The life and times of Copywriter, Steve Taylor.
This blog is coming to you from somewhere in Wisconsin. I can’t remember the name of the last station, but I believe we’re about two hours north of Madison. As we continue down the tracks and I stare out into the endless fields, I can’t help but feel a little “off” today. I’m not sure if it’s fatigue from being on the road for 8 months, my ongoing financial worries or if my impending 30th birthday is starting to weigh on me, but regardless of the cause, I certainly don’t feel like myself today. Just being able to look out the window and listen to some music in my headphones certainly helps though. I think with so much going on everyday, it’s a nice change of pace to just shut my brain off for a few hours.
I will say that one interesting thing about today’s train ride is that it’s my last one until November. I’ve always considered my next few stops the “giant leaps” in my itinerary, because I go from Minneapolis to Austin and Austin to Seattle. Since these stops are so far away from one another, I decided it best to finally hop on a plane or two. Of course that means—for a brief period—I’m back to dealing with security lines and a lack of diner car. Oh, how I’ve been pampered on my various Amtrak trips!
Despite how I currently feel, I am extremely excited to land in Minneapolis. Everyone I’ve met along the way, who has ever stepped foot in the Twin Cities, has told me to expect incredible weather the entire month. I hope it’s true; because at this point it would be a huge let down if everyone was pulling a prank on me.
As I mentioned in previous blogs, I’ve never been west of Chicago. So, let’s see what the rest of this country has to offer, shall we? (Well… first I need a nap. So, let’s start tomorrow.)
Tomorrow, I board yet another train and journey to a far away land known as Minneapolis. Unlike my other stops along the way though, I’m actually a bit nervous this time around. That’s because every city left on my journey will be new to me, as I’ve never been west of Chicago. But, on the other hand, I find myself rather excited for the same exact reasons. This is what an adventure is all about—exploring new places, seeing new sights and experiencing new cultures.
On a very personal level, I’m thrilled to be venturing to Minneapolis for the first time. For those of you out there who don’t know, the Twin Cities are teeming with incredible indie hip-hop artists. It’s home to the likes of Atmosphere, Doomtree and Brother Ali and where you’ll find Rhymesayers Entertainment, First Avenue and the Soundset Hip Hop Festival. I’m not 100% sure why this city in particular has such a dense hip-hip scene, but there’s no denying that it’s one of the best in the country. What makes it even better is that most of the artists look out for one another and that’s something you don’t normally find in the world today.
But what do rappers have to do with the project? Well, these aren’t your ordinary musicians. They’re individuals who’ve worked hard for their success and understand the importance of going the extra mile. Whether it’s playing unannounced shows in a parking lot or finding new ways to deliver music to fans, they understand the importance of creative marketing and thinking outside the box. Take the members of Doomtree for instance. They’ve built themselves into a collective, where every member has a role to play beyond their musical abilities. Some handle merchandise and social media, others the website and tour planning. It’s all about streamlining the process and doing things their own way. In the end, they’ve learned to balance business and creative with near perfect results and I consider that very inspiring.
So, just a forewarning to everyone out there. August is going to be a very musically-influenced month. I already grabbed a ticket to see two of my favorite artists (Sims and Astronautalis) and if all goes well, I’ll have a chance to interview them while I’m in town too. Even if you’re not a hip-hop fan, their tight knit community is something that’s very unique to Minneapolis. I think there’s a lot to learn from how they do things and that’s why I’m excited to delve right in.
Eight stops down. Six to go. I’m nervous. I’m excited. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I get sent a lot of books about “creativity” and “innovation,” and most of the time I throw them on the pile, but after Shenk’s Atlantic piece on Lennon and McCartney got passed around so much, I thought I’d give this one a spin (I also remembered that my friend Ryan Holiday recommended his book on Lincoln’s depression.) Glad I did, because so much of what Shenk has investigated here is stuff I looked into for Show Your Work!
Some excerpts, below.
How creativity really works doesn’t fit neatly into a traditional narrative
The lone-genius idea has become our dominant view of creativity not because of its inherent truth — in fact, it neglects and obscures the social qualities of innovation — but because it makes for a good story.
The network model has the opposite problem. It is basically true, but so complex that it can’t be easily made into narrative. Where the lone-genius model is galvanizing and simplistic, the network model is suitably nuanced but hard to apply to day-to-day life.
Shenk says the “creative pair,” on the other hand, gives us a clearer narrative as an anecdote to the lone-genius myth without getting scrambled by the messiness of networks.
The trouble with this knowledge is that people want the lone genius myth — something marketers certainly know:
Members of an audience want to identify with a single individual, a person with whom they can have an imagined relationship. It’s well known in publishing that coauthored books are generally a tougher sell than works by single authors because readers expect (often unconsciously) to be in direct communion with an author.
This is backed up by studies that have found “viewers value single creator art better than art created through a collaborative process”:
Our perception of art… is largely dictated by the amount of time and effort we think went into it. This notion was first put forth by Denis Dutton in his book The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution, where he argued that we evaluate art not just by the final product, but also by the process that created it. We then use our evaluation of the process and final product to determine the quality of the piece we are admiring.
So, if people value our work based on what we tell them about our process, is our duty to be honest about how we work, or to give them a good story that makes them feel good about the work?
The lone genius idea is wrapped up in our Romantic notions of the individual and the self
…it’s a fantasty, a myth of achievement predicated on an even more fundamental myth of the enclosed, autonomous self for whom social experience is secondary.
The “lone genius” is usually backed up by a partner who remains in the shadows.
Take the couple I just wrote about: George Lucas and his first wife, Marcia. Or William Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy. Or Tiger Woods — his caddy, Steve Williams wouldn’t just carry his bag, but he’d give him wrong yardage to compensate for his distance problems and he’d taunt him to “get his blood up,” and “deliberately misled him when he thought it would improve his play.”
There’s also a hilarious story about Picasso and his girlfriend, Francoise Gilot—every morning the chamber made would bring him coffee and toast and then he’d begin this ridiculous process:
Picasso “would groan and began his lamentations… He would complain of his sicknesses… He would declare his mercy, and how little anyone understood it. He would complain about a letter from [his ex-wife] Olga. Life was pointless. Why get up. Why paint. His soul itches. His life was unbearable.”
Then Gilot would basically have to convince him to get out of bed, and after AN HOUR, he’d finally get up.
As Shenk writes, “No one is freed of the burdens of everyday life. One may, however, outsource them.”
(Speaking later of John Lennon, Shenk has another good line: “No grownup lives like a kid unless someone around him takes the adult role.”)
“We need to be able to get wired up without overheating, and disconnect without going cold.”
Finding a balance between is tricky, and depends on the individual.
John Lennon, for instance, was so devoid of an internal relation that he had a hard time being by himself. “His reclusive lifestyle notwithstanding,” his friend Pete Shotton said, “John could never bear to be left completely alone — even when he was composing his songs. Much of my time at Kenwood was spent idly reading or watching TV while John, a few feed away, doodled at the piano or scribbled verses on a scrap of paper.” “If I am on my own for three days, doing nothing, “ [Lennon] told Hunter Davies in 1967, “I’m just not here…I have to see the others to see myself.”
The art of living, as [Esther] Perel wrote, is to “balance our fundamental urge for connection with the urge to experience our own agency.”
Side note: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre used to work in the same cafe but at separate tables.
Even Emily Dickinson needed to connect.
She just had to do it through words.
”Her letters are beyond brilliant,” Christopher Benfey, a Dickinson authority who teaches at Mount Holyoke College, told me, “and you can’t really understand her as a poet and a writer without seeing that she approached this form, alongside her poetry, with equal energy and commitment.”
Dickinson wrote poems for specific people in her life and mailed them — she even sent “more than two hundred letters and two hundred and fifty poems” to her sister-in-law Susan, “even though they lived next door to each other.”
A good rivalry, if used constructively, can push the opposite parties further than they could go on their own.
Witness Lennon and McCartney’s competitiveness (Lennon said his new album would “probably scare [Paul] into doing something decent and then he’ll scare me into doing something decent, and I’ll scare him, like that.”) or Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.
“The feeling of rivalry,” [William James] said, ”lies at the very basis of our being, all social improvement being largely due to it… The deepest spring of action in us is the sight of action in another. The spectacle of effort is what awakens and sustains our own effort.”
On a side note to all this, I have a bad habit when reading books of wondering to myself what other structures the book could’ve taken, and whether I would have done it differently. I do wonder how this would’ve read if the “grand theory” of collaboration were stripped out and each creative pair were given their own chapter, with the stories simply juxtaposed against each other. This idea is actually alluded to in Shenk’s (rather strange, actually) epilogue:
About a year ago a friend of mine, an accomplished editor and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, told me that the plan for the book — to consider scores of stories alongside one another — was nuts.
Shenk himself seems to have realized it is the stories of these pairings that really fly:
I’ve pushed for organization via the traditional mode of narrative; [my editor] has pushed for a more audacious organization by idea.
And that he’s well aware (as we all are) that this book is going on a certain spot in the bookstore shelves:
My job is to push against the conventions of “big idea” books. Eamon’s job is to hold the project to the primary necessities of the form.
Regardless, I found this a fascinating read. It comes out next week.
Filed under: my reading year 2014
By far the creepiest art installation I’ve seen so far. There were faces all over the walls of the underpass. Could you imagine walking by these at night? #art #creepy #Chicago #streerart #creative #faces
An agency is an agency is an agency, right? Not in today’s world. The companies thriving in today’s industry are those who think outside the box, while playing to the strengths of their teams. Some are branching into new territory like record labels (Boxing Clever); others are creating highly unique positions like the Maker (Red Tettemer); and many are just expanding their capabilities by taking services in-house and offering clients more than others.
That’s what TRIS3CT is doing with Jerry Rig, an integrated production studio that specializes in the development and distribution of branded content. Billed as “Production Reframed,” Jerry Rig breaks away from the traditional production and post-house model to deliver an integrated team and process that empowers the content they help to create. As their site states, “rather than tell your story to the most people, we’ll tell it to those who are actually listening.” I think that’s a vital distinction, especially in our multi-screen, always-on culture. It’s hard to grab someone’s attention, when you’re always competing for it.
I haven’t had much of an opportunity to work with anyone on the Jerry Rig team, but I absolutely love their approach—Instead of interrupting consumer behavior, we’ll ensure your content enables it. I mean, that sentence alone says an awful lot. I don’t think everyone will agree with it, but as consumer ourselves, no one should ever argue its effectiveness.
In all honesty, these are the things I get really excited about as I continue across the country. I find it extremely motivating and inspiring to find agencies that are doing things differently. Whether it’s adding services to create a more rounded experience for clients or branching into new industries for the sheer love of it—these are the places making waves across our industry and changing things for the better. To me, it sounds like a pretty straightforward concept—adapt and lead. Yet, you’d be surprised how many people out there don’t get it. Just because something isn’t broke, doesn’t mean you can’t make it better.
Last night, I had the opportunity to speak with a class at the Chicago Portfolio School. As the third Q&A I’ve done with students at part of #TGAA, I’m officially convinced that it will never get any less stressful. I did have a good time though and I want to thank Angela Vitzhum for inviting me into her classroom. She’s been a big part of what’s made Chicago another great stop. In fact, I will be attending the Creative Mornings event with her tomorrow as well. I’m pretty excited about it, because I used to attend their events all the time while living in NYC. If you’ve never been to one, I highly recommend you check it out.
This week also got me thinking about the true importance of meeting new people, when it comes to the success of this project. While I’ve thoroughly enjoyed each of my stops along the way, not all of them have truly lived up to what they could’ve been and I’ll be the first to admit that. The most exciting cities I’ve been to are those where I’ve made new friends like Angela—individuals who understand what I’m trying to accomplish and want to help me get there. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve met so many incredible people along the way. But the real difference makers are those whose generosity and curiosity extends beyond the agency walls.
You can find their names on this page and it continues to grow all the time. They’re the ones helping to bring this project to life on a daily basis. Whether it’s offering to show me a new part of town, extending an invite to a local networking event or tipping others off to my presence, I’m forever grateful to everyone on that list. Yes, on the other hand, I have met individuals who do not care for my project and choose to ignore my existence as a whole, but they have that right. There have been co-workers who never said a word to me during my tenure—despite my greatest efforts—but it is true that you can’t win them all. Rather than dwell on it, I continue to do my best to sway their opinion over time. My hope is that for every one person who doesn’t care, I will find the support of another ten who do. It’s how the project has grown into what it is today.
In the end, I think the different receptions I receive help make the project better as a whole. It forces me to adapt on the fly and find new ways of seeking advice and answers. As a friend told me before I left, “If everyone loves you and everything goes perfectly, it’s not going to be a very interesting journey. It would just be you taking a vacation and no one wants to read about that.”
So, here’s to those out there who’ve helped (and will continue to help) make this project special in their unique own way. (Even if they do eat burritos without me).
Found this on my way to work today. #sidewalkart #streetart #wisdom #Chicago #Pilsen #UIC #art #artandlife
Yesterday, I went to the live theater broadcast of Monty Python Live (Mostly). It was an incredible time that saw the audience break into song on more than one occasion. If you’re able to catch any of the replays this week, I highly recommend it. The Pythons’ creativity is inspiring on so many levels, even after all these years. Aside from that, my weekend consisted of running—and lots of it. And since I’m sure no one wants me to ramble on and on about the Rock n’ Roll Marathon Series, I thought I’d talk a little about TRIS3CT.
If there’s one question I’ve been asked more than any other this month it has to be, “What’s with the ‘3’ in TRIS3CT?” Well, now that I’ve finally infiltrated their headquarters, I think it’s about time I provided an answer.
I should admit that when I first noticed the 3, I was a bit hesitant about its presence. You see, I grew up listening to a lot of heavy metal and in the 90’s that meant some questionable nu-metal groups, some of whom loved adding numbers to their names. (i.e. 40 Below Summer, Apartment 26, Project 86, Primer 55, Powerman 5000). So, when I saw ‘TRIS3CT’ it gave me some pretty dicey flashbacks to parachute pants, eyeliner and fishnet. Thankfully those have passed and I’ve since learned to love the ‘3’. That’s mostly because I discovered it wasn’t there for the sake of being different. No, the ‘3’ serves a purpose that goes well beyond delivering a unique name.
The ‘3’ is a reference to the agency’s defining principles—fearless, inventive, humanistic. It’s also the essence of their culture and a staple of their décor. As it says on their website, everyone here “believes that when these 3 forces of good come together, something powerful is created. Strategy becomes stronger. Ideas work harder. Results jump higher. Pigs literally take flight”.
It just goes to prove that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. TRIS3CT is an agency that knows what it can do and how to do it. I’m three weeks in and I can confidently say that everyone here believes in the ‘3’ and embodies what it stands for by pursuing those defining principles and strengthening their presence with each new project.
My hope is that by explaining this, I can help others out there learn to love the ‘3’ as well. Oh and on a bit of a side note, if you aren’t yet, be sure to follow @TRIS3CT on Twitter. I’m taking it over at 3:33 everyday to document the various “threes” that can be found throughout the office.