Truth: All of us are working right smack dab in the middle of it. 

Things go wrong all the time, and we don’t get to tip the game board over, we don’t get to shout “I quit,” walk away, and then come slinking back later.

We have to work through the messes.

That is the most common truth in business — it’s a shit show.

I have gum in my hair. I have to fly the plane while fixing it. I have to please my current customers while moving to an entirely new target. I have to sell down the product on hand, while introducing brand new product that needs to claim how much better it is than the old…

In other words: You have what you have, you need to get from here to there… and usually, you have to drag a lot along for the ride.

There’s an art to that.

Musicians often talk about not knowing what a song will be when they start. They just have a little idea and begin. Then they do another part, and another. And before they know it, they have a song.

Design tends to follow a similar, spontaneous process. But often design work is a commission, so there are all kinds of constraints. You have to be able to hold two conflicting realities — the potential of what it could be, combined with or anchored by the reality of what it is.


That potential though…

I’ve always experienced it as a glimmer, a weird movie-like moment when I catch a glimpse of how something could be, and when I’m really lucky that sighting is followed by a rapid series of abstract flashes — the fixes and band-aids, the slow turns and the quick pivots that will be required to let that peek become a path.

It’s an incredibly tenuous thing to get a glimmer fleshed out enough to document it, map it, make it make sense. Still, that’s the work I’ve done for decades as a brand strategist. And, why I’ve been known to lose my cool if one of them gets shut down.

The very act of discussing these inklings changes them. There’s a lot of collaboration and brainstorming in the creative process, and they’re all super important…

But a lot of creativity comes down to the collaboration between you and yourself.

In a recent conversation with a colleague, we touched on the idea of how much less stressful doing good work becomes as you master certain aspects of it. We danced around the idea that this mastery eliminates the vulnerability connected to that work. There’s still the risk, it’s still hard, it’s still satisfying. You just don’t get as exhausted by it without that vulnerability.

Mastery of the glimmer — that collaboration between you and yourself — is the closest thing you can get to a safeguard for your creativity.

How does one master such a thing? Understand what those glimmers feel like to you, how they tend to happen, and what it takes to get the idea formed enough to communicate and collaborate on it — and learn how to take a tiny bit of sick pleasure in waking up with gum in your hair.