Thursday, July 3, 2014

The power of perspective.

Shantanu Starick, international photographer and founder of The Pixel Trade project, is changing the perspective of commerce by using his trade in exchange for life's basic necessities—bringing the bartering system into day-to-day life. After his talk, he took a reverse-perspective photograph of the audience by asking everyone to turn around except for one gentlemen in the middle.

Early May I ventured to New York for the first time. After years of hearing about the 99u Conference, I was lucky enough to experience it for myself. It’s led by one of my favorite creative entrepreneurs, Scott Belsky—author of  Making Ideas Happen, co-creator of Behance, and now VP of Adobe’s creative community. Much like his book, the goal of the conference is to shift the focus from idea generation to idea execution.

“Genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration.” – Thomas Edison

Two things struck me about all of the speakers and sessions. In each case, there was a high-level realization and a corresponding action. Road-tested insights that made me think… we are often our own roadblocks. And as Mimi brilliantly says, maybe we all need to get out of our own heads. Our minds want to make everything about us and cling to what’s been safely done. Instead, let’s meet people and challenges where they are, in the moments—emotionally, adaptively and intuitively.

This conference hit creative values, how we work, leadership, sustainability, entrepreneurship and innovation. I’ve got a ton of insights, but wanted to touch on what really resonated with where VJ is and where we are going with our new approaches.

What if there’s a group perspective, but it’s collectively adaptive?

My first studio session was at Undercurrent, a strategic powerhouse. They steered us through an exercise showing how responsive organizations can work in this rapid, project-based world beyond agency-of-record relationships. Agencies need to start working like complex adaptive systems. Self-organized empowerment based on the task at hand, like ants or the immune system—all maintaining a simple rule set, processing data and adapting often.

How do we pivot our perspective?

In further support for responsiveness Oliver Burkeman, author of The Antidote, gave a very grounded perspective on motivation. We have to avoid the over-pursuit of goals that are unattainable, or that need to shift. This leads to inhibited performance, unintended consequences and even cheating. There’s something called summit fever. It’s where a climber will relentlessly keep going to the top of the mountain through bad weather, personal injury or even lack of oxygen. They want to reach that goal more than anything and it consumes them. On a good day, they’ll make it. And on a bad day, they may die. Though our day-to-day is much less dangerous, we always need to reassess why we are doing things as variables and environments inevitably shift.

What if we really listen to other’s perspectives?

Graphic journalist Wendy MacNaughton, author of Meanwhile in San Francisco, encouraged us to not just talk to strangers, but to listen to them. She captured strangers in their “meanwhiles” – the times when they are going somewhere and between things. There’s an intrinsic vulnerability during those moments. She illustrated their character, got to know them and captured glimpses of their unique perspectives. The collective result is both beautiful and profound.

Let's embrace and challenge perspective.

We’re working for unique audiences every day through the brands of our clients. With both content and context in mind, how can we make those engagements more meaningful to them? That’s how great work becomes great work—through personally listening, critically processing and responsively adapting. Let’s harness that power of perspective, and make groundbreaking ideas happen.

That same 99u crowd photo taken from another perspective. See if you can spot me.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Manhattan musings.

For the first time, there I was. Standing in the middle of Manhattan's Madison Avenue. Flanked by rows and rows of towering buildings, all cultivated through decades of advertising greatness. Wondering what stories the infamous street quietly harbored.

Throughout Manhattan, commerce is king and appearance is everything. Souls are stirred and whims are encouraged. You could be anybody. Or nobody. Shifting, blending or reinventing at will. 

In the city, anonymity is inevitable. Off the grid while at the center of it. Alone in the crowd. Solitarily connected. 

I could feel the city's energy. It was a rumbling undercurrent, tugging at my sleeve like an impatient child. A constant stream of culture and curiosity, haphazardly forcing my gaze.

The city lives outside the walls of their small-yet-expensive apartments. I imagine life in the thick of that advertising epicenter. How the greats toiled away through the night—likely finding camaraderie with the city that, like them, never slept.

Like most things pitted against imagination, the dream is better than the reality—though the reality is an amazing sea of inspiration. It's really about clinging to what the city famously represents—the dream of endless possibilities. I'll happily keep that with me. Right where I am.

[ I will be following up with some posts inspired by the 99u conference.]

In the middle of Manhattan. In the middle of Madison Avenue. In the middle of the day.

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Monday, March 31, 2014

The Thinking Behind Creative Thinking.

My Caffeinated Mornings presentation from December 6, 2013. I walk through the world of creative thinking—offering career advice, providing behind-the-scenes creative tips, and showing side project examples.

The Thinking Behind Creative Thinking from Jennifer Hohn on Vimeo.

Event information:

(Work reel from my agency, Vladimir Jones. Side projects displayed in this video are personal or feature creative partnerships from Ryan Johnson, Matt Ingwalson, Jim Elkin, Bryce Boyer, Ryan Bramwell, David Meijas and production help from a number of talented folks through Ad Club Denver.)

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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Welcome to the VJ Collective

Every Friday someone from my agency sends out an email to everyone in the company. Emails that are centered around new learnings, timely advice, profound thoughtfulness, or hilarious entertainment. Last October, I was up. We were at the forefront of a courageous agency-wide restructure for 2014. Here's what I wrote and why I'm ecstatic to be the new Creative Director at Vladimir Jones.


First of all, it’s not about you.

Well okay, actually it is about you.

And him. And her. And everything that makes VJ culture the advertising industry anomaly that it is.

Those who have worked for lesser places know what I’m talking about. (Ad veteran tip: Sometimes the grass seems greener elsewhere because it’s actually AstroTurf. And much like The Brady Bunch backyard…it’s all fun and games until Marcia gets her nose broken.)

What makes VJ different? 
It’s the people. The intelligence. The leadership. The juxtaposition of precision and soul. Oh, and the fact that we’re a seasoned independent agency teetering on the edge of becoming a creative powerhouse.

So, how do we get there? You know, the powerhouse part. Do we all have to embrace Dohan’s relentless training regimen? (Well, not necessarily, but don’t make him show you his disappointment stance.)

We unite forces and work together.
We take our places in the trenches alongside talent, strategy and possibility. When a teammate gets entangled in a client force field or marches into creative battle, we selflessly cover them. We don’t make excuses. But, we do take responsibility. No one is in this alone.

We trade expectation for execution.
Unentitled hard work pays off. And over time, you are the one empowering your own future. If you think you should be involved, prove it. If you want your ideas heard, bring them to the table. If there’s a better way to do things, figure it out.

We value collaboration and humility over ego.
Now don’t get me wrong, there’s a time for both solitary incubation and group iteration. But, if everyone shares the same passion and connection to what we’re creating, greater things get produced. Better placements get made. And bigger results happen. So what if it wasn’t your idea or your design or your client—make it better. Add value with your expertise…without any expectation of credit. Because we’re all accountable for what comes out of this agency. And that’s our most valuable currency in the powerhouse quest.

We respect and protect the bus.
VJ is a certified mix of eclectic brilliance, unique skill-sets and personality quirks. Everyone here has an important seat on this bus. So, let’s try not to throw anyone under it. Instead, help them back up. Sometimes people just need a different seat or a new view.

We do this.
And by this, I mean the VJ Collective powerhouse thing. Clearly we have many individual rock stars in this agency. But, what would happen if we truly combined forces and legitimately challenged the advertising world? Well, I have no doubt that we’re about to find out.

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Monday, January 13, 2014

Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising.

Part of an end-of-year series originally posted on The Denver Egotist.

Dear 1998 me,
First of all, what the hell is going on with that outfit? Seriously. Do they even make things out of rayon anymore? Between that and the hairspray, pretty sure you’re a walking fire hazard.
Oh hey, if I remember correctly, you’ll get to see Pearl Jam at Fiddler’s Green next month. So that’s cool.
You have no idea who you are yet. And that’s okay. Take the time you need to figure it out. But be aware now, if you really want to be in advertising, you have to love it. So much so, that you can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s very hard to break into this industry, and staying relevant is even harder. However, getting paid to follow your passion is an honor never to be taken for granted.
As you nervously sit in that agency lobby, completely intimidated by everyone walking by, know you deserve to be there. It’s just the beginning. And beginnings are scary.
People are not judging you – because, like you, they are probably also self-conscious. Smile, laugh and relax. You’ll be fine.
Over the course of your career you’ll have many successes and many failures. You’ll learn from them all. I guarantee everyone that does great things had to overcome adversity in some form or another. The defining difference is what you do after a door is closed or a tough card is dealt. Do you pick yourself up and push harder? Or, do you cower behind defeat? Either way, don’t settle for the status quo. Do something.
Don’t try to plan everything, and stay flexible. In 2009 you’ll show up late to your first Ad Club meeting and miss out on volunteering for The Fifty – which was first on the meeting agenda. Instead, you’ll get the opportunity to launch a new intense portfolio program. This, and the talented people you meet through the club will change your career path. And don’t worry; you’ll get to do The Fifty later.
After all those years of getting lost in your own head, you’ll realize your brain’s not wired like most people who can clock in and clock out of a job. You have to create and help others create. There’s not much you can do to change that, but work to balance life better. (If you find your mind wandering when you need to be present, wiggle your toes. Trust me, it works. And it’s only weird if people see you do it.)
These will inspire you in your work and will help you see other perspectives. Never underestimate the power of empathy and divergent thinking. Creativity is simply the ability to combine things in interesting ways. And, without a good idea, the rest is irrelevant. Remember that.
Take great advantage of every small opportunity you get. The more you exceed expectations through seemingly insignificant things, the more credibility will start to stick. And you’ll get bigger opportunities.
You’ll learn on both sides of that equation. These relationships are your quickest route through the creative ranks. Helping others grow will help you grow.
If you’re not getting the experience you need at your day job, find ways to make those opportunities happen through side projects and volunteering. There’s no short cut for experience. Put in your time and never think you’re entitled to anything. You’ll go much further with hustle and humility than with excuses and ego.
In your career, there will be one thing you’ll deeply wish you could have changed. At an award show, you’ll run into one of your favorite young creatives that you mentored years ago. With his quirky smile, he’ll tell you things are going great. His distant eyes will tell another story. This will be the last time you see him. And that final memory will haunt you. The most important thing I can tell you is to always be there for your network.
Well, I’ll let you get back to your meandering path through this treacherous, yet exhilarating advertising adventure you’ve chosen. Good luck out there and I’ll see you down the road.
2013 me
P.S. I really hope this future-self advice doesn’t mess things up in a Back-to-the-Future sort of way. Well, I suppose time will tell, right? (By the way, did you get that winning lottery number list I sent you last month? Judging from my bank account, I’m guessing no.)

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