Cure for the Common Blahs (Millman + Godin)
Take Two Books and Call Me In a Week
I’ve been reading Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception (NY: Penguin Books, 2012) and Debbie Millman’s How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer (NY: Allworth Press, 2007). Both books convey hope that work can look different—more personal and more meaningful—than any corporate recruiting brochure can ever let on.
Mr. Godin’s message is consistent with his blog and other books: find a way to not submit to corporate overlords and their pre-packaged (wonderful) plan for your life. Make your own way. Along the way he hints that owning your work can happen in a variety of ways (even if working for the man). I’ve always appreciated Mr. Godin’s sense that art is about making connections and doing new things that spring from one’s brain/desire/compulsions/passions applied to a real-world problem. I would argue that kind of passionate living can happen in a big company or on your own—but we must all keep a sharp eye out for when life and work become rote ruts (which require re-routing).
Ms. Millman’s book is an absolute delight to read because it consists of 20 conversations with designers whose work has set them apart for years. People like Stefan Sagmeister, Neville Brody, Paula Scher, Emily Oberman, Bonnie Siegler, Paul Sahre, James Victore, Massimo Vignelli and Milton Glaser. The genius of Ms. Millman’s book is two-fold: asking penetrating, questions (1) and then standing aside (2) to let each designer spool out their answers in the way they choose. I’m certain each question and answer was edited, but Ms. Millman’s book gives a sense of hearing the very crux of what drives each person’s creativity in their own words. Their answers provide lessons in the habits of artists, how to combat the woo of popularity and the lapses into isolation. Some of these designers have succeeded and failed and succeeded and failed—so look also for lessons in starting over from scratch.
I’m no graphic designer—maybe you aren’t either.
And I’m no artist (perhaps you are?), but Godin + Millman together provide a satisfying set of snapshots that keep anticipating the very personal work your problem-solving can accomplish. The advice and hope from each book make me want to look for problems to work on that take advantage of what I love doing.
Both books present forward-looking ways of relentlessly defining, redefining and doing your own work. And make no mistake: again and again it is the work itself that pulls these talented people deeper into their talent and continued relevance.
What is your work today?
Image credit: Kirk Livingston