Surrender the Journey
For more than five months Neil and Jen Baker Brown have chosen the most inefficient means possible — driving 18,500+ miles — to meet with individuals and organizations across the country in an attempt to curate a collective vision of the future where the combination of work and life is the great adventure. In this article series they are reporting on their travels, conversations, experiences, fears, challenges, hopes and especially the expectations and opportunities for the future creative.
The Future of Creativity: The Only Constant in Life is Change
Today the economics of our world are changing — especially for creatives. Many only see the market conditions directly in front of them, overlooking the opportunity to understand, to see the causation. We have met with many brilliantly talented individuals on our journey, each story confirms the shifting sands and echoes the same song. Work and life are changing. Work and life have changed.
In the not-too-distant past, the notion of a meandering road trip around the country seemed a laughable concept. And yet we set off on a journey to discover those actively designing our collective future. After more than fifteen thousand miles of travel (and thousands more to go), countless hours of conversation and learning the ambition of those welcoming us into their lives for a brief moment, we are overwhelmed. Our minds are saturated—overflowing. I find myself drifting away in thought; stories, considerations, presumptions, anecdotes, quotes, stats, challenges, fears, successes, faces, names, places and pictures are constantly reshuffling in the nebulous grey matter behind our eyes. Neurons misfiring in every direction. It is exhausting.
Desperate to process, to bring order to all that we have experienced over the last many months, we struggle to keep up. The writing has fallen behind. Our travel schedule has slipped leaving us to cover more geography in less time than anticipated. Thankfully we are able to manage our work, as keeping the bills paid is a forcible priority. Yet we allocate time to conquer new territory.
It is a Saturday afternoon, late summer in Moab, UT. The sun burns down. The landscape barren; an oversaturated maroon, extraterrestrial panorama. We are surrounded by desolate beauty in a foreign environment that enraptures the imagination. We descend 180 feet straight down, dangling by a thread. We wind our way along a trickling stream supporting a delicate strip of oasis. At a glance, assumption dictates the vegetation is barely clinging to a meager life.
However, with the slightest pause and closer inspection a wildly diverse, thriving ecosystem appears in clear focus. The canyon, carved slowly and steadily through dense stone and petrified sand dunes, owes its shape to the smallest spring buried deep yet persistent in its slow drip. And from it emerges unfathomable beauty.
Change is constant—the only constant in life. While we may crave resistance, my mind is drawn back to the desert canyon, the stream, the oasis. The slow and steady change of a persistent spring meticulously carving a stunning, wondrous ecosystem from the harsh, barren desert that surrounds.
Today we have technology platforms specifically designed for instant connectivity with global talent, efficiency and transparency in communications, effective accountability measures, ease of access to lower-cost labor markets, broader distribution of work, rapid expansion of professional networks and data-rich quantifiable metrics—all of which is highly disruptive, fundamentally shifting how we work and ultimately how we live.
Many traditional obstacles for creative, knowledge-based work are rapidly eroding.
While in Los Angeles, we enjoyed the privilege of getting to know Petrula Vrontikis, Creative Director of Vrontikis Design Office and graphic design professor at Art Center College of Design. Over the last two years, she has been diligently researching an emergent trend and group she calls the New Creative Nomad. Her thesis is focused on this group of neonomadic individuals, their work and life, and the opportunities that emanate from them.
Petrula proposes that “Millennials are returning to our previous nomadic ways, meaning individuals move based on environmental changes and shifts. It involves agile ways of thinking about place and space. This lifestyle questions ideas of home, identity, family and nation.” Petrula believes these individuals develop an unconscious competence that will be an asset in the on-demand economy. The ability to quickly conceptualize, innovate, prototype, manufacture and market new ideas is widely accessible. “These are resilient qualities that young people are cultivating in a landscape with very few borders or boundaries.”
The future creative will leverage a fluid and dynamic work/life balance, drawing significant value and expertise from varied experiences. While current perceptions may deem such a life flippant or demonstrating a lack of commitment, it is only a matter of time until this precept is flipped on its head. Such an approach to living will be valued for the risk tolerance it requires, the broad set of diverse personal and professional experiences, the deepening of one’s empathy, and the exposure to multiple cultures and their contextual nuances.
“These are resilient qualities that young people are cultivating in a landscape with very few borders or boundaries.”
– Petrula Vrontikis
Is it possible that a static, isolated life becomes a liability rather than an asset for the future creative? The consideration is not that all creatives live in a van, enjoying the hippie gypsy lifestyle. Yet, if creatives are to be the leaders shaping our collective future culture, then we must contemplate an alternate view of the value we offer beyond the subjectivity of aesthetics. The market’s demand of creatives has evolved.
As we ping-ponged our way through the American Southwest, among its widely diverse landscapes, we took time to pause in Albuquerque, N.M., where we had coffee and enjoyed a sweet potato empanada in a hundred year old bakery while meeting with Dave Ortega. He is all-in on driving simple, radical and innovative ideas for stale, stalled or stuck brands. As Creative Director of the well-awarded McKee Wallwork and Company, Dave strives to foster a culture and work force designed to develop exponentially valuable outcomes for clients—whether it is pitching and developing a television series, building graffiti artist robots, starting new companies in partnership with clients, or reimagining a collective and distributed team structure. The ability to translate inspiration into consistent, tangible results transcends productivity.
The overview on Dave’s LinkedIn profile begins with a simple sentence — “I hate advertising.” It is a fascinating statement given his extensive experience at various advertising agencies and his current role as lead creative at yet another ad agency. “Advertising doesn’t need to change. We need to change how we use advertising to drive value for clients, and more importantly for their customers. We’re all-in on advertising and we’re simply not going to change our website messaging to some trendy, cliche language like so many other agencies out there.”
In a marketplace where brands are taking more responsibility for creativity while traditional models of agency of record fade, agencies have to think differently about their business and the value they create for their clients. Dave and the agency’s leaders focus on the acutely strategic notion that by taking on greater risk in partnership with their clients, a greater reward is to be realized.
“We need to change how we use advertising to drive value for clients, and more importantly for their customers.”
– Dave Ortega, Creative Director McKee Wallwork & Co.
The relationship that a creative team is able to nurture with a single client is significantly greater than total billable hours. The business challenges, market conditions, operational hurdles, talent constraints, forthcoming disruptive technologies, etc. that an individual client faces are also felt by competitors within their domain. Understanding these core business challenges ultimately presents an opportunity for creative teams. In the entrepreneurial world overcoming these basic business obstacles takes many forms: client investigation, finding product/market fit, determining customer needs, and more. In other words, it is human-centered design.
McKee Wallwork and Company is leveraging this intimate understanding to develop new, innovative service offerings and a rapidly scalable team structure that directly benefits the client. With this expanded knowledge, the agency is also developing new products — content, media, documentaries, apps, marketplaces, etc. — and in several cases, through direct partnership with clients, venturing into new frontiers. The ultimate goal is to create value: to deliver tangible results, achieve clear business value, and concurrently realize non-traditional revenue streams for the agency beyond the billable hour.
This level of thinking requires a broad base of creativity across a spectrum of domain expertise that stretches the traditional creative agency’s typical talent pool. Creativity has matured in its evolutionary development.
Creativity has matured in its evolutionary development.
The future has arrived. The opportunity is boundless, the challenges yet to be fully cemented. We know these challenges may seem vast and immovable. However, deep within a desert canyon, three long miles from the trailhead, lies a small spring buried deep that trickles slowly, carving its way through millennia of hardened crimson stone producing a thriving oasis of unfathomable beauty. Patience, persistence and an ever-present commitment have shaped an entire ecosystem. As work and life evolve, what will be the most important aspects and skills for the future creative professional? How will these leaders generate value and capture the reward? How will value and its reward be measured and quantified? How will the future creative be educated and rise above the robots?!
We don’t have all the answers, nor propose that we will devise them. We have, however, chosen the most inefficient means possible to discover those considering these questions and working to design their own solutions. We’re driving around the country to meet these individuals—to meet you—to curate a collective vision of the future where the combination of work and life are the great adventure.
As we travel we’re always on the lookout for the intriguing individuals and exceptional organizations working to shape our current and future reality. Reach out directly if you would like to connect or make a recommendation on who we should meet. We also appreciate any introductions! Follow our journey at social.bakerbrownco.com, learn more about the individuals we’re meeting along the way on our site, and sign up for a our newsletter.