some thoughts about sticking true to your ideals in the business of communication

How do you deal with your own business, or just basic life for that matter? Are you a glass half empty person or a glass half full one?!  Do you come from a place of abundance or one of scarcity?

Art Directors, Creative Directors and Designers are inclined, fortunately, to come at their professional endeavors from a mindset of abundance. Maybe this is because of the infinite amount of ideas and solutions to problems we know are made available to us through our talents, intelligences and discipline. If you live your life, work and your job this way, hold on to this worldview like your life depended on it (which it does). If you don’t – look for ways to change your perspective! I personally am constantly trying to improve myself, and sometimes all it takes is a subtle (or not so subtle reminder) that I have gone off track.

I have noticed that most businesses embrace the scarcity paradigm. It’s not hard to justify the sweeping statement that the business community looks at the world as a zero-sum game. Just look at their collective behaviors. Most corporations would never consider partnering with competitors (creatives do it all the time), they primarily make incremental imitative changes that could hardly be considered innovative (creatives are all about bold ideas and solutions), they manage their staff from a position of mitigating legal risk – not employee empowerment – and they only grudgingly adopt policies for the greater good of society and then only as a public relations strategy. Ok, so this is starting to sound pessimistic, but that is not my intent. Please bear with me while I weave my way to my hypothesis!

Companies hoard (witness their reluctance to hire new employees in the midst of high unemployment when they were flush), they exploit their customers (Goldman Sacs illegally foreclosed on active servicemen) and they conceal (take Enron for just one example). These behaviors are all fundamentally driven by a belief that there is only so much of anything and everything in the world and that to survive as a corporation they had better get and hold onto all this anything and everything that exists in the world.

Going with the premise that most creative people operate out of a position of abundance problem solving and innovation in both thought and demonstration, the challenge then becomes how best to function in or with corporations as clients that often are infected with a culture of scarcity and pessimism. I like to think that I stick to my guns of who I am, and being a positive person, I know that there is no bounds to creative thinking. I try not to let my surroundings get me down. Stick to your guns of who you are inherently!

The next action to take is to stoke your passion and actively take on the role of change agent, provocateur and evangelist. Ramp up the energy of who you are! If you’re truly committed to serving your company and society, never mind just being truely authentic, then your functions go beyond the creation of design artifacts and move into the realm of your communication vehicle effecting organizational cultural change. Don’t we all in advertising and communications want to make a difference really?! At least I think we all started out thinking that, and may have been jaded along the way. I know from being an entrepreneur and starting my own agency that it can be done! You can also see evidence of this in the many powerful stories of individuals achieving this in “Switch”, a book by Dan and Chip Heath and “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell. (Some of my favourite books by the way!)

Finally, in order to be effective at initiating this attitudinal change, hone your communication skills and find others who can support you both from within your company and from outside it. Find mentors, take professional development courses, join industry organizations and network them for all they’re worth, but genuinely with interest of course! (we all know when we are being ‘mined’ don’t we?!)  I personally have found the support of my fellow freelancers and the network of people I have worked with over the years incredibly supportive and invaluable in commiserating, discussing, and simply keeping me true to who I am and to the ideals with which I started out in the ad com business! There is no group better positioned and able to shift the way corporations (large medium or small) operate than creative thinkers and doers who are passionate about making a difference!  We create, impact and reach people with our visions, we put a little bit of our soul into our our work. What we do can and does make a difference. Sometimes we forget this don’t we?! As the saying goes, ‘Thoughts become things. Pick good ones’.

This article and ideas in it are based on Andy Epsteins article in HOW magazine Mar 13, 2011, and some conversations with friends in the industry, and my roomate.

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