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The Side Dish

Words to Live by for Creatives

Shanley Jue, Creative Director / 7.31.2018

In these days of Instagram and Pinterest, there is no shortage of inspirational quotes to keep you motivated. Before these platforms existed (yes, I’m that old), I collected a few, treasured words to live by that I found transformative and made me who I am today.

Words to live by.

“Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.” – Pablo Picasso

When I was in art school, I struggled tremendously with projects that didn’t seem to get anywhere. Frequently, the struggle came from preconceived notions, and endless battles to fit a square peg in a round hole. A pattern emerged where I would reach my wit’s end, and I would tear up the drawing, smash the painting or crush the object that I was working on from pure frustration. That act alone always freed me from everything that had been established. The weight of my failures was suddenly replaced by the lightness of starting anew.

I take this lesson with me every day. The only difference now is that I look to smash those pre-conceived notions right at the beginning. All the dogma, stigma, doctrine or baggage associated with any given project is examined thoroughly for its merit in solving the problem, and I stand ready to trash them the second they feel more like weight than wings.

“Genius is 99% perspiration. 1% Inspiration.” – Thomas Edison

Two underrated qualities of creating fresh ideas are the discipline of hard work and a healthy dose of obsession. The hard work is in defining the problem, studying it, looking at it from many viewpoints, researching, trying (and failing) over and over again. I view this as foundational work. It preps your mind and heart to be in-tune with the problem.

The secret sauce for me is being a little obsessed with the project. Obsession comes naturally for me because I love what I do. Because of this, the problem stays with me long before and after I am at the office. The foundation from the hard work becomes a kind-of incubator, germinating the seeds of thought; and obsession is the creation that usually blossoms when I am actively doing something else.

“It’s not the daily increase, but the daily decrease. Hack away the unessential.” – Bruce Lee

One of the most endearing qualities of my parents is that they kept everything. EVERYTHING. To the point where the house I grew up in was filled with artifacts from floor to ceiling, each object or knickknack telling a story of our lives growing up. The outcome was an unedited, unabbreviated timeline of everything that ever happened to us. But, having all these stories on display, at all times, made it hard to fill up with new stories.

I’ve encountered this “keep everything” approach with brands. From my experience, I am keenly tuned to editing, distilling and eliminating whenever I can. This act of pruning is not about keeping things tidy, nor am I some kind of clean freak. I am mostly interested in discovering a singular, meaningful story that is representative of the brand in its totality. Because I believe more is said with what isn’t said.

“From one thing, know ten thousand things.” – Musashi Miyamoto

My education did not begin until I left school. Really. From kindergarten all the way to design school, I was bombarded with ideas, methods, rules and formulas for a broad range of subjects across the spectrum. I view those days much like going to a bar and ordering a flight of beers. You get a taste of everything so that you can know what they are, and hopefully find something that you really like. I was fortunate to have found design and art as my calling because it gave me the gift of focus.

Through the lens of the creative industry, I was introduced to many worlds, giving me a wholly new perspective on subjects that I would have no reason to come into contact with otherwise. For example, by designing annual reports and financial graphs (I hate math) at the beginning of my career, I learned that data is much like a photograph – you are only shown one perspective of that reality. By producing photo shoots for over 15 years, I learned how to collaborate and lead creative people, even though I’m shy. I did this mostly by remembering my experiences and relating them to those around me. The gift of focus allowed me to know many things, giving me a range of tools and skills that I draw from every day.

“Try not to be a man of success. Try to be a man of value.” – Albert Einstein

Becoming your true self, I believe, is the ultimate goal. All the experiences that you have, and all the skills that you have learned, become a unique set of tools that only you can provide. Those skills and tools should come from a need to learn more about the things that you are passionate about. They should not come from some checklist of “doing homework” just so you can have it on your resumé. This is important because you yourself are a unique tool. If you are part of the right team, where your skills and experience fill a need, then you have inherent value, from which success for everyone soon follows.