Vulnerability Leads to Innovation

In our creative world, it can be hard to put yourself out there, so to speak. Anytime we share a suggestion or a design concept, we’re speaking from personal perspective, research, feelings, and expertise, but there’s still a chance it doesn’t hit home. That something you poured your heart and soul into will ultimately be rejected in favor of something else.

Hell, who am I kidding, it happens all the time. As a design agency, anytime we send a range of options, we know there’s going to be a bulk of “no, but thanks for trying” and (ideally) a couple yes’s that get us going down a productive path forward.

But holding back, not speaking up, and not sharing your most passionate ideas has no place in our creative process. Here, all ideas are welcome, even if they seem crazy, or weird, or annoying. It takes all types, and all perspectives, to make something we ship to a client the best possible thing it can be. Designers, developers, brand strategists, and operations folks on our team all come together to speak up without qualification and without apologies.

I like to remind the team that it’s ‘ok to be weird’. Weird, crazy, “what about?” ideas are what lead to brilliant, creative concepts. Whether we’re coming up with a name for a product, or designing a logo for a business, trying new things, pushing each other to think differently, is par for the course at Proof.

creative process

But let’s not get it twisted, allowing a safe place and platform for that kind of open dialogue can be easier said than done. A few things I’ve learned and that have translated into our day-to-day:

Don’t Qualify

I will honestly call folks out if they lead a sentence with “this may be a bad idea, but…”. Bad ideas are welcome in the creative process. And you don’t have to be the expert, the Art Director, or the lead to have a voice and opinion that opens the floor to new and interesting ideas. Don’t qualify what you say before you say it. Speak freely and with authority.

Get Weird

Bad, stupid, strange, silly, weird ideas are a good thing. Self-editing from the start is the quickest path to burnout and the early creative process isn’t about shutting down ideas, it’s about following through with a “yes, and’‘ mentality that only builds and creates new things to see what sticks. Let your proverbial freak flag fly, as they say.

Back it Up with Research

If people know why or how you did something, it’s much harder to dissect subjectively. It’s why when we share, for example, a R1 logo/visual ID presentation, that we ALWAYS pair it with a live presentation, to explain research, inspiration, and the clear ‘why’ behind what is being shown. If you leave the breadcrumb trail back to that why and the research that went into it, you’ll always have that to lean back on when things are feeling most vulnerable and questioned.

Level the Playing Field

I’m the Owner at Proof, but when it comes to reviewing things internally before they get to a client, I’m careful not to pull rank, and the same goes for everyone else on the team. Creating a safe place for communication and good dialogue means that it is just that, a safe place. I don’t walk up to Nick, our Senior Brand Designer, post-meeting and tell him he should never speak to me like that again (hah), nor do I ever say, “well I’m the boss, so I say so.” Everything we send out the door has to be a reflection of US, or frankly, I’m not interested. The collective pride is earned when everyone feels valued and important in the process (because they are).

If there’s a clear ‘why’ behind the ‘what’, if ideas are coming from a place of improvement and love, and if you’re allowed to (truly) speak your mind, good and great things always come out of it. Speak up and speak out. Create an open and safe place for honest dialogue, and let the weird, stupid, crazy ideas fly, especially in the early stages. Don’t self-edit.

Adopting a “we” over “me” mindset at Proof was and continues to be the best possible thing I can do as the leader and owner of the company. Everything that goes out is a product of US, and I can sleep easy knowing that we’re all, collectively, allowed to be heard and continuously put our best foot forward.

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