Learning in a Creative Setting

Sometimes I forget how much the Brandcenter can resemble an art school.

Most of our students have never experienced education in an arts environment before. And their biggest challenge is often letting go of concrete formulas and external signifiers of ranking. There are no right answers. No secret levers to pull, no shortcuts, no standard formulas … and you’ll never be finished learning.


Billy Martin, one of my favorite drummers, has a lot to say about teaching and creativity. This quote from an interview with Modern Drummer does a great job of illustrating the struggle and tension that a lot of our first year students go through.

I tell my students that I want them to push themselves when they’re in front of me and when they’re alone too, because they’re going to have discoveries about themselves. It’s not about winning or being the “best,” the fastest, or the most know-it-all. It’s about getting to know yourself. And pushing yourself to the point where you’re on the edge and making discoveries.

VCU Brandcenter Week at Modern Copywriter

Modern Copywriter has made Brandcenter Week an annual tradition. They’ll choose the work of a student or two to feature daily this week. The full list of portfolio sites will go up on Friday.

Today he’s featuring Thea Ryan (and her Daily Warmups for Chicks)

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And Allie Carr (and her Boy Scouts campaign that is hitting a little to close to my two-boy home):

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If you’re looking to hire some writers, keep an eye out over there.

Hard Work Isn’t Enough to do Great Work

My favorite quote about creativity is from the great Mark Fenske:

Hard work is a waste of time if your idea sucks.

As with most things he writes, it says a lot without having to say very much.

Yes, work ethic is important. And being able to work hard is an important component to making great work. But there’s a lot more to great work than hard work.

Hard work doesn’t always lead to creative ideas.

Sometimes an idea will come in 20-minutes. Sometimes it might take 20-days.

Sometimes an idea will come while sitting at a notebook, but often an idea will strike while in the shower or waiting in line at the DMV.

We see students come into the Brandcenter from some of the best schools in the country. And UVA.

They got to those schools by working really hard in high school.

They got excellent grades at those schools by working even harder.

Then they got into Brandcenter by working hard on their applications.

But when they get here they have to learn The Hard Lesson — hard work isn’t enough.

Which reminds me, are you currently a student at a school, college, or university?

Sometimes, balancing your workload with tight deadlines can seem impossible. This is especially true where written assignments are concerned.

However, did you know that there are resources out there that can make the writing process a little easier?

A friend of mine recently recommended www.collegepaperworld.com to me. Check out their website to learn more about some of the latest essay and report writing solutions that are changing the game.

Teams are how the world works, and how great works are made.

Working with ideas in teams is something that many haven’t experienced. Even those who have done group work in undergrad struggle in a more realistic and pressure-filled setting.

They haven’t had to learn how to let ideas go, or yield to an idea from someone else, or how help make a group member’s idea better.

Many of them don’t even understand what a good idea is when they first get here. It’s not because they aren’t smart or because they aren’t creative. It’s because they don’t have any real experience.

This can be a struggle. And some of them get frustrated. But this is the way of the world. There are precious few careers worth having that allow for the lone genius to hide in a dark room and change the world on their own.

This isn’t something that can be learned in a few days or even a few months. It takes time and experimentation. It takes seeing what works and suffering for what doesn’t.

But at the end of it all, at the other end of the program, they are better for it.

Better you, or worse them?

The Brandcenter kicked-off our Friday Forum series last week with Wendy Clark, the recently hired CEO of DDB.

She was really good. Watching her present, it was easy to see why she has been so succesful. She’s clearly playing on another level.

She spoke about the work that DDB is doing, and what it’s been like to take over as CEO there. She also spoke about her time at Coke, including the call she got from Matt Weiner when he wanted to use Hilltop in Mad Men. No spoilers.

She also had some great advice about going through life and career. This bit stuck with me:

“You can be a worse them or a better you.”

This is great advice for anyone in creative business. Advertising in particular is filled with a wide variety of extremely talented people who are broken in their own unique ways.

Trying to mimic someone’s particular and personal genius will only get you so far. The secret lies in finding your own peculiarities and learning how to use them to be the best version of yourself that you can be.

Which is why I like to drink coffee at the gym.

Brandcenter Fall Semester Kick-off

First years. Look at 'em.

This is a big week. The new semester starts tomorrow morning.

The summer months have cleansed the energy of the place.

The psychic waves of one-hundred souls grinding their teeth in unison have receded.

May’s graduates have made their way to places like Google, Facebook, and Wieden+Kennedy.

The stage has been reset.

Last year’s first years are now second years. They’re back with fresh internship experience under their belts.

The new first years were put through orientation on Tuesday. They know things like where the bathrooms are and how to login to Lynda.com.

But they are blissfully unaware of the storm they are riding into.

Summer is over.

There is excitement in the air.

And I have to start wearing pants again.