What 3 Creative Masters Can Teach You About Success

UPDATED: May 20, 2024
PUBLISHED: August 24, 2021
What 3 Creative Masters Can Teach You About Success

Do you allow yourself the “think space” you need at work? Although CEOs believe creativity is the most important skill for leaders, research shows that 80 percent of U.S. and U.K. workers feel more pressure to be productive than creative. Maybe this is why today’s professionals are often too busy to dwell for long in the zone where creativity flourishes.

Having built a successful career by bridging the gap between Silicon Valley and Hollywood, I’ve worked closely with high-level creatives and innovators across industries for decades, including as part of the team that launched Apple’s music and entertainment vertical. Whether they’re writing a song, producing a hit record, directing a film or music video, writing a best-seller, or designing a game-changing product, I’m always fascinated by, and inspired to observe how, they approach the creative process.

At the Portland Creative Conference in Oregon—a unique exploration and celebration of the creative process across a diverse range of creative industries, including film, music, TV, animation, advertising, industrial design, architecture, fashion and more—the following three speakers (among others) shared insights that can help you be more creative at work, no matter your industry.

Make imagination.

Brian Michael Bendis, award-winning writer and artist and the driving force behind Marvel’s iconic Ultimate Comics series, lives by this guiding question: “How do you make imagination?”

To make imagination, you first need to think in abstract metaphors. To the literal mind, the world is Earth. To an abstract one, “all the world’s a stage.” (Also, feel free to borrow from other realms as I just did with Shakespeare.)

I’ve achieved my biggest successes by arranging blind dates, so to speak—both by connecting people and by connecting ideas (aka making imagination). During my tenure at Apple (as its original head of music and entertainment), the Mac’s initial success had plateaued. From my perspective, I knew we had to connect the hearts and minds of notable musicians and filmmakers to the Mac’s advanced capabilities to recapture the market.

To make imagination, you first need to think in abstract metaphors.

For our “Apple Masters” campaign, we handpicked the coolest luminaries in the arts and showcased the work they were doing on Mac computers. Making imagination in this way worked: After consumers saw these aspirational case studies and the “Think Different” ad campaign, the Mac became an indispensable tool that creatives still use to bring their visions to life, prompting management to fully embrace Apple’s music and entertainment vertical.

Own the risks.

Robert Brunner, former director of industrial design for Apple, is as famous for having designed seminal products like the Apple PowerBook and Beats headphones as he is for hiring his successor, the now legendary Jony Ive.

In Brunner’s creative process, he first establishes what’s worth designing, aiming for greatness and owning the design process from cradle to grave (including the packaging). Moreover, he’s willing to own both the risks and the rewards.

As incredible as your concept might be, you can’t control everything. What do you consider acceptable risk? How much can you afford to lose? Risk resulting from poor execution is never OK, but you should take risks that could help you achieve your overarching objective.

The gap between imagination and implementation is not about outside forces, such as a lack of talent or limited resources. Accept that there’s a level of uncertainty associated with any creative risk.

Don’t adjust to find your motivator.

Kevin Wilmott wrote and directed the critically acclaimed feature film C.S.A: The Confederate States of America—a reimagining of America, had the South won the Civil War. After its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, IFC Films bought the film for distribution.

Wilmott feels the best creatives (himself included) are “creatively maladjusted,” borrowing a phrase from a 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King speech that impacted him greatly. What it means is that you should chase the problem, solution or cause that motivates you, not the one that’s sexy or cool this year.

Ask yourself, What do I care about more or believe differently than almost everyone around me? What did I love at age 10, and what do I want to have accomplished at 90?

You will work more creatively and see faster results when the motivation is your own.

To illustrate: When I participated in the launch of the music service of Bono’s (RED) initiative with curator lead Don MacKinnon—the visionary behind Hear Music and Starbucks’ earliest music efforts—we were fueled by (RED)’s vision of paving the way to an AIDS-free generation. People are passionate about music, so the opportunity to be a spoke on the (RED) wheel—dedicated to a curated music service as another means of raising awareness and funds for this cause—presented a solid business case based on passion and creativity for me.

Ask yourself, What do I care about more or believe differently than almost everyone around me? What did I love at age 10, and what do I want to have accomplished at 90? Those answers will clarify your true motivator and be a guiding compass for you.

We’re all meant to be great creatives, shaping the world we live in. It doesn’t matter what realm you operate in; boosting your creativity by learning from masters like these will improve your business, make you happier and create a better place for everyone to live.

This article was published in October 2017 and has been updated. Photo by wavebreakmedia

Kelli Richards

A highly sought-after consultant, super connector, trusted adviser, celebrity wrangler and thought leader, Kelli Richards is the CEO of The All Access Group. She facilitates strategic business opportunities in digital distribution among innovative technology companies, talent and media companies, and brands to foster new revenue streams and deliver compelling consumer experiences. As a trusted adviser, she transforms the quality of people’s lives. Kelli is also the author of a best-selling e-book, The Magic and Moxie of Apple: An Insider’s View