Crisis Coping for Creative Pros – Part 1 of 3

During this time of uncertainty and distress, many factors are at odds with our coping mechanisms. Everyday stressors are one thing but having additional ones attack us during a health crisis is quite another.

I ran across a timely series of articles by Ellen Kail for Feature Shoot when they were publicized in Communication Arts. My immediate thought was that I really need to share these. So share, we will, with some input from yours truly.

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The experts agree: amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, public anxiety is mounting. The World Health Organization recently released a list of mental health considerations to keep in mind during the outbreak. This is a challenging moment for people around the globe, whether we’re coping with the stress spurred by the latest news headlines or the boredom and uncertainty of self-quarantine.

For photographers, and other creatives as well, the COVID-19 outbreak can also mean canceled exhibitions, fewer clients, and financial uncertainty. If your assignments require traveling and commuting, it means you might face the possibility of radically changing the way you work, at least for the time being.

Those factors don’t help ease the anxiety we’re experiencing right now, but there are ways to cope and navigate through this difficult period. We asked the photographer and professional development coach Danny Ghitis to tell us about some of his best skills for staying balanced and productive during times of uncertainty.

During these uncertain times, what do you think is the biggest challenge facing creatives, and what is your number one piece of advice for photographers who are navigating this challenge?  

“While these circumstances are new, the fundamental feeling of uncertainty is not. Creatives tend to be well-acquainted with that primal fear, given the nature of their work. This particular fear convinces you that there’s doom lurking around the corner and locks you into survival mode.

“Since we’re more exposed than ever to a constant stream of freak-outs, it’s easy to get stuck in this belief. Especially if you’re creative and envision apocalyptic dramas and spend hours ruminating on the world’s end.

“The key is to remember you have a choice about how to respond. That doesn’t mean you can choose/control everything–a lot of stress comes from resisting and trying to control the inevitable. The choice comes from examining your feelings and thoughts and understanding how they impact your behavior.

“Your beliefs create your experience of reality. Try this: recall an instance where you felt uncertain and navigated your circumstances successfully. What thoughts did you have at the time? How did they make you behave, and what results did you get from that behavior?”

What are some short-term coping strategies you’d recommend to photographers? Let’s say you read a terrifying headline or tweet, get overwhelmed, and have trouble coping. How do you not let the news consume your day? 

“The thing about the news is that it’s not there to help you cope or feel good. It’s there to report the news. When people freak out, the news reports it, and then people read the news and freak out more, and so on. Don’t go to the news if you’re looking for relief. It’s like sticking your head in the oven to cool down.

“The challenge is making the effort to remove the temptations all around us. Know that you have a negativity bias and that your brain will jump at any opportunity to ‘protect’ you. Being informed is good, but most of us are well enough informed just by living in society that we don’t need to read new headlines multiple times per day.

“Unless you have a specific and clear reason to be on the news or social media, consider staying away from it, especially now. Spend time outside, call someone on Facetime, reset.”

What advice do you have for photographers who are experiencing a lot of anxiety right now? How do you keep fear and worry at bay?

“First of all, it’s okay. It’s normal. It’s expected. If your income sources have suddenly vanished, you have permission to be upset. Write yourself a permission slip. Don’t pretend that it doesn’t suck if you feel like it does. There’s no such thing as bottling up emotions–they will come out in one way or another, so it’s better to deal with them directly instead of letting them skew your results indirectly.

“Of course, there are the staples: exercise, meditate, eat healthy, sleep well. They sound like cliches, but if you prioritize them, you’ll feel a lot better. If you’re not, then get help from other people.

“And try this: write down all the potential ways this moment could be an opportunity. If you’re feeling guilty because you ‘shouldn’t’ see this as an opportunity, well, let that sh*t go. Consciously helping yourself doesn’t mean exploiting other people. It’s quite the opposite.”

How would you advise photographers and other creatives who suddenly have a lot of free, unstructured time on their hands? 

“The busier you keep yourself, the more you’ll get done. This is a perfect opportunity to level up skills that you normally don’t have time to focus on. Create an exciting challenge for yourself, or do it with a group of people (online) for accountability.

“Immerse yourself in an indoor or nature-oriented project, practice lighting setups; take a marketing course; plan out a series of promo campaigns; challenge yourself to read five business books; research the hell out of your next project.

“When else will you have such an opportunity to deep dive? Take advantage and remove physical and mental distractions that will sap your energy. Focus on people who want to see you succeed, and brainstorm about how to help.”

This interview is part of a three-part series with Ghitis on coping, staying creative, and finding community during this time.

Seth and Secrets (to good ideas)

I’m a follower of Seth’s Blog. You may be, too. If not, you ought to be.

That’s Seth, as in Seth Godin. He’s a very prolific writer and blogger and best-selling author.

Recently, I read a post he submitted about ideas. I’ve posted it below for reference.

Two simple secrets to good ideas

Secret #1 is the biggest one: More bad ideas. The more bad ideas the better. If you work really hard on coming up with bad ideas, sooner or later, some good ideas are going to slip through. This is much easier than the opposite approach.

Secret #2 is more important: Generosity. It’s much easier and more effective to come up with good ideas for someone else. Much easier to bring a posture of insight and care on behalf of someone else. It lets you off the hook, too.

My take.

Relative to Secret #1, seems that most brainstorming sessions tend to shut down people who come up with any idea that someone else finds stupid, offensive or one sounding similar to something presumably already tried. That. Is. Dumb. That’s the worst thing anyone could do: Stifle someone else’s thought and idea.

There is a process for generating ideas, all kinds of ideas. There’s also a process for weeding out the so-called good ones. And these processes are not one and the same.

A bad idea is just a good idea awaiting an appropriate execution. Or is it? Is there an appropriate execution for any “bad” idea? Oh, by the way, what makes the idea “bad” in the first place?

Before you can generate a list of ideas, good or bad, you should first agree on a specific question to be answered or addressed. Once that’s done, it’s much easier to devise a list of ideas generated in a short period of time, say five minutes, and then “edit” them later.

I’d suggest giving everyone in the session a stack of sticky notes and instruct the folks to write down a word or two on each sticky that attempts to answer the question. People are being forced to think quickly and not compose sentences, just thoughts. The sticky notes can later be easily organized to further benefit the brainstorm.

Oh, and don’t forget the trash can! You have to collect all the so-called “bad” ideas for disposal later. (Hint: Don’t actually dispose of them right away, but for this one exercise, they no longer exist, which will freak out some people.)

It’s interesting to do this same exercise but go back to review and edit the ideas that were discarded in the first exercise. You’re now attacking the same question with answers or ideas that are derived from an opposite perspective.

One could call this generosity that Seth refers to in Secret #2. Rather than assuming that all ideas previously discarded are no good, a generous mindset is to review them, discuss and edit down to only one that could be plausible.

Who’s to say which idea is good or bad. They’re different. True, one may be more applicable than the other but you won’t know that until further due diligence is done.

Kick Starting Creativity in the Rio Grande

I recently had the honor and pleasure to present “Kick Starting Creativity Without Screwing Up the Idea” to the American Advertising Federation Rio Grande Valley. As with my other presentations in this series, I did some fine-tuning with this version.

I was last in the Valley before this same group back in 2008. The landscape and development may have changed (more of it) but the people have not – still friendly, wonderful, courteous . . . and, of course, creative!

Those of you who were in the audience can, hopefully, enjoy it again and get some useful tips. Those of you who did not experience it that day, may learn a few things. Naturally, what follows is just the visual and not, unfortunately, the experience itself.

Kick-Starting Creativity Without Screwing Up the Idea

Keynote version (no audio)

PDF version (no audio)

 

Kick Starting Creativity: A Presentation to AAF – Central Texas

Last Friday, August 7, 2015, I had the pleasure of speaking at the professional development luncheon of the American Advertising Federation of Central Texas in Temple, Texas. My topic was a fun one to present, “Kick Starting Creativity: Ye Olde Creativity Survival Kit.”

Joe Fournet stresses a point in his Kick Starting Creativity presentation at American Advertising Federation of Central Texas.

I had presented a similar talk several years ago for both a chapter luncheon and a Creative Summit hosted by AAF Central Texas. Friday’s presentation was updated and included new items.

Although the audience was primarily made up of advertising and marketing professionals, “Kick Starting Creativity” centered on the way one thinks and applies one’s imagination. Thus, anyone can put these tips and techniques into practice. I like to say that we’re all creative; we just have different perspectives in how we apply our creativity.

“Kick Starting” was done in Keynote but the size of the file prevents me from uploading it here. I’ve included a PowerPoint version on SlideShare as another option. Here are three handouts referenced in the presentation along with the presentation itself, all in PDF:

Top Tips- Rev

HelpfulStuff – Rev

39 Ways to Kick-Start Creativity copy

Kick Starting Creativity – AAF Central Texas

Kick Starting Creativity – AAF Central Texas (PPT)

Adobe’s Creative Cloud Conference Good for Creative Community and OiH

If you live and work within driving distance of Houston, you owe it to yourself to come spend a day or two listening to and learning from Adobe’s experts as they teach all you need to know about the various applications within the Creative Cloud.

As the one stop source for finding creative talent in the Houston area, Only in Houston (OiH) is proud to be take part in presenting this Creative Cloud Masters Conference. Thanks to a partnership with Future Media Concepts, OiH members can now save 25% on their registration. Use promo code OiH15 to redeem your discount.

OiH Logo

WHY ATTEND?
Advance your skills with cutting-edge sessions
Discover time-saving techniques
Learn from top instructors in the field
Network with peers and expand your professional network

A must-attend event created for graphic designers and other creatives to perfect and diversify their skills. Join top industry speakers to learn the latest Adobe print and web design tools, plus get started in video production. The conference agenda features 3 days of training on graphic design, print, web design and motion graphics. Organized in Houston on March 11-13. Use discount code OiH15 to save 25% on your registration. 

Creative Cloud Conference Logo

 

 

New Yorker Cartoonist Offers Views on Creative Process

Matthew Diffee, whose cartoons you may have seen in The New Yorker and Texas Monthly, recently offered his views on idea generation and the creative process. He was in Houston presenting to the American Advertising Federation.

Matthew Diffee promo ad

Matthew, not unlike a lot of us in a creative industry, has a quirky sense of humor and sees things (or at least thinks about them) from a different perspective. This helps in generating ideas.

One of the first things he believes in is to make it easy to “do ideas.” If you’re a coffee drinker, make sure you’ve got a fresh pot to start things off.

Second, or at least this is what I jotted down as second, is a list of five verbs that he uses when he reviews his ideas: Add, Subtract, Switch, Invert, Mash up. These may lead to some sort of visual and/or a caption for the visual. The interplay between words and pictures can be fun!

An example he gave of taking a traditional question oft times used in job interviews, “Where do you see yourself in five years?,” and, instead, coming up with “Where do you see yourself in ten minutes?”. Try that in your next interview.

The best thing one can do is to maintain momentum – keep going in your process. I’ve learned from experience that stopping and starting does no good. You really have to get into some sort of flow.

Another one of his takes on a traditional phrase goes like this: “A penny saved is a penny who has accepted Jesus Christ as its Lord and Savior.” I know, I know, not everyone will find this humorous. I guess it depends on one’s sense of humor. 😉

Other elements and observations from of his creative process:

The Zone – easy to start, hard to stop. We’ve all found our “zone” before. Once you’re in it, don’t let up until you’ve got what you set out to get.

Flip Funnel – large end to finely tuned. Seeing an idea in a broad sense and developing it to a specific angle or perspective. Going from concept to a single cartoon cell in Matthew’s case.

Generating Ideas – quantity over quality. You can sort through these later. You need ideas and lots of them. Never critique when generating ideas.

Can’t make a great idea just by working harder – inspiration hits like a turd. Though somewhat crudely put, his thought is true. We can’t plan to have a great idea by a certain time. It’s not like we have an On/Off switch. We may take five minutes or two days.

Dull Bulbs – assume your work could be better. Don’t let your ego get in the way. No matter how wonderful we may think our idea is, there’s something about it that can be improved.

So whether you’re a budding cartoonist, experienced writer or designer or someone who needs to come up with a bunch of ideas for the next mode of transport to Mars and beyond, some of these techniques may help.

And when you review what’s been discarded at week’s end, don’t throw them away. Who knows what other uses may be made of them.

What has Matthew done with all his ideas which have been rejected? He’s made them into a book, an archive of sorts, entitled “The Cream of the Crap.”

 

13 Ways to Handle Fear When It Attacks Creativity

We’ve all been there. We’re never quite sure what do to but we feel like we’ve gotta do something. NOW.

But we can’t. We can’t think other than in scattered ways. Incomplete. Disjointed. Frustration sets in. We feel stymied because our creativity has stopped flowing for whatever the reason.

Uh-oh, what’s that. A strange sound. It’s him! Fear comes a’knockin.

Thanks to iStockPhoto

Thanks to iStockPhoto

Fear, as in being afraid (what if the client hates my ideas), being scared (what if I can’t come up with any ideas), feeling intimidated (there’s always someone lurking in the shadows with better ideas).

Fear is also what you get when you sense F.E.A.R. – Failure to Execute Achievable Results – with the key word here being  “achievable.” The results need to be just that and not unattainable.

 

The three F” words: Fear, Failure, Fun

Up to now, we’ve referenced two of the three “F” words, fear and failure. The third one we don’t experience nearly enough. That would be fun.

As long as you have fear of failure, you’ll never have any fun!

Dealing with failure is easier than dealing with fear; not that dealing with failure is ever easy. It’s not. It’s embarrassing, even humiliating at times. But failure tends to be short­ lived, relatively speaking.

Society and corporate culture-wise, we talk much more about weaving failure into our systems, our processes. Sometimes it’s all talk and not nearly enough practice. Many successful and innovative companies build and accept failure as a natural way of doing business. More companies should but probably will not. They don’t seem to understand that in order to achieve success, failure is part of the journey.

Fear, on the other hand, can torment, destroy, self-inflict. It can absolutely kill creativity.

You’re angry (about a shortened, possibly unrealistic new deadline), depressed, distraught (you do not want to fail to execute anything). You may even be mystified as to why this happened to you.

Ever receive a phone call late on a Friday from an upset client telling you that new and much better creative needs to be on his desk by first thing Monday morning . . . or else (he doesn’t have to say “or else;” the intimidation suffices)? And nothing you can say will alter how he’s feeling at that point in time.

Hell’s bells, you didn’t have plans for the weekend anyway, didja?!

How do you deal with fear when it attacks creativity, especially when on a deadline (realistic or not)?

13 ways, in no special order, to handle fear when it comes a’callin:

–Walk away – change your surroundings, get into another room or leave for a bit

–Talk it out – if possible, share what’s going on with a colleague, friend or spouse

–Write it down – capture what you now know or understand needs to be done within the new timeline

–Pray – this may be first on some lists and as you’ll see, it’s on mine more than once

–Focus – look at your project from another perspective and focus on different portions of it, thus making it more manageable and doable

–Pray some more – you can never do this one too many times (but you still have to do the work)

–Get more focused – set  realistic parameters that allow you to work on specific aspects of the project without getting overwhelmed

–Think positively Amen! Repeat this step as often as needed

–Remember past good results – remind yourself that you’ve done this before; that’s why they hired you in the first place

–Acknowledge worry and anxiety – this one is tricky because you need to face what’s happening to you, acknowledge it, then move on

–Get to work – actually doing the work can be therapy in itself and when the thoughts start flowing, creativity will thrive

–Don’t give in to what-ifs – try to avoid thinking too much about that over which you have no control or you simply don’t yet know; this is wasted energy

–Pray for the others – I actually mean the clients (or whoever is giving you grief) who are putting you through this; remember, they may not know (or care) what they do

Fear is hardly ever dealt with, but is dished out way too easily and usually without a care. That’s unfortunate since fear is a dangerous and deadly poison to the creative mind and process.

Now, you may have your own way of dealing with fear. Whatever works! We can’t stop it from happening but we need to try our damndest from letting it totally shut us down.

I have fun when I’m head over heels in the creative process, and I try and remember that when fear comes a’knockin.

Come to think of it, I guess I could also change the locks!