In our working culture, creative people are perceived to be ‘born.’ They’re creative just because they are! Unless we’re studying art history… seldom do we hear about how someone’s creative abilities changed over time. At Drawing Down the Vision, we believe that everyone has tremendous innate creative capacity, and would like share stories of how others have strengthened, and continue to strengthen their creative thinking. To begin, Denver Faulk and I had some fun talking with Dan Wallace of Ideafood. Here’s what we learned…
Dan is a creative journaler. He’s been successfully self-employed in the marketing industry for the last 23 years; using his unique perspective, skills and network to deliver the results his clients needed. Those experiences, and a desire to succeed, have put his creativity on trajectory starting as a legal pad note-taker, and growing into the creative journaler he is today.
Dan originally used journaling as a bucket for his thoughts when he started his career at Fallon in 1984 (then Advertising Age’s Ad Agency of the Year). He had been burdened by the note-taker sickness of too many pieces of paper, always in a jumbled mess which would one day ‘just fall away.’ He shifted to one central place to collect those notes, his journal. This way, Dan could continue capturing his thoughts, but also have a record to return and explore his growth. He could make connections between the different states of mind he had working with different people in different environments.
The journal was a form of knowledge gathering. It helped him to practice active learning, applying his thoughts immediately in creative ways… always trying to come up with a concise visual way to document his thoughts. This process supported him as he moved on to build his digital marketing business in the late 90s and early 00s. The journal enabled Dan to seize more understanding of the world around him… to be able to critically analyze it, with open eyes, and to share his thoughts on client projects and the digital marketing industry.
Then, the dot-com-bomb blasted. Dan’s digital marketing suffered a significant decline in 2000, and he was put in a position where he had to reinvent himself and his business. With newfound time on his hands, and a passion to come up with new fresh ideas, he dove deeper into his journal, trying to build his creativity. What had once been his tool for active learning, on the side from his day-to-day business, but a core component of success… now became his full-time job! Discovering the next venture would consume Dan, and his search for ways to serve his customers drove a shift to journaling new product concepts, rather than just marketing ideas.
With a large collection of developed ideas and hand-rendered prototypes, Dan needed to find a way to make them real. He connected with Robyn Waters, who was VP of Trend at Target. Being astounded by the content of the journal, and his creative methodology, she offered to co-present his original idea, artwork for offices, at the national Innovation Convergence. Today, this initial concept of artwork for offices has morphed into a product that helps companies hire, educate, and motivate employees.
The focus on product development versus active learning in Dan’s journal was inversely related to the amount of time he devoted to his work. When his business was booming, he learned in the journal… when his business was struggling, his journal was booming… helping him to find his way. Today, Dan is actively developing the product line that sprung from his exploratory product development journals, with five sales to Fortune 500 companies under his belt.
Now that product development is occupying much of his time, he uses his journal to flex his creative muscles, keeping them active for the next time he needs them. Being in a more entreprenurial mode… he’s looking to continue that creative momentum. The journal, one of 30 over his career, serves to keep him fresh.
To close, we asked Dan a question… what would you say to those who have never journaled before? His response:
‘Do anything… ugly or poorly written, set the bar low. Get started. You can only go up from there.’
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