Our Q&A with Stefan Mumaw

I had a BLAST interviewing HOW Conference speaker Stefan Mumaw on Twitter today. Stefan and Wendy Lee Oldfield are hosting a Sunday morning workshop that, if past experience is any guide, is sure to be wildly fun and inspiring. Check out their workshop here. Stefan and Wendy are also co-authors of the HOW Books Caffeine for the Creative Mind and Caffeine for the Creative Team—both are packed with fun exercises designed to break through blocks and keep your creative muscles in tip-top shape everyday. (Remember, you can save $100 on your HOW Conference registration if you sign up today.)

First, tell us a bit about you: where you work, what you do, your favorite junk food.
I’m the CD & Purveyor of All That Rocks at Reign, a small ad agency in KC. I’m a designer through & through but it seems I’ve been writing alot more lately, it’s turned into my creative variance.

You have a seemingly bottomless well of creativity and you’ve written a lot about the topic. Do you ever get stuck?
Oh, geez, all the time. If there’s ever a designer or creative that says they don’t, they’re selling you a crock of crap. Being stuck forces you to leave your routine, recreate it or at least reevaluate it. It forces action, the key to unsticking.

What gets you creatively stuck? Internal critic? Deadlines?
Any barrier that’s forced on us or that we manifest ourselves can get you stuck. “Stuck” is a reaction, not a process

Why is it important for creative pros to take active, deliberate steps to maintaining their creative energy?
Because ideas are what we’re really selling, it’s the only thing that differentiates us from one another. The quality of our ideas is our equity. Many people can execute a great idea. Software is easy, ideation is hard. We frequently & willingly train ourselves to execute ideas more efficiently but what action do we take to grow creatively.

In your Caffeine books, you offer creative exercises to help designers get out of a rut. Do you have a favorite method?
I’m a big believer in “drive-by-creativity.” Do the exercises quickly & frequently, don’t linger on the results. By doing them quickly, we train ourselves 2 develop ideas quickly, reminding us that we have an unending well of ideas. One of the recurring mindsets I see in creatives who are in prolonged ruts is the idea that they have “run out” of ideas. There’s no truth to it, it’s a manufactured barrier. Providing purpose & removing consequence helps to overcome this. Engaging in creative thought everyday trains us to look at barriers as guidance, not obstacles. Steve Gordon calls that the difference between “inspiration” & “motivation” We control that, outside forces don’t.

We love that the books include CRAZY fictional projects, like sketching what a Medieval cell phone would look like. How does that apply to ‘real’ work?
The only thing that separates the creativity desired for real projects from that of fictional projects is consequence. It’s about training habit. If we learn to develop ideas that solve problems, we create the habit we use for real work. The bigger we train ourselves to think, the bigger we’ll think.

Interesting notion about ‘training’ creativity. Most people think it’s alchemy; you’re saying it takes practice?
Creativity is a habit, not a moment. As such, we can develop it. It’s a trainable, growable muscle. We can get better. The “Aha Moment” is the result of creativity, not creativity itself.

So, you’re starting a new design/ad project. What’s the very first thing you do to get going?
I get a check from the client, cash it immediately and drive to Chipotle. (Oh, you meant creatively, didn’t you?) My process starts w/ a social assembly of brains to informally introduce new purpose to a group & get snap thoughts. Which almost always evolves into a creative exercise of sorts because they don’t have the confines of consequence yet. Most of the time, creativity simply needs someplace to start and fester. This almost always provides the “dot on the page” we often need to start drawing our lines. I know it does for me.

So when do constraints come into the picture? Like budget, time, client hates purple?
I always know the constraints, but I like to get the perspective of those who don’t know them yet first. We always complain about the constraints when we should be coveting them. They provide purpose and make ideation real. Without constraints, we are beautifiers, not designers. We use design to solve problems. No constraints, no problem, no design.

Case in point: ourselves. How much harder is it to design for us than a client? ‘Cuz we don’t put any restrictions on us.

What’s harder: being creative when you’re working solo, or as part of a group?
Solo, no doubt. In a group, you can play off others, lean on others or flat out hide. What makes ideation in groups difficult is learning how to weave creative processes to become a single creative unit. Sam Harrison likens it to a jazz band, learning to groove & jam off one another to become greater than we are alone. Solo, though, it’s all you baby! It’s harder, but also more rewarding when you develop monster ideas you know are monster.

Your workshop with Wendy Oldfield in Denver is filling up fast. Last year’s in Austin was, shall we say, memorable. What can HOW Conference attendees expect this year?
We’re kicking off the HDC old-school Sunday morning at 9am. Think of us as the church of creativity & the altar is open. This year we’re pushing for less property damage & more “Oh no they didn’t!”, although last year was stupid good. So if you got the creative chops, BRING IT, MEAT!

Join Stefan and the HOW gang in Denver!