Though I’ve found it hard to put into practice myself, I’ve always believed that a life of transformation is better than a life of comfort and constancy. For the same reason, I admire those who can multi-task, those who have led a life of variety, as opposed to those who have remained single-minded and focussed on only one particular thing or one particular industry.
Simply put, I have always been in awe of those who’ve led a fulfilling life more than a fulfilling advertising life.
You would imagine that the two are somehow related. Well, not necessarily.
Concentrating or specialising in one niche definitely appeals to employers and it’s easier to focus on being amazing at one thing. However, a growing yield of research indicates that creative cross-training- pursuing multiple hobbies, interests and unrelated jobs- can actually stimulate our ability to learn and grow, making us even more productive in our traditional roles at work.
This opens the generalist vs. specialist debate. When we’re little, we’re asked what we want to become when we grow up? A doctor? An engineer? A lawyer? There is never the consideration that we can be more than one thing. As we grow older, there’s the innate desire to have tried different things. A doctor who writes books in his spare time. An engineer who starts a gaming company as a side hustle. The lawyer who spends his leisure time painting and creating art. These are all examples of a desire to add variety to routine occupations.
Though there’s hardly anything routine about advertising, and it’s arguably the most creative job on the planet, it’s possible to get burnt out quickly and fall into a rut. So, it’s good to have a passion project that you spend time on apart from your main occupation.
Like Steve Jobs said, “Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions.”
Perhaps, it’s why I’m drawn to people who’ve tried a variety of things in life. It doesn’t even matter if they succeeded or not. What matters is that they’ve tried and have the ability to identify the missteps and successes.
So people who have backpacked across the world, written plays, tried stand-up comedy, played in a band, created art installations and painted egg shells will always be more appealing to me than someone who has learnt advertising, worked in advertising and created advertising.
It doesn’t mean that those who work in advertising aren’t important or necessary- they definitely are. But having cross-disciplinary interests and cross-cultural experiences broadens your perspective and helps add incredible value to the creative process.
And I’m not glorifying the “butterflies”, who flit from one occupation to another. I’m referring to those who truly shed blood, sweat and tears trying to make things work. The ones who are committed to making a go of it and are genuinely gutted when things fail. Art Markman, cognitive scientist calls these people “Expert Generalists.”
While these people may be labelled as fickle and whimsical, in reality they often have the last laugh. To quote Bruce Nauman, “It’s interesting when you make things or do things that open up the possibilities for making more things or different kinds of things.”
What you do in advertising, especially in a creative role, is often the sum total of all your experiences. So, embracing variety definitely has its perks.
The destination may be the same. The path is different. And infinitely more interesting.