By Cody Corona
The darkest of times – the times when you’ve not a clue what’s going on, you don’t have the answers, anyone to talk to – those are the times you’re most the creative. The most innovative. You feel stupid, but, really, things will never be clearer.
Imagine this: there’s a problem to solve, but there’s no clear way to solve it. Or, a deadline’s looming, but there’s tons left to do. There’s something to erect, but you’ve no resources. There are people watching, but you’ve no idea why, or how, or when. You’re confused.
The problem needs to be solved, though, and you do it by all means necessary. Your method, and your end result, is something that no one’s done before. By being absolutely strapped for resources (or time, or information, or contacts) you’ve gained access to the raw aquifers of human ingenuity, and scraped up a bit of genius.
Watch any episode of McGyver and you’ll understand.
So, students, this year challenge yourself to attack every problem, every project, every internship, every new job, every day with a fresh mindset. Be a blank slate. Start from scratch. Every day.
On my first day at Wieden+Kennedy, Dan Wieden’s advertising shop inPortland,Oregon, those words greeted me – “Walk in Stupid” – and they’ll stick with me forever. It’s a mentality that I’ve adopted and one that you, too, should implement every day.
- Leaving your pre-suppositions at the door, focusing on the important details and nothing else, and checking your ego with your jacket (i.e., “Walking in Stupid”) will grant you access to your pure creative potential. A great company, group or school will foster an environment that will allow you to do that, so find that place. Wieden+Kennedy, for example, doesn’t hold an “orientation” or “training-day” for new interns, as I was in 2010. You’re expected, as an intern, to walk in the first day and immediately be productive. To figure things out as you go. To solve on the fly. To give yourself a tour of the building and, on your own, find the right people to talk to. Imagine if UCSB refused to give a freshman orientation. Classes start the same day you show up, you move in to the dorms between lectures (assuming you signed up for the right courses that morning, on your own) and, oh yeah, there’s a quiz in the evening. Did you study? Fifty percent of incoming freshmen would drop out day one. But the ones who creatively solved and survived, they’ll be the stronger ones, the most innovative, and the most proud of their accomplishment. Walk in stupid. Be confused. You’ll win.
- Walking in stupid will check your ego. When you finally land that big internship or that sweet job after graduation, you’re going to feel pretty good. You’re going to think to yourself: “Let’s get this paper.” You’re going to feel on top of the world. I did. Everyone has an ego – it might not be the size of Kanye West’s, but you have one. The very reason you’ve landed a sweet job is due to your ego. Your self-promotion. Your personal branding. Getting your name out there and telling everyone how awesome you are. Later, yes, your work “will speak for itself.” But right now, you’re no Don Draper… no one knows who you are, and there’s no “work” to judge you on. So you have to be loud to get noticed. That’s fine. But in the “real world” you’re walking with the big dogs. And big dogs don’t like know-it-alls. They respect drive, ambition and hunger. I’ve seen interns start day one as though they’re taking over the company, ready to impress everyone with the knowledge they’ve gained in college. It never turns out well. People at Wieden+Kennedy, for example, are especially good in seeing through crap. They can spot fake people. Soulless talent. They want none of that. One of their mottos is “Don’t Act Big” – and trust me, you’re graded on how thoroughly you meet that criteria. Walk in stupid.
- Walking in stupid helps you make friends. It’ll help you find reliable teammates. At the workplace, you’ll be seen as trustworthy, and people will want to help you.Too often, people think they have a problem solved before they know what the problem is. This, of course, isn’t a good problem-solving process. Don’t be that person. In fact, you, with your team, should go in the reverse direction. Instead of belittling a task with pre-conceived solutions, make the problem bigger than it actually is. Give your team an arbitrary deadline that’s sooner than the real one. Give the team fake consequences, like: “If we don’t have a brief written by noon, Brian has to ask out the barista at Starbucks.” Again, the right workplace will foster a healthy sense of urgency and creativity, but if not, do it on your own. Don’t overly stress yourself out – I’m not saying that. But make the problem a bit more challenging, and you’ll see, the task will be a bit more fun, and your results will be a bit more genius.
And finally, being stupid allows you to learn more. It only makes sense. Act as though you don’t know anything, and nothing will hold back your learning. Your development won’t be blocked by anything. You’ll do the impossible because you didn’t know it was impossible.
Walk in stupid every day – no matter what – and you’ll enjoy yourself more, be less stressed, and be smarter and more creative than everyone else.
Cody Corona has helped craft brand strategy and manage client relationships for some of the world’s largest companies, including Old Spice and Denny’s. He graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 2010 and currently lives in New York City. For more information, visit his website at codycorona.com or follow him on Twitter:twitter.com/codycorona