that motivates you, rather than the one that is sexy or cool this year.

Ask yourself, “What do I care about more than almost everyone else?” or “What do I believe differently than almost everyone else?” What did I like as a kid, and what do I hope to have accomplished by the time I’m 90?

When your motivation is your own, you will work more creatively and get faster outcomes.

To give you an example, when Don MacKinnon, the genius behind Hear Music and Starbucks’ early music efforts, and I helped establish Bono’s (RED) initiative’s music service, we were inspired by (REDmission )’s of paving the way to an AIDS-free age.

People care about music, so the potential to be a spoke on the (RED) wheel—dedicated to a curated music service as another way of generating awareness and finances for this cause—presented a good business case for me based on passion and creativity.

Ask yourself, “What do I care about more than almost everyone else?” or “What do I believe differently than almost everyone else?” What did I like as a kid, and what do I hope to have accomplished by the time I’m 90? Those responses will reveal your genuine motive and serve as a compass for you.

We’re all born to be great artists who shape the world around us.

It makes no difference what industry you work in; increasing your creativity by learning from geniuses like these will improve your business, make you happy, and make the world a better place to live for everyone.

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