Design Revolutionary: Sam Harrison Redux

You know those people who are not just smart and creative—but also generous with their wisdom and inspiration? That’s Sam Harrison. We’re lucky to have Sam join HOW Design Live in Boston as the keynote speaker for a joint evening session that brings together all four events: the HOW Design Conference, the Creative Freelancer Conference, the Dieline Packaging Design Conference and InHOWse Managers Conference.

On Tuesday, I shared part of my recent interview with Sam, and he talked about being inspired as a kid by his banjo-playing mother, the poetry of Wallace Stevens, and much more. Before we get to part 2 of our conversation, a quick reminder:

You still have one day to save a nice chunk of change off your HOW Design Live registration—our Early Bird registration deadline is midnight Friday, March 30. How nice? That’s $200 off a Big Ticket all-access pass to all four HOW events, so register now!

You’ve delivered great workshops and breakout sessions at HOW events for several years … and now you’re going to kick off the whole shebang in Boston. How’s it feel to be taking the big stage in front of ALL those people? (Trust me: It’s knee-knocking!)

It’s weird—I’m actually providing major keynotes for four large conferences n June, almost back-to-back. The HOW Conference is third on that list but—and don’t dare tell my other clients this [whoops!]—it’s first on my list in terms of my level of excitement. Over the years, I’ve spoken to hundreds of audiences, and it doesn’t get any better than HOW. As you know, Bryn, HOW Live participants are enthusiastic, energetic and passionate. I’m humbled and honored to be opening the Boston conference. We’ll have fun.

Your session is all about making smart choices that lead toward (not away from) greater creativity. Why do you think creative professionals often don’t do the work that’s needed to preserve and rejuvenate their creative energy?

In any profession—sports, medicine, theater, whatever—people often hit an OK Plateau. They first become proficient in their work, then over time they become efficient and eventually sufficient—the stage where they are as good as they need to be to do the tasks at hand.

That’s the OK Plateau, or what psychologists call Galton’s Wall. Top performers in any field break through this wall by continuing to improve their abilities.

This OK Plateau can happen with designers and other creative professionals. You see it all the time. People get stuck in their patterns, stuck in their jobs—using the creativity they had yesterday to get them through today.

But highly creative people don’t let themselves stay on the OK Plateau. They keep making deliberate, conscious choices to break through the wall by continuing to nurture their creative resources—and by making choices that lead to even greater creativity.

What’s the most revolutionary thing you’ve ever done, Sam?

Narrowing it down, I guess it would be inventing the Internet, developing the Hubble Space Telescope and eradicating malaria.

Why are you laughing?

In truth, I’ve worked on creative projects and products, Bryn, but I really wouldn’t call any of those revolutionary in the grand scheme of things. Honestly, I would say the most revolutionary thing took place inside me in my late 20s and early 30s. A series of events happened—the ending of a relationship, death of a parent, difficulty with a job, a few other personal issues—that caused me to step back and reexamine the way I looked at life, at work, at people.

Life has a way of banging the hood of our car every now and then, and if we’re smart, we’ll slow down and pay attention to the road signs.

Up until that point I had been an OK guy, but at my core I had been rather cynical, negative and unfocused. I decided to approach life differently. With the help of a strong mentor, lots of study and a good support network, I turned around my thinking—and consequently most of my actions. For me, that life choice was revolutionary—and for years this 180-degree shift in thinking and attitude has made life so much more creative, interesting and rewarding. It’s really true that we make our choices and then our choices make us.

Now that you’ve had a chance to meet Sam, you simply have to make the choice to see him live, in person, in Boston. Join us for HOW Design Live, won’t you?

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