What I learned from War

Posted on April 14, 2009

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blog_war_art1The other night night I was having a conversation with resident creative genius Christian Seichrist and we were chatting about work ethic etc. We were wondering why aren’t ALL designers today, especially in this economy, aren’t applying themselves. I read something like this story about one designer trying to make it and I have hope. The real story here is how it’s about setting a bar for yourself, working late…just TRYING. That’s what our craft is about, trying and never giving up. So what does this have to do with war and why does it matter to me?

Well, I know war is an awful thing, but its makes for great stories and lessons from which many things can be learned. I grew up the son of a U.S. Marine. My house was filled with books about Chester Puller and stories of the 47 Ronin. Listening to Marines talk is like listening in on history lesson with reverence and respect. Somehow that filters down to the kids on the periphery of the dinner table. Namely me. I realize today how much of that sunk in…how much it taught me to go learn on my own and explore more. Which now that I think about it really is a lot like how my interaction with clients go. I listen to their stories.  I ask questions. Then go learn more on my own. Usually the result of my projects attempt to honor some original concept with the intent of an arrival at something new, engaging and communicative.

War is awful…I already said that right? But from it we can learn and I will tell you soldiers don’t wanna fight a war that’s already been fought. Just as designers don’t want to design things that have been done before.  But Learning from history to apply to the future so that new ground can be broken and the same mistakes can be avoided is another parallel I see in my upbringing that has a direct influence on my work ethic regarding my craft and approach of being a designer. I recently read “A little history of the world” by E.H. Gombrich…which I read excerpts from to my kids. Gombrich’s writing reads wonderfully, aloud. One story in particular struck me. The story of the battle of Thermopylae, recently retold as the visually stunning 300 . This battle was lore in the Marines and countless dinners and parades I attended as a child had references to it and until now it I only thought because it was an epic battle. It was this conversation with Christian Seichrist where in a round about discussion what what it was like growing up in the Marines and the influence of my Dad on me…it came to me. The story isn’t told because 300 ( there were actually some other Greek city states that enlisted in the fight but lets stay focused here) men died in a really bloody battle. The story is told because 300 men never gave up in the face of adversity in an effort to honor their craft. The craft of the Spartans happened to be making war. War was the very essence of their upbringing. They honored it. It was their trade, profession and art.

Its a bit extreme to apply this way of life to the craft of being a designer in whole. But in a sense its not completely outrageous either. You gotta work your ass off to be successful in this arena. I heard once that someone said to Stevie Wonder, that he writes seem to write songs so easily, implying that everything he did was successful. Wonder countered and he is successful because he writes 200 songs a day. Translation: he works hard…nothing comes easy. I would never have thought of coming up through the ranks and telling my CD “I am too busy”, or “I can’t do that”. Why? Because…you can and you’re just not trying hard enough, you can always be replaced. All of us can. Work at things until they bleed I say. The answer is always there, more often than not it just takes a lot of work to find it., and that work rarely fits neatly between 9am and 5pm. There is so much amazing work being done out there. The commonality I’ll put money on is…they are all trying. In an effort to honor their craft and the trade they signed up for.

So yes, I learned a lot from war. I may be getting a bit miltant about my apporach to problem solving and the work from other creatives that I represent and that in turn represents me. Because we are only as good as the last thing we’ve done. But this is serious business this design thing, and these are serious times..and yeah I really enjoy what I do…but I work hard to enjoy it and attempt in every project to do some really thinkning and deliver something that solves an problem while being engaging, and I expect the same from everyone I work with. Shouldn’t we all? Now go take that hill…errr… project, opportunity, whatever.

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