Experience = failure x recovery.

Posted on December 10, 2010


Henry Rollins is to have said “Knowledge without mileage is useless.” I think there is a lot in that statement that is highly relevant to not only being successful in design, but critical to merely surviving it. You can read a hundred books on best practices. Look at a 1000 sites that describe best practices, but that will never overcome the fact, that if you havent paid your dues through trail and lots of error, you cant expect to survive in this business. In truth, the energy of youth and naivete will actually get you pretty far. But until you’ve really fucked up, I mean really fucked up, and figured out how to recover, you cant build a base that prepares you how to endure and succeed. Whether it was an internal review, or a round 1 where you severely missed the mark with an idea or design you were sure was right, what you take away and learn from that failure to apply to the next try is what will really build your base of experience. According to Malcolm Gladwell it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. So sure your last job at McDonalds, the frame shop or the sign shop or wherever the hell you worked last, may build you as an individual, but in no way prepares you for the creative world. Until you’re on the job, doing design, thinking, ideating learning, fucking up and being given more rope to hang yourself, everyday, you’re not gaining experience.

I remember my first stint as a creative director, I was so hell bent on guarding my in-experience and the associated fear, that someone would catch on to the fact that I hadn’t done this before, that I was attacking everyone and everything that challenged me so I could operate in my own safe little circle of what I knew and had experienced. Guess what? I failed, absolutely buckled. While managing a global brand. I ran out of steam simply through fighting everyone that I was right and in knew better. I completely lost focus on that my role was to help an organization communicate more effectively, interestingly and consistently. It came down to me being an artist about my task, rather than a professional about my role. Hell I even competed with agencies I hired. So what did I learn there? And how did that shape where I am today. The experience gained from that major  there was to listen and invite in other ideas and use them to strengthen your notions or to illuminate completely new paths. I actually learned much more than that during that stint, through many failures, but also built  great base of people who still believe in me today, and I continue to work with today.

That is a singular example of a quilt of failures that have made me into who I am today as a designer and communicator. But for everyone of those failures my experience library has been coincidentally strengthened by the same experiences. And because of those I am able to deliver the services and approaches that all clients deserve.Does that make me a superstar? No, but I a adequate at what I do, becuase this is a craft I have dedicated myself to, and I try like hell everyday.

Hammerin’ Hank Rollins was onto something there…you cant just step out of design school or from behind a stack of books, or websites with a brain full of information, that has never been applied, and expect to really know it all. So what does this mean to all creatives? Go out there and get in to situations that are beyond you, try and meet the challenge, fuck up, take chances, listen to others. Because there really must be some direct correlation between the number of time you fail times and the number or times you’re willing to get back up and try again that equals experience. Use the inputs to build your base of experiences and increase your abilty to think, and strategize, ultimately leading to doing great work. which after all is what we all really want to do. Isnt it?

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