Being held up at gunpoint generally isn't a life high point. Freelance creative Jeff Greenspan, however, positively recommends it: "It's awesome," he told the audience today at Reasons to be Creative 2015 in Brighton. "As long as you don't get shot."
Why? As Greenspan explained, it was the jolt he needed to quit his ad agency job and start leading a more creative life.
Today he spends his professional time helping brands like Facebook and Buzzfeed (where he was chief creative officer) talk to people, and in his spare time he's constantly creating. He's painted "tourist lines" on New York City's pavements [see tip 01], set hipster traps around Brooklyn and built The World's Most Exclusive Website.
Some of his self-directed projects have brought Greenspan a world-wide audience. More importantly, though, some projects – like his Snowden statue, a four-foot, 100 pound bust of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden – have sparked important questions about freedom and privacy [see tip 05].
So what does Greenspan's creative journey mean for us as designers? How can it help us build our own brands – and what does that even mean? Here are six things we learned during Greenspan's talk at Reasons to be Creative 2015…
01. Your brand is your style - not your business card
Greenspan has worn a lot of hats in his time: copywriter, artist, activist, chief creative officer… But your brand isn't about job titles: it's about attitude.
"Often brand is discussed in terms of a logo, tagline and so on," he explained. "For people, though, it's the style in which you contact the world. It's not on your business card, or what you tell people you do, or what others say you do. It's how you contact the world – your style."
02. Lead by example
Your job as a designer, illustrator or professional creative is to sell your skills to clients, helping them articulate their message in the most effective way possible. Sometimes, said Greenspan, the best way to make headway in this direction is to lead by example.
"Personal projects not only highlight our abilities and expertise, but also make us more attractive to agencies and brands, as both are excited to work with those who've been able to make their point of view stand out."
03. Make 'that person' you
From 2002 to 2004, Greenspan's personal project The Bush Booth appeared at galleries across NYC, Chicago, and Amsterdam. A six-hour looping video of George Bush listening, not speaking, the project gave people the opportunity to express themselves to Bush.
"If I'd have thought it through, I'd never have done it," said Greenspan, who didn't consider where the project might go when he made it.
"When I find myself saying 'somebody should…', I know that somebody should be me," he continued. "There's so much joy to be had in the process of making crap because it could lead to something cool."
04. Don't over-think self-directed projects
"If you have an idea and feel the impetus to go forward, go with that momentum. It's so easy for this to happen - and maybe you see this where you work - people have ideas, there's excitement and then it gets thought to death. The great thing about self-directed work is no one can think that work to death except you."
05. Just say it
On April 6, 2015, Andrew Tider and Greenspan fused a four-foot, 100 pound bust of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden to a pillar within the Prison Ship Martyrs' Monument in Brooklyn's Fort Greene Park. The idea was to draw parallels between those who fought for the ideals America was founded upon, and whistleblowers like Snowden.
Within eight hours, American officials had brought it down. But not before it captured the imagination of the public and media.
"It helped make the type of conversation that was lacking, and started a debate about how we treat people who try to stand up for America ideals - and what American ideals even are," he said.
"If you speak boldly with your voice other people will join you. And you can inspire someone to bounce their own ball and keep it in their air."
06. Find a way to fund your projects
So how do you fund your great ideas? Sometimes they don't cost anything. Sometimes collaborators are prepared to lend their time for free, as Greenspan often does for other projects. But when money is required, for him the answer is to freelance.
"I freelance and set aside money to fund these projects. But," he advised, "if you don't have clients with good day rates, apply for grants. There are tonnes of grants out there and any one would fund an idea like the Snowden statue."
Reasons to be Creative is an annual three-day conference for designers, coders and artists in Brighton, UK. This year's speakers include Evan Roth, Yuko Shimizu, Noma Bar and Dominic Wilcox - and we're reporting from the event all week.
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