Is the winter weather wearing on your creativity? Are you stuck in an idealess rut? Never fear. Paul Lechleiter is here to help you combat the barren-minded blues with his 10 tips for creatives.
I met Paul Lechleiter in an UberConference early this December. He had some incredible words of wisdom to share. About half way through the interview, I remember pausing after one of his answers. The silence felt uncomfortable on my end, and I was embarrassed that Paul might have thought I was unprepared for our conversation.
I tried to find the words to explain my silence before it was too late.
“Wow, that was—”
“That was weird,” Paul laughed. Thank goodness.
“No, no, that was … I’m just very interested in everything you said. I spend so much time with creative people in my life, and I know a lot of them are stuck in ruts at the moment, and I just want to sit them down and be like, ‘Listen to these wonderful words and learn from this.”
He laughed again, “Well I’ve got one more trick!”
“My job is not really to be the guy who looks at every project, but be the guy who empowers people to make connections with other designers across the firm.” And empower he does. Paul is responsible for “the overall strategic and creative direction of FRCH as well as advancing the creative culture, talent and processes across the firm.” Basically, he’s the team’s go-to man when they need advice, solutions or simply a leader to show the way.
Speaking with Paul was like having a conversation with your best friend from the future—one that traveled back to present day to offer you important guidance. He’s wise, benevolent and welcoming. It’s painfully obvious that he wants to bring the best out of every individual he encounters in life.
He believes good design comes from collaboration, a healthy ego and self-awareness.
So without further ado, Paul would like to share “How Do Creatives Stay Creative: 10 tips that are more useful than banging your head against the wall.”
1. Be proactive about combating creative fatigue.
It’s gonna happen; it’s just a matter of time. When you feel forced, the work will feel forced. It’s easier said than done, especially for people in our industry, but you need to carve out time to unwind in your personal life in order for the results to filter to your professional one.
2. Give yourself breathing room for inspiration.
Being better comes from being aware. Anyone who is not able to be consciously present in their surroundings is doing themselves a great disservice. If you are truly creative, it should touch every aspect of your life. Take the time to surrender to your innate sense of wonder and natural curiosity.
“You don’t try to solve the problem right off the bat. You learn as much as you can, and then you give yourself what I call think time…And then after you’ve had sufficient time to think, you put pen to paper and you start to draw.”
3. Look outside your industry for innovative solutions.
Creativity is about being able to perceive what is in front of you and understanding things are not always what they seem. Staring at the same subjects and issues day after day can restrict your purview. Find a company you admire and see how they are shaking things up: Tesla Motors, Apple, Uber. Spend some time exploring other industries and see what kind of lessons you could apply to your own work.
“In my creative process, I really, really wait for accidents to happen. Wait for unexpected things.”
4. Creativity isn’t a solitary exercise.
Connect with your peers outside of your workplace. Your office can have all the beanbag chairs and ping pong tables in the world, but when you are feeling the pressure to produce, it can start to feel like a cage. Get outside of the office together and do something fun. Your peers are affected differently by shared experiences. Learn from that and apply it to your work life.
5. Understand the rules, and then break them.
First and foremost, you have to respect the way the game is played. However, there is a difference between understanding the rules and always following them. The people at our firm that continually impress me are the ones who can demonstrate their understanding and familiarity with a particular subject, and then flip that subject on its head.
6. Stay playful.
There’s a reason you got into the field in the first place. Don’t lose that joy. My position at the firm straddles both operations and hands-on creative duties. When its time for quarterly reports, I would go crazy if I didn’t take the time to do a little sketching. Even if there are no active projects that require it.
“When I draw, I pile up a couple bags of M&Ms and some Mountain Dew and, you know, that keeps you pretty buzzed too.”
7. Get over creative sensitivity.
Most of your ideas are never going to see the light of day. It’s not because you aren’t brilliant or your work isn’t fantastic; it just comes with the territory. That’s a very difficult thing for people to accept when they have poured their heart and soul into something. Learn to disengage from that. If you take the rejection personally, you will never work up the confidence to give it your all over and over again. Without confidence, you will question every single original thought in your head.
“It’s all about learning your own little tricks. Like a pro-athlete. You watch these guys at bat, and every time they have their own little superstition or their own ways of doing things. Find your groove, and then do what works for you and just go.”
8. Establish client trust in order to gain creative flexibility.
Not everybody likes to be challenged, although most everybody can benefit from it. Without great client collaboration, you will likely wind up doing boring work that the client perceives as ‘safe.’ Do yourself a favor and make an effort to establish trust. People who can get a client to listen are a conduit for great creative work. When you become part of the decision making process, you have established real value.
9. Understand the psychology of the “grey area.”
We have all experienced the feeling of a solution that seems painfully close, but still elusive. Getting through that ‘grey area’ requires the ability to step back, survey the landscape, and shift your perspective. Throw out your wackiest ideas. Present polar opposites. Suggest things that flat out don’t make sense. It can be difficult to articulate at times how you want to attack something, but the important thing is keeping the discussion moving.
10. If you aren’t having fun, you are in the wrong field.
That’s pretty basic, isn’t it?
“You can never do anything if you’re not happy. You actually have to be in a kind of euphoric state to create.”
BONUS number 11.
That “one more trick” from earlier? Here it is.
“If you’re sitting around, no matter if you’re a writer or architect or designers, there’s people in your industry that you admire. There’s the wackos and the guys who really inspire an industry, right?”
Paul went on to explain that one of his favorite designers from whom he gets inspiration is Philippe Starck. “This guy does everything from boats to buildings to toothbrushes. You name it, he does it. And he’s just incredibly inventive when it comes to looking at an ordinary thing and making it so staggeringly beautiful and inventive and all of those things you want your design to be.
“So, when we get stuck here [at FRCH] we like to go, ‘Okay, what would Philippe Starck do?’ And everybody gives an answer—they’re all totally different and they immediately go sky high creative because you’re not Philippe Starck, so you don’t care what you say. And you become completely uninhibited and the problem is suddenly solved in three minutes flat. It works every time.”
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