Like the rest of the world, people in creative professions are experiencing stress right now. We are needing to figure out new ways of doing many things, but it can often feel like we have to do this all alone. While we cannot control the world around us, we can control how we respond.
This was the impetus for Conversations with Quarantined Creatives – a series of eight interviews with creative leaders around the country completed over the span of four weeks, from mid-April through early May. I wanted to learn how designers, photographers, and writers were adapting creatively to an entirely new set of constraints.
Then, as states slowly started loosening stay-at-home orders, the country experienced additional trauma with widespread protests, rioting, and anguished cries for systemic change in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by four Minneapolis police officers.
Looking back on these conversations, it almost seems like they happened a lifetime ago. Such has been the incredible pace of change and disruption this year. But there were several recurring themes throughout the series that I think resonate in good times or bad.
Launch the product
I awoke at 2:30 a.m. one morning in early April, a good three hours before my alarm, with the nearly fully formed concept for the series playing in my head. The fact that I had never recorded a conversation over Zoom mattered little. One week later I conducted my first interview. Given the fluid nature of life in quarantine, I felt an urgency to do this immediately. Other takeaways:
- As Seth Johnson said in the very first episode: “If you want to learn something, you’ve got to make something.” If you think of your work as an endless series of prototypes, not a polished or finished product, your knowledge will continue to grow.
- Constraints encourage creativity. Whether it was bouncing the light of a desk lamp off the wall for better video quality, rigging up a “green screen” with poster board and duct tape, or editing raw video for a tighter conversation, figuring out how best to play the cards you’re dealt is a valuable skill.
- Don’t wait. Or as the author C.S. Lewis put it, “The only people who achieve much are those who want something so badly that they seek it while conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions may never come.”
The need for community
There are very few meaningful ventures that can be considered solo expeditions. The interdisciplinary nature of design, and the way it is being integrated into companies of all sizes, highlights the fact that creative work doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
- We can’t do this on our own. Community support flattens the learning curve, whether that’s building a personal network or playing well with others on a multi-faceted team. Humility, curiosity, and the willingness to ask questions are key skills.
- There is one collective story. The resilience of marginalized communities, while admirable, shouldn’t be the goal. For a community to work well, and truly be equitable, we need to hear from and include everyone.
- Increased connection. Counter-intuitively, for some people, stay-at-home orders actually eliminated or reduced barriers to participation and collaboration – whether for virtual events, group discussions, or video podcasts.
Being forced – or choosing – to slow down provides opportunity to reflect, recharge, and examine whether the way we spend our time honors what we value most.
- Everything takes longer. Whether going to the grocery store, writing a paragraph, or planning a photo shoot, distractions and workarounds turn mastered tasks into adventures.
- The need for self care. The pandemic has strained our physical and mental health with an onslaught of information, uncertainty, and precautions. It’s exhausting! Be kind to yourself and others.
- Stress can illuminate your purpose. As Terry Marks noted, hard times tend to help prioritize the things, people, and work that matter most to you.
The value of creative adaptation
Creative professionals – by the nature of the work we do – are more accustomed than many to defining and adapting to problems while generating new solutions. Fortunately, most creative people have been able to continue working safely from home – at least in some capacity.
But the pandemic has exposed how many systems in this country are broken, or at least not working as well as they could or should – systems that should be redesigned. As life becomes more unpredictable, those who adopt a culture of learning will fare better than those who rely on existing knowledge to survive.
Creativity – and conversations – are needed now more than ever.