Required Reading: Don’t Worry, Be Creative

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Twenty years ago, all Hugh MacLeod had were his cartoons, which eventually ended up on the backs of business cards-creativity exploding from the underside of the strait-laced. The drawings led to a blog  (http://sn.im/gapingvoid1) and to MacLeod's first book, Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys to Creativity.

The irony, of course, is that MacLeod-the-author expects the individualist fans of MacLeod-the-cartoonist to  listen to advice.Whether or not they do, however, matters little; all MacLeod wants to say is that there's more to life than playing it safe. CRM Associate Editor Jessica Tsai and Managing Editor Joshua Weinberger spoke with MacLeod about how ignoring everybody can help you find your inner somebody.

CRM magazine: You tell your readers to "ignore everybody." So how do you get them to listen to you?

Hugh MacLeod: I wrote from the heart; it was interesting and other people concurred. If they didn't, I didn't care. I wrote it anyway.

CRM: But they are listening to you.

MacLeod: Quite a sleight of hand, wouldn't you say?

There's a Chinese maxim that goes, "It's not how good the Kung Fu master is, it's how good the students  are."We're all given gifts, and we want to pass [them] on to people, not just to our children but to people. When you start hoarding your gift, you start dying inside-you start curdling.

CRM: How does "ignore everybody"work at the corporate level?

MacLeod: I didn't expect it to, [but] just because you're working in a corporation doesn't mean you're not a human being. The way to survive whether you work in a big corporation or are self-employed is to be the guy that does interesting stuff.

CRM: Can you be "the company that does interesting stuff "?

MacLeod: Sure-it worked for Apple. There are always interesting people at big companies.

CRM: We're seeing more people taking over a brand. To what extent does that person have to be interesting and creative enough as an extension of the company?

 MacLeod: Robert Scoble was the Microsoft blogger [and technical evangelist] and he loved it. It changed how I viewed Microsoft, very much so. All of a sudden you realize these people aren't evil-they're passionate. It makes you more likely to give them the benefit of the doubt.We root for the underdog.We root for human beings.

 CRM: Are people looking for their second act or the exit?

 MacLeod: I think they're looking for the second act. There's no exit until you die, anyway. Everyone wants to be more creative. We want to do it in ever-more-creative and more-interesting ways-this idea to create meaning, to create value, to make a contribution. That drive is very prevalent. When I was a kid, the word "creative" was reserved for advertisers and assholes, but I've found that it's pretty universal.

CRM: Can you find creativity in your day job, or are the two worlds bound to clash?

MacLeod: You should find it wherever you can get it. You're always trying to find that sweet spot. If you can  increase your creativity and still get paid, why wouldn't you want to do that? You might have an idea to write a  novel because you have something to say that has nothing to do with the people giving you money. It's a dance between what's deep inside you and what's outside you. We want to stay vibrant. We want to stay alive. But sometimes we kid ourselves in suppressing that because it's safer, because it's more career-friendly. When you do that, a part of you dies. How many parts of you do you want to see dead?

CRM: Is safety the death of creativity?

MacLeod: It can be-when you get to the point where you don't want to push yourself, don't want to dig deep inside of you to bring creative stuff out. It's the cash-and-sex theory: I spend half the day taking care of business. Then I turn off the email, turn off the phone, go to the coffee shop, and do whatever the hell I want. It's what I've always done.

At the same time, you can meet people who think creativity is getting high and being a maniac and not getting stuff done. You've got to manage [your creativity]. You've got to understand it's there, treat it with respect-or else you'll just have these crazy, burnout artist types. The world doesn't need any more of those.

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