Yes, Creative Beasts, today is Valentine’s Day, and love is in the air. Are you feeling it? I hope so.
What is love? It’s a feeling so powerful, that it’s almost impossible to wrap your head around it. While we may not truly understand it, we instinctively know that it is good. It can change things, and it can move mountains.
The word inspiration, literally means, “taking in the spirit.” When love’s arrow strikes our hearts, we are gifted with a new energy, and perhaps an altruistic vision that frees us to be brave and expand our horizons–and maybe even improve the world, if only just a little bit. Make no mistake that as confusing and even confounding as it may seem, at times–it is always a gift.
As humans–and as Creative Beasts–we are vulnerable creatures, and yet as Creative Beasts–we are already familiar with the concept of baring our souls. That’s just what we do. It comes with the territory, it’s part of the job description, etc., etc. When it comes to matters of the heart, however, we tend to get better at armoring ourselves as time goes on. How does this affect us and what we do? I think that generally, it’s fair to say that our work becomes more refined and better crafted because of practice, wisdom and dedication, and yet think of how much gets lost when edges become worn, in terms of our ability to feel. Whatever shape or form your creativity takes, part of its magic comes from a raw power–and part of that raw power is love. If you have it in your life, it is a very good thing. Be grateful. Recognize it. Use it. Respect it. Its energy will move you forward.
To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palms of your hand and eternity in an hour.
The meek may inherit the Earth, but meanwhile, "The Determined" are gonna get theirs.
Pigeons… gotta love ’em. The cooing, the nesting, the foraging… and of course, the “bombing.” My Norwegian (step) grandmother said that when a pigeon poops on you, it’s good luck (she stated this after my mom had just been hit with a love-bomb from a feathered friend from above). I haven’t yet been able to confirm whether this is a Norwegian belief or one from somewhere else. If anyone can help me out with this, give a shout. I was once struck on the head by a pigeon-bomb, in the middle of downtown Milwaukee. It was a dove, actually. I was on the phone with a friend. It was a warm, sunny, early evening and I was standing beneath a tiny tree–newly planted, in fact. I had paused to chat–apparently under this little tree–and splat! Right on top of my head. I was surprised, of course, and of course, I reached up to find out what had hit me. I yelled out in disgust, and then I believe I started to cry a little. “Ahhhnnnnn! Come get me!” (it was my boyfriend) I exclaimed into the phone, looking up into the little tree. “A dove just shat on me!” He laughed, but then fortunately, he did come to get me. And the dove? It sat in the tree, a couple feet above me, cooing softly. “Jerk!” I thought. That was a few years ago. I’m still hoping for that good luck to come, but in the meantime, I aim to “Crush It!”
It took me a little longer than I thought it would, but hey, interruptions happen. Anyway. Great book, I really enjoyed it. Gary Vee is not just entertaining, as it turns out, nor is he simply driven. He’s an inspiring, thoughtful businessman and marketing strategist who looks well into the future to anticipate trends; all the while, keeping his eye on the ball. So what is Gary’s #1 strategy? CARE. That’s right. Care. Care about what you do, be authentic, be passionate, and let these things be your guiding lights. Here’s a rather recent appearance Gary made on CNBC:
If you pay a visit to Gary @ http://garyvaynerchuk.com/ you’ll see that quite a few folks giggle and scoff at old anchor-dude Dennis Kneale, who calls Gary “corny.” I get why the fans giggle and scoff, and I’m pretty sure I get why Dennis Kneale called him “corny.” The fans… well, it’s a couple reasons: A) just because they’re fans, they will always stick up for their guy and B) If they really know where Gary is coming from, then they truly know that he means what he says, but also that he’s right. Now, why did Kneale call Gary Vaynerchuk “a little corny?” I think it’s because he must be thinking, “Oh, now isn’t this cute and clever. Here’s Mr. 35-year old millionaire entrepreneur, telling everybody that all they need to do is care.” Obviously, he hadn’t yet read the book, because if he had, I don’t think he would have made a silly comment like that. Here’s the deal: Gary can explain in his book, exactly what he means by “caring,” and the thing is that it really isn’t any different from the approach taken by good old-fashioned great brands, all over the world. It is one thing to say that you care, but it is an altogether different thing to actually live it. What are some of the great caring brands of our times? How about Nordstrom? How about McDonalds? How about Starbucks? He says it boils down to the quality of the communication, and he’s right. “It’s about listening.” You listen, you give it your all, and you make adjustments when you need to. In his book, he recounts a retail story of a woman–a customer in New York–who called to complain that she didn’t get her wine shipment on time. It was December 22nd, and it was an older lady who was not a regular customer, a major buyer–or anything else major. What made her special was that she was a customer, plain and simple, and Gary knew that if he let her down… if her holiday got spoiled because it was too late to make a promise from FedEx… he would be letting himself down–and his team. So what did he do? He grabbed her case of White Zinfandel, threw it in his car, and drove it through a blizzard for three hours to her doorstep in Westchester, New York. Crazy? Maybe. Awesome customer service? You bet. He set the tone for his company that day, and that’s what leaders do. That’s how good brands get built. Really smart people understand this. I don’t know if it is still this way, simply because I don’t have the chance to visit Nordstrom much anymore (we don’t have them here), but the way I remember it, their service is legendary. If you needed something tailored and their tailor was out, the associate would run it to the next local tailor to have it done–and have it ready for the customer in the same day. OK, I’m kind of making that up, but stuff like that. No kidding.
Here’s a quick brand comparison story: And first, let me just say that I have for the most part, really gotten away from fast food. But one day at work a couple of years ago, I ran out for a burger. I thought to myself, “Hmm. Flame-broiled Whopper, Jr…” It had been a while since I had patronized a Burger King, but I was in the mood and I was pressed for time, so… fast food. I pulled up to the drive, and a girl answered, “Uhhhh, just a minute…”
I thought, “OK. Well, that’s weird because I’m the only one here.” But I waited a couple of minutes. Then I thought, “Hell with this,” and I pulled around and parked and went inside. What I found was a young manager yelling at several employees sitting at a table, telling them it was time to get back to work because they had already had breaks. There was one girl at the counter. I approached the counter, and waited for someone to say hello. No one did. Finally, I said, “Can someone here take my order?”
The girl at the counter said, “Just a second.”
I lost it. “You people are pathetic,” I said. “I went to the drive-thru and no one could help me. Now I’m inside and no one can help me. And there’s NOBODY f***ing here!” Yes, I said “f***ing.” Sorry I was foul-mouthed, but I was really amazed. They just stood there with their mouths open. I left, and went to McDonalds.
At the drive-thru speaker, the first thing the girl said was, “Thank you for waiting, can I take your order?” I was already thrilled. I ordered, and a couple of minutes later I was at the window receiving my meal. “Sorry about the wait!” She said with a smile.
“What wait?” I smiled back and thanked her and drove away. Fast and friendly service, napkins, ketchup, a sandwich, fries and a beverage with a straw–all the right temperatures and freshness… the birds were singing and weaving a happy little bird-dance around my car (just kidding)… I was a happy lass.
Looking back, I might have chosen a kinder way of addressing things with the folks at Burger King–I work at not getting upset these days, but anyway, it sure was an interesting juxtaposition of brands… To me, employees that give great customer service appear to be happy because they are happy. Generally, I look at this as a sign that they are treated well, but additionally, they are following good examples. They are taking ownership. These are all signs of a business that is being run properly and smartly.
Incidentally, I have worked at different companies throughout the years. I have worked at places who understand that good brands start from the top, but then are built from the bottom up (Starbucks is one of them), and then I’ve worked at companies that have had a different approach. The different approach was one that was unfortunately centered around money and the making of it. There was nothing wrong with the initial idea: sell a commodity–something everybody needs. (Heck, that’s what Starbucks does–well, OK, so we don’t actually need coffee, but you understand.) The problems began when corners got cut, and to what extent and how often. I am here to say that that is no way to run a business. If all you care about is money, I can just about guarantee that no matter how much you have, you will never be happy… Did I mention I watched it grow from a three person company to a 40 million-dollar operation in about six years? In Crush It, Gary refers to something he calls “reactionary business.” What he’s talking about is having the ability to anticipate change and adapt. I’m not sure I would call that “reactionary.” I would call that “being proactive.” To me, “reactionary” was watching the flames get higher when things started to smoke and burn because the only solution “leadership” had was to throw on more coals. That was due to a couple of things 1) a president who didn’t want to listen to his employees and 2) a sheer lack of anticipating change and lack of planning for it. But there was another attitude problem that inevitably led to the company’s demise… arrogance. The owner had it in his head that if a customer was lost, there was always another one around the “virtual” corner. I think he ultimately felt that it didn’t matter if customers left unhappy because it was an online business. Wrong. There are only so many chances to reinvent yourself, and it’s much harder now than it was then. Those company doors closed in 2007, and Twitter was only a year old. If you want to start a business, have it be something that you want your name on. Be proud of it. That’s another thing Gary Vaynerchuk talks about: legacy. By the way, if you ever work somewhere at which the owner of the business isn’t willing to publicly admit ownership, let that be a warning to you. That is not a good sign.
OK. So. Gary Vaynerchuk’s book Crush It!: I say buy it if you’re just starting a business, and buy it if you’re a six-or-more-figure salaried CEO. Gary’s messages are pretty simple and straight forward: Care. Work your butt off. Listen. Adapt. Anticipate. Be aware of what’s going on around you. Build your personal brand. Care. He breaks it down much further, but I don’t need to repeat the entire book, as short and sweet as it is. His messages are in many ways, not new, and in fact, in some ways they are old-fashioned. So what? They work. My concern that I mentioned in my earlier post before I read the book was that it might be too schmaltzy. Too much of a “just believe in yourself”-type book. While there is some of that, he explains why he believes it is actually possible to follow your dreams at this point in time. Gary is a good coach. He doesn’t tell you how to do everything, but he gives recommendations on tools to use, strategies and approaches. He also talks about DNA and how it plays a part. I tend to think that many immigrants in general, have a much better idea about how to succeed than (non-immigrant) Americans. They tend not to take things for granted and they really know how to hustle. I realize that’s a sweeping generalization, but just look around you and see for yourself. I’ll be bold and make another sweeping generalization: Gary is from Belarus, and I don’t care who says what, but many of the folks from that part of the world are great mathematicians, some of the world’s greatest composers and musicians, scientists… and chess players. Gary is an excellent strategist. Just sayin’. Until next time, Creative Beasts… Seize the Prey! Or, as Gary says, “Crush it!”
And to send you off, here’s one of my favorite songs ever (definitely a T-Haus theme song) as well as a bit o’ CreativeBeasts.com inspiration–Hot Chocolate’s Every 1’s a Winner (and a random fan viddy):
Hey, Creative Beasts! A short post today, for there is much to do. That said, today is a very special day, indeed; as it is the birthday of one of my all-time favorite Creative Beasts and Heroes… Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Thin White Duke, Dapper David (and the list goes on)… The one, the only… Mr David Bowie! Artist, musician, actor, writer, poet–you name it; he’s done it, and he has done them all so very well. Lieutenant Bowie, today, you turn 63 years young. Creative Beasts salutes you and humbly thanks you for your words, your art, your performances, your dedication to your craft as well as all Creative Beasts you have helped either directly or indirectly throughout the years–and many more. You are an amazing and wonderful person and spirit, and the work you do is timeless and legendary. Happy Birthday and thank you for all you do. …And kids, just in case you didn’t know, you can keep up with David Bowie’s latest and greatest at his web site: http://www.davidbowie.com/index.php where there are always fresh, exciting and sometimes strange (but in a good way) things happening.
If I could talk to David Bowie today, here’s what else I would say: “You’ve been through a lot, to say the least, and you’ve seen and done so many fantastic things. What would you say have been some of your best or perhaps most rewarding moments as an artist? Here it is, 2010. Sounds strange to say it, right? The entertainment industry has changed so much throughout the years. What do you like about the changes, and what do you dislike? What advice can you give to all the young dudes (and dude-ettes) coming up to face the music, so to speak?
…Well, who knows if we’ll get any answers, but regardless, David… love on ya, and cheers!
Here’s a lovely tribute to our man from some other brilliant and very funny Creative Beasts Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, a.k.a. Flight of the Conchords:
And to send you all off, here’s a great one from the glamorous king:
This blog goes out to my very dear friend, whom I will simply refer to as “Super-T,” who moves and grooves with the dexterity of a lizard, and who sometimes forgets, but he is also the most tater-bob dude that ever existed.
A few days ago, I had the privilege to spend time with another dear friend of mine, Adam–a brilliant artist and graphic designer, and a true Creative Beast. Talking with him inspired me and gave me encouragement.
I begin this post by saying that some friendships are real gifts. And I suppose it is ironic, but I now know it to be true that sometimes what can seem to be the toughest, most challenging friendships of our lives are also sometimes some of the deepest and richest ones–in addition to being the ones that teach us the most valuable lessons. It hearkens the saying that it isn’t the destinations that make us who we are, but the journeys that we make to reach them. Certain journeys–and life changing events–can sometimes crush us… and sometimes they can save us.
I love my friends. I don’t always get to tell them how much the things they do and say–whether they are big or small–matter to me. Sometimes simply possessing the ability to make someone laugh or smile… the ability to evoke–can have a tremendously earth shaking effect. I have said this before, but I’ll say it again: Creative Beasts are powerful, brilliant souls. They tend to be very intense, even if it’s in a very quiet sort of way, but they can also be extremely fragile. This knowledge can be heavy. In our creative circles, we all likely know someone, or perhaps even several people whose intensity is at times, a great joy to come into contact with, and at other times, it’s saddening or maddening. For me, it seems like it’s just about everyone I know. Why? Just lucky, I guess (and if you are one of these people, do me a favor–relax. I’m kidding… sort of. Try not to take yourself so seriously). It’s the agony and the ecstasy. Three of my creative friends have committed suicide, all within the last ten years. First was Dave; a brilliant filmmaker/director who taught me that animators are among the most patient people on the planet… usually. Then there was Jen; a great, beautiful, quiet and quick-witted writer whose wonderful sense of humor was matched by her generous and gracious spirit. Just one year later in November of 2008, I lost my friend, Brian, who was an amazingly gifted photographer, a fantastic cook, and just wickedly sharp in countless ways. Each and every one them had an energy–an intensity–that could fill any room. That said, you can imagine how the loss of each person reverberated. I wish there was something I could have done or said that would have kept each one from doing what they did. I think maybe this is what I would have said: “You have truly lived. You have done great things, and you have experienced great things. And you have touched a lot of lives. Do you really believe that this is it? That there is no more beauty yet to come? If so, you are wrong. Stick around a while. Keep at it. See what happens.”
Creativity doesn’t always flow the way we want it to. Sometimes we feel stuck, and it’s frustrating. Roadblocks are common. David Lynch addresses this issue in his book, Catching The Big Fish. He writes, “If you want to catch the little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper.” I agree with him. Another factor in the concept of catching these big fish is having creative circles–pools, if you will, in which you may freely express yourself, bounce ideas off of others, and then build on your concepts. No one person is an island, and as it is with anything else, thoughts and expressions that are exchanged freely can exist harmoniously and in a symbiotic manner, like the ebb and flow of the tides. The sharing of ideas allows creativity, itself, to become larger and richer, like a beautiful tapestry. When there is a greater opportunity to draw from a more vibrant lexicon, creative thinkers naturally put that knowledge into everything they do. When we keep things to ourselves out of fear of loss or perhaps rejection, we risk stagnation and even collapse. Even when times are difficult, and perhaps especially when times are difficult, it is better to share and connect with others. We see this example again and again made by successful people throughout history. One example that comes to mind is advertising great, David Ogilvy. He went against the grain and leapt ahead of his competitors by insisting that indeed; you must literally give away your trade secrets to win clients. His peers thought he was crazy, and maybe he was… crazy, like a fox. He was right. His ideas worked, and he made history.
Now David Ogilvy is dead and gone, and some of today’s ad geeks giggle and scoff at his ideas, but I think there isn’t one among them who wouldn’t give their eye teeth to reach the peaks that he did. Genius, as it turns out, is pretty timeless. And it takes bravery–and faith–to be creative. Some people might tell you you’re great, and some might tell you you suck… or that you are crazy. It’s not always easy to push forward, and for whatever reason, it’s sometimes easier to accept defeat or criticism, than it is to accept success and praise. If you have any desire to create, or to see an idea come to fruition, keep going with it. If it’s a passion within you, keep that fire burning. There is a reason for it. You must believe that.
Do you realize that time goes fast?
It’s hard to make the good things last
Do you realize the sun doesn’t go down?
It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round.
Hooray for coffee. I know I’m not the first to say it, nor will I be the last. But still… yay.
Hooray for Starbucks as well. It’s clean, friendly, smoke-free and comfortable. And I don’t care what anybody says; I even like the coffee. And they play good tunes. I like writing at the cafe sometimes. It helps to get out of the house, and have a change of scenery. You could say that it’s office away from office–home office, that is.
That said, let’s talk about environments for a moment, shall we? More specifically, work environments. How many times in your life has someone said to you, “Have you seen Office Space?” I think it’s been about a hundred times for me. And yes, I’ve seen it. It isn’t my favorite movie, or even in my top 20, but I appreciate and thoroughly understand why this flick is loved and revered by so many. Offices and corporate life can really suck, and when I say “suck,” I mean they can really and truly suck the life right out of you, and especially if you happen to be a Creative Beast. The makers of the film got that–big-time. They saluted the office stereo-types, and said “Up yours,” to the corporate assholes (and may it be noted here, that I do not feel that all corporate people are assholes. There are assholes everywhere you go, and corporate outfits are no exception. There just may be a higher percentage of them in “the office.” It seems to be par for the course. At this point you might be saying, “It takes one to know one.” And you might be right). The movie became a cult classic and a big release for everyone who has had to work in such an environment. Here’s a clip:
Now. That said, drudgerous corporate hell is not a necessity. Yeah, that’s right; it doesn’t have to be so. There are workplaces that nurture and foster creativity, and–surprise, surprise–very often, these places are considered to be the best places to work, according to surveys taken. So my question is, why don’t more companies work on creating better environments for their employees? Do all the HR text book studies really indicate that putting people in cubes with ugly brown-grey walls makes workers more productive? Because here’s the thing: Fast food restaurants have a history of using the same ugly colors in their restaurants–so that people will eat quickly and get the hell out.
I believe most companies aren’t really looking for people that think for themselves too much, and most companies do not care about the spirit of the individual. But what about the ones that do? What if more places really cared to learn about the people that they hire, and find ways to put their greatest skills and talents to use? What if more places offered work environments that encouraged individual growth in addition to the growth of the bottom line? What if more schools and educational programs were designed in the same way? I think companies with real vision do function thusly. I think the ones that prefer drab cubes and don’t want to invest in creativity are really rather old-school and backwards, and eventually, they will lose out. Basically, here’s the deal: everybody has dreams of something greater… something better… something more inspiring. That’s why shows like American Idol are wildly successful, and movies like Office Space make people LTAO, and think things like “Hell, yeah!” with fires in their bellies. Life is not about the 9-5 grind, the twenty minutes on the treadmill or the mowing of the lawn. Not that these things are evil or wrong in any way–it’s just that there is so much more to look forward to, and when people fail to recognize that, it’s sad. It makes me think that “The American Dream” in some cases has mutated into “The American Nightmare,” and that’s a shame.
Creative Beasts need each other, and they need creativity. They feed off of one another. They are wired to be inspired. They make each other laugh, and they brighten each others’ lives. They are wild, passionate, beautiful creatures that aren’t afraid to believe in things that aren’t in front of their noses. Magical things like airplanes and spaceships; aliens and Santa Claus–or Jesus, if you prefer. The point is that to be creative takes faith. More on that later. Creative Beasts are sometimes reckless, sometimes crazy and sometimes they make each other crazy–and everybody else, for that matter. But they need each other, and everybody else needs them. So if you’re a Creative Beast, and you feel like you’re somewhere that you don’t belong, chances are, you don’t. Take heart, hold your head high and keep on doin’ what you’re doin’. And ask yourself… what would the world be like without people like Thomas Edison or Albert Einstein or Leonardo daVinci or the Wright Brothers? Beethoven, Mozart, Muddy Waters, John Coltrane or The Beatles? Madame Curie or Gertrude Ederle? Jane Austen, Ella Fitzgerald, Joni Mitchell, Aretha Franklin, and Gilda Radner? Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Richard Branson? Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr? Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson, Ellen DeGeneres or David Letterman? Oprah? Julia Child and Jacques Pepin? Alice Waters, Lydia Bastianich, Charlie Trotter, David Chang and Michel Bras? Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, Ridley Scott, Woody Allen, and David Lynch? You get the idea. I could fill a book with names of people that without whose light, the world would not be nearly so bright a place. Think about it… And then give this a listen: