Come as friends and leave as family, those are the epitomizing words of Creative South. In the small Georgia town of Columbus, well over 700 designers and like-minded creatives come together for what feels like one massive hug.
Conferences are often portrayed as networking events where you’re goal is to gain contacts and land potential leads, Creative South is much more about forming genuine friendships, creating an atmosphere of inspiration, and a lot of just shootin’ the shit.
Two years ago during my first time in attendance, I held onto the coattails of my brother and we only made an effort to socialize with less than a handful of people. The following year, we vowed to meet and talk to more people which made the experience exponentially better. This year, we set out with a similar goal of meeting more people, however, we first set a few guidelines:
Talk less, listen more, and speak only of positive things.
As we reflected on the past years of being at Creative South, we couldn’t help but think of how we remembered certain people, but we also had to ask ourselves, how might others have remembered us? In this exercise of reflection, we acknowledged that it’s easy to get wrapped up in personal stories and opinions, and to rambled on for what must feel like eternity. In our goal of talking less and listening more, we were more so focused on asking questions and genuinely being interested in what others are up to and their lives, rather than getting swept up in telling our own stories.
Have you ever met someone and the first thing they do is start complaining? Even with our friends, it seems that we all find common ground in complaining and general negativity. Have you ever met someone that feels like light? They have a constant glow, they’re warm and welcoming, and they light up the people around them. I love those kinds of people, and I’ve always wanted to be one. We more often than not remember the negative people, so it was important for us to focus on speaking only of positive things and creating an aura good vibes. There was one more thing we also made an effort of doing:
We’ve been actively working on remember names for a while now, but at a conference when we’re meeting tons of people every day there’s no way we could remember everyone’s names, right? That’s a challenge we decided to take on. Here’s a simple truth, when you don’t bother to remember people’s name or make a very deliberate effort to do so, you’re telling them right then and there that they’re not of much importance.
We came to Creative South not to make connections, but to be genuinely invested in conversation and to allow the lives of others to interest and inspire us. The very first step to investing in someone is remembering their name. When you begin to remember other people’s names they’ll remember yours because caringness and attention is often reciprocated.
I’m extremely proud to say that I remember the names of everyone I met at Creative South, even if it was just for a brief second because now I can always greet these people by name when I see them. Never underestimate the power of remembering names, it’ll change your life. The moment you stop telling yourself you “aren’t good at remembering names,” you’ll enable yourself to do so.
Following Creative South last year, I basically went through all of my notes and bullet pointed the talks and labeled it all as my lessons learned. This year, I’m focusing on one key take away from each person’s talk. The point of distilling each talk to one take away is purely for curation and to prevent myself as well as you from being overwhelmed by advice. These are major takeaways I got from Creative South:
During Peter Deltando’s talk, he spoke on the subject of comparison—more specifically good versus bad comparison. Peter was talking about our unhealthy habit of comparing ourselves to others and using -er and -est words towards ourselves. For example, “I wish I was better at drawing.” The way he approached this though was really eye opening. He asked the crowd if you would ever wish that your son or daughter were cuter, stronger, faster, better, etc. This example brought up a wonderful point, we’d never wish that kind of comparison upon our own children and we should love ourselves in a similar fashion.
Hebah had so many incredible talking points in regards to what to do when you’re getting out of college and trying to get a job, but the quote above stood out to me the most. While watching Star Wars with her son, she openly asked the question, “What makes Darth Vader dark?” His quick and genuine response was, “Maybe he spent too much time in the sun.” This tiny story illustrated the point that children’s minds have no boundaries. Hearing this story made me think of all of the incredible and wonderful things kids are thinking up everyday as they’re not yet molded to a particular form of thought. Moving forward, I hope we can find ways to incorporate children into the way that we work and to allow them to influence in positive, out of the box kind of ways.
Adam Grason’s talk was one which hit you right in the heart. During his talk he brought up the story of when a potential employer told him that he had no future in art. Many of us have all heard this, but I especially loved Adam’s thought process in regards to it. Of course he felt a drive to prove him wrong, but he also said, “you have to prove to me that I’m going to fail.” I absolutely love the drive in those words and how it completely turns the situation around. Rather than allowing others to simply tell you anything, that have to prove it to you—that’s powerful.
James Hsu and Katia Oloy are the definition of relationship goals, but that’s beside the point. Needless to say, these two have amazing energy and personalities that are completely contagious. Their talked was structured according to what they did throughout a typical work day, and highlighted important aspects outside of work such as getting dressed and going to lunch. By the end of the day, both James and Katia make time to work on personal stuff, and James said the quote above: “Give yourself permission to suck.” We don’t allow ourselves to be bad at anything anymore. We’re too tied up in social media presence and the pressure of being good so we never allow ourselves to experiment and have fun. James sucks at lettering, but he enjoys it so he allows himself to take part in it. Forget about the rest of the world for a little bit, and self indulge in sucking at something.
Bethany Heck had the nerdiest talk there, she talked about the use of multiple typeface systems and I loved every moment of it. She aimed to tackled the arbitrary rule of “never use more than 3 typefaces” and well exceeded her goal. My favorite example of hers was how Helvetica and Univers, two very similar typefaces, could be paired together successfully. Even if we put the nerdy type stuff to the side, “don’t be afraid of similarities,” can resonate with any of us. How often are we scared to do something because it may be similar to something else. Here’s the thing, if you aren’t copying it, who cares! We and the thing we create are all unique, and like typefaces, fit different contexts. So don’t be afraid of similarities; learn to notice the subtleties.
Anton & Irene immediately reminded us all that we what do is a business. This may seem silly to forget, but when you absolutely love what you do and take it as a gift, it’s easy to get pushed around which doesn’t make for good business. With that being said, they said two things that I really needed to hear. The first is, there are certain conversations you need to have up front, and one of them is, “what is your budget?” It’s so easy to dance around this question, but once again, this is a damn business. The second thing they mentioned is that they’re very comfortable saying no. They stated, “we don’t want to abandon our process to please someone else’s agency model.” When people are coming to you for your professional service, don’t allow them to dictate your process and policies. [Insert no net-30 plug]
Oh man, Scotty Russell had an absolutely incredible and inspiring talk which earned him a standing ovation (and rightfully so). Scotty quickly gave us the slap in the face we all needed. Right away, he told us not to waste this investment and that this high will fade. He’s completely right, following the conference you will be filled with inspiration and drive but it will quickly fade. Rather than letting that creep up on people, Scotty laid out a plan for taking action. Focus on the things you can control, have a vision for the future, create a clear plan for fulfilling that vision, and finally begin taking action. You can find more from Scotty on his website.
Carlos Basabe brought up a detail we often forget about, our perspective inherently differs from our clients. Meaning, there is almost always a guaranteed compromise in client work. This doesn’t mean that client work is bad, but it’s something we need to recognize. As designers, we’re hoping to make good money and have all of the time we need to work. As a client, they’re hoping to get the job done for as cheap as they can (obviously not always the case) in the shortest timeline possible. It’s just important to recognize that compromise does exist in this relationship, and one place where you’ll never have to compromise is one your personal work.
Noah Elias is not your average fine artist, this man knows how to hustle. Noah works his ass off, but knows how to create systems to generate passive income. Throughout his talk he brought up the analogy of our lives being highways, and we need to create on ramps for people to join us. These on ramps basically translate to some form of diversification both in terms of our monetization as well as our social presence.
Lastly, Dan Kuhlken and Nathan Goldman of DKNG brought the audience into their work process, but my favorite part came at the end as they reminded us all that inspiration comes from unplugging. We hear this time and time again, but I believe we constantly need to be reminded of this. We often times become so tied up in working that we leave no room for true inspiration to blossom.
All I really want to say to wrap things up is that I really hope to see you at Creative South next year. This conference is truly a life changing experience. There is value in the scheduled talks, but the value that stems from conversations over lunch and building lasting friendships is exponentially greater than the cost of the ticket.