Curiosity Shouldn’t Kill the Cat

curious roy

I’ll admit it. I’m not the most focused person in the world. Sure, I can stick with a task if I set my mind to it, especially if there’s a deadline attached. But more often than not, if left to my own devices I’ll happily meander in and out the simplest of projects all day long.

My problem is that I’m intensely curious.  About everything.

As a kid it could seriously take me half an hour or more to look up a word in the dictionary.  I’m a terrific speller, so finding the word wasn’t the problem.  On the way to the word I was looking for I would stumble on another one that looked pretty interesting so I’d stop to check it out. Which would remind me of another word I had been meaning to look up. Which made me think of… wait, where was I? Oh yes, looking up that word.

Of course now that I do everything on my computer this is no longer a problem for me. I google the word and — bam! — the definition of one word and one word only appears.  No getting distracted by other fun terms along the way.  But while I’m on the internet, let me just check my email really quick. Cool, that new book I ordered has shipped. Which reminds me, I wanted to check out the author’s website. Maybe I should add him to my RSS feeds…

Okay, so the internet didn’t solve my wandering problem; I just traded up from analog to digital.

Actually I don’t consider my wandering off for a while a real problem at all. (Although I’m sure I could find a few people who would disagree with me there.)  It’s in those meanderings that I find some really nifty usable stuff, and that’s also where some of my best creative ideas start to form.  I’m very much a non-linear thinker – I work a little on this, then think a little on that, and research a little on something else. All the little bits and pieces start to ferment in my brain, and I follow the ideas as they bubble to the top. Makes perfect sense to me, although I’ve noticed this process of mine makes some people terribly uncomfortable. Especially when a deadline is looming near. (By the way, I’ve never missed a deadline yet.  I’ve learned to relax and trust in the muse.  She’ll give me the idea or solution when I need it, and her watch keeps pretty good time. )

I get to the end result sooner or later, and in my experience later often yields a better result. My curiosity is what keeps me informed, and what keeps me creative. So I’ll go ahead and keep indulging it when the urge strikes me.

Curiosity doesn’t kill the cat. It makes her a better mouser.

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Creative Challenge: what can you do with an old phone book?

Now and then I come up with crazy little creative challenges for myself. (Yes, I’m bored and easily entertained.)  Today while rifling through the hall closet for something completely unrelated, I found three — yes, three! — old phone books.  I don’t know about you, but I haven’t used a phone book for its REAL purpose in probably a decade. If I need something I either ask around for recommendations or look it up online. Apparently the only purpose they serve for me is taking up space in my already teeny-tiny closet.

So, being the (bored and easily entertained) creative that I am, I thought “hey, what else could I do with these?”  Here’s what I came up with:

The Phone Book in its Entirety

  • Booster Seat – a tried and true solution. People have been propping their kids up at the dinner table with phone books for generations.
  • Bug Squisher – Drop one from on high and the little critter will never know what hit it. As a bonus, you can tear out a page to clean up the resulting splat.
  • Door Stop – Provided it’s not a really heavy door, this should do the trick. Be careful not to trip on it, though.
  • Umbrella Hat – Stuck in the rain? No problem. Just flop it open and stick it on your head. Voila!  Well, okay – it’s highly unlikely that you will get stuck in a downpour while carrying a phone book, but if in the event it happens you’re covered.

Phone Book Pages

  • Gift Wrap – Tear out a page for that impromptu gift. If you work it right, you can highlight the person’s very own name right there on the paper.  Downside is it only works for relatively small gifts. And it’s kinda see-through.
  • Bird Cage Liner – Sounds like a good idea, but I can’t actually test this one out to verify. I don’t own a bird.
  • Cat Toy – ball a page up and throw it on the floor for hours of crinkly feline fun.
  • Coaster – Fold up and place under drink. I’m testing this one out now, and it seems to be working okay so far. Although I predict that on a very humid day a soggy pile of mush would ensue.
  • Origami – meh, not so much. I’m not exactly an origami expert, but I think the paper is a bit too flimsy to really do it well. Also it’s not perfectly square, so there’s cutting involved before you can start folding.
  • Hat for the Cat – I did warn you that I was bored, didn’t I? As you can see, Jake was not amused.

Okay, so this creative challenge was largely a bust. I didn’t find any nifty new and useful things to do with a phone book, other than toss it into the recycling bin. But that’s the nature of creativity, isn’t it? It’s not about always coming up with “perfect” ideas. It’s about exploring and re-imagining things in the pursuit of a new idea. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

In the words of Thomas Edison, ” I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

What creative challenges do you set for yourself? (And what do you do with your old phone books?)

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And the winner is….

A couple weeks ago I submitted a cover design to CrowdSpring for Guy Kawasaki‘s new book.

I was hopeful there early on (even got a positive comment from Guy himself!), but alas the $1,000 prize was not to be mine. Bummer.   Even so, it was still a valuable experience for me in a couple of ways.  I got the opportunity to make the digital acquaintance of a couple of people, including Ross Kimbarovsky (one of the founders of CrowdSpring) and a buyer on another project who happened by and really liked my work. I also got a chance to chit-chat with a couple of other designers on the project whose work I really liked.  I always enjoy an excuse to meet new people.

As an in-house designer, quite often the only creative solution I see on a project is my own. It was really interesting to watch so many solid ideas develop in so many different directions, when all of us were given the same basic project specs. I spent a good amount of time deconstructing some of the others’ designs, figuring out their thought process and why they made some of the design choices they did, or figuring out what I would have done differently. Excellent opportunity to stretch the creative brain.

If you haven’t stopped by yet, go take a peek at some of the great work there.  If you’re a designer, CrowdSpring can be a quick dose of “real world” inspiration so go check out what directions your fellow creatives are heading in these days.  If you are in the market for a designer for an upcoming project, it might also be a good way to do some window shopping.

All in all,  a very good experience. The thousand bucks certainly would have been nice, but you can’t win them all.  I’ll get ’em next time. 😉

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As others see us

“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value of his own opinions of himself than on the opinions of others.”    Marcus Aurelius

Most of my life I’ve worried about what other people thought about me. Parents, teachers, friends, bosses, boyfriends – I’ve spent countless hours and an incredible amount of energy trying to be who other people wanted me to be. It never worked. It seemed that no matter how hard I tried, I was always letting someone down.

I was told that I’m too smart, but also too naïve; too brash and outspoken, but also too shy. I’ve been characterized as someone who takes too many risks, as well as someone who is afraid to let go a little and enjoy life. I’ve been told I’m way too accommodating, yet also impossible to live with. Very accomplished, yet a complete failure.

Are you confused? So was I, for a while. And then I realized something very important.

They were all right.       And they were all wrong.

Each of these very well-meaning people in my life were trying to help me become a better person in their own way, but they were seeing me through the filter of their own personal values, preferences and experiences – not mine. They judged me based on the small slices they saw, not me in my totality. Their frame of reference included only the “me” they saw in relation to (and sometimes in reaction to) themselves.

Other people’s opinions can be valuable tools; they can give us insight on our own behaviors and actions by showing us how we appear from the “outside.” (Sometimes good, sometimes bad.) But the trick is to remember that these are just very brief reactions from very different perspectives, and not some ultimate and unchanging truth.

We all need to find a place in life where we feel comfortable with ourselves, our decisions, our chosen paths. Whether we’re talking about a career, a relationship, or a lifestyle, at the end of the day we’re the only ones who can judge what is best for us, and we are the ones who have to live with those choices. If we’re lucky, we choose wisely and end up happier for it.

Accept other people’s assessments of you with a grain of salt, and remember what really counts is what you think of yourself. Go ahead – trust your gut, go with your instincts, and follow your ideals even if everyone else tells you you’re crazy. After all, no one knows you better than you.


photo by Nina Matthews

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crowdSPRING: making a case for the demon of design

So tonight I made my first submission to crowdSPRING.  Yeah, I know, I know — they’re the bane of the design community, they’re cheapening the industry, yada yada yada…  As a professional designer I should hate them, right?

Nope. I like them just fine.

And here’s why.  There are many talented people out there that don’t have “professional” design backgrounds, or young’uns that just haven’t gotten their big break.  I believe they deserve a chance. So what if it means an increase of competition in the industry?  Competition is good — it keeps us on our toes.

There are many UNtalented people out there who think they are designers. (Some of these get a paycheck in the industry, by the way.) If their submission stinks, they’ve only wasted their own time, and a little of the buyer who has to sift through the crappy entries.  Has no effect on the rest of us.

It’s an easy way for those of us with talent to make a little pin money on our own terms.  No beating the bushes for freelance clients, and no being saddled with clients or jobs you don’t want.  You pick the gigs you’re interested in, and when you have the time. Sounds like a sweet deal to me.

It’s a great outlet for all that pent-up artistry that doesn’t get to see the light of day at your regular job. It gives you a chance to flex your creative muscle on a variety of projects that you normally wouldn’t get a chance to do. And you don’t have to stand idly by while your hard work suffers through design by committee – YOU get to call all the shots for once and let the work stand on its own merits.

It’s an excuse to create good stuff for your portfolio. We all know we’re “supposed to,” but when is the last time you sat down and created a “pretend” design to maybe show to a prospective employer one day?  Um, never?  Thought so.

And last but not least, it’s a good way to make professional connections and do higher-profile work that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Let’s say that Guy Kawasaki (who submitted a creative brief for the cover of his new book) falls head-over-heels in love with my design.  Where else in the world would I get the opportunity to do work for him? He’s certainly not going to find me in Podunk, NJ, even if he tried.

All boats rise and fall with the tide.

The tide is changing, and my boat is ready. Is yours?

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