On creative philosophy: The “Creative Athlete” remains relevant and always in the game.

August 8, 2013

Dennis Rodman AP
Are you a “creative athlete?”

My last post was about “responsible passion” as creative philosophy. I wrote that whatever the philosophy a creative professional has it must strike a balance between passion and responsibility. We are craftsmen as well as salesmen. To do the job right “you gotta to do both.”

Now I’m going to talk about staying creatively fit and remaining relevant, which, in my view, is critical to any creative philosophy.

I believe in what I like to call the “creative athlete.” He or she is creatively fit, physically and mentally. He relentlessly works his craft. She takes classes and workshops. They are students of the game.

They are also switch hitters, in that he or she thinks about their agency from every skill position and can play there if necessary. A good copywriter is a planner. A good art director knows how to interface with clients. All are good salesman, if called upon.

The creative professional may prefer working alone or with a partner but is also a competent and enthusiastic team player. When I was coming up at Leo Burnett, I totally related to the founder’s screed regarding the “lonely man,” this romantic figure who wrote into the wee hours, etc. I had to adapt my game to accommodate the many others who ultimately affect a project.

When creative athletes become creative directors they remain active in their core skill. They get better at the other ones. They remain teachable and open-minded. I firmly believe in the player-coach. If I were to stop writing I would lose the ability to judge writing. I would also begin the not-very-slow fade into irrelevance.

A writer writes…

Remaining relevant is, in itself, a creative philosophy. Honestly, I don’t know how a creative director can do the job well if he or she isn’t banging away on every other brief at the agency. I suppose some do but that’s not how I roll. A writer writes. Right?

Being fit creatively is both mental and physical. I think a good salesperson looks good doing it. They are pumped to be working one of the coolest jobs in the world. I’m not talking about jackets and skirts. Lord knows I don’t adhere to any dress code. Just don’t skulk.

Finally, I believe in the basic tenants of a liberal arts education; in that a good creative professional is knowledgeable about our culture in all its forms. He or she is a consumer of it as well as a creator. That means we must have a working knowledge of TV shows we don’t like and music we don’t listen to. For example, I loathe “The Bachelor” but I’ve seen it. I cannot stand gossip magazines but I read my wife’s copies. And so on. We go to movies. We make Vines. We Tweet. We read. The copywriter who hates pop culture and avoids much of it cannot possibly serve our craft.

Know your crap.

I hope these last two posts have been helpful. While I am hardly the consummate teacher I have done this job for over 20 years. I know a thing or ten, many of them learned the hard way. Whether or not one agrees with me on all matters isn’t critical. Your creative philosophy can and should vary. Just as long as you have one and that you are open to changing it.


9 Responses to “On creative philosophy: The “Creative Athlete” remains relevant and always in the game.”

  1. Scott Murray said

    Steffan, this may well be the best post you’ve written relating to the craft. Your years have certainly made you more pragmatic about the business of advertising but your passion for the craft hasn’t diminished a bit since I first saw you sell a campaign to Motorola during your tenure at LBCo. I wish more in our business felt the way you do. Keep writing!

  2. I’m struck (and heartened) by your mention of believing in the tenants of a liberal arts education. So how do you feel about creative people pursuing advertising as the focus of their higher education? Good, bad, other?

    While I agree that we should all keep educating ourselves, whether through courses or self-learning, I have long discouraged young would-be creatives – at least writers – from studying advertising as their undergrad major and instead encourage a liberal arts approach that will hone in them the ability to think deeply and broadly, convey their thoughts in writing and, perhaps most important of all, have something to write about (it’s easier to ideate… write… create meaningfully about our current culture, crap and all, when we understand its antecedents).

    So, with what basic training should creative athletes prep for a career: advertising-focused or classic liberal arts?

  3. jimbo jones said

    You misspelled “tenets”… Idiot.

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