Sometimes we need to get outside for a new perspective. In our own environments and areas of knowledge, things can quickly become too familiar—and habit, routine and recognition cause us to no longer look, or see clearly. This month, I went outside with over 100 designers, writers, strategists and creatives from all over the Northwest for AIGA’s Into the Woods. It was a retreat into a mountain lodge in Leavenworth, as the trees began to turn brilliant red, orange and yellow around us. You could not help but be affected, if not overwhelmed by nature.
Armed with my journal, micron pen and poor cell service, I found myself living mostly in an analog world—and remarkably present for the workshops, speakers, meals and conversations around me. I was out from behind a screen. Interacting with nature, human beings and ideas all weekend. Time slowed and insights emerged like tiny lights all around us. On my way home, one began to glow bright for me: The realization that getting outside is not only beneficial, but necessary for great creative work.
Getting outside is not only beneficial, but necessary for great creative work.
I found this theme present as well in the workshops and keynotes of the weekend. Nearly every speaker found a new place of success by venturing out. For artist Mike Perry, this meant saying yes to motion work, without ever having done it, and stepping into an entirely new process to get there. His animation is now his most recognizable work to date, with an independent series now in the works. For the design studio Alleles, it was seeing opportunity in a field that was not their own, and creating a product that understood and served amputee’s needs differently. (Not to mention disrupting an entire medical industry.)
And my personal favorite….for Pentagram partner Michael Beirut, getting outside occurred when he was challenged to leave behind his expertise. He shared how a brand project he worked on went terribly wrong and how his client responded with several sticky note drawings to “help” him with the design. Instead of disregarding this guidance, he decided to defer to his client’s drawings, opening himself up to receive a completely new form of inspiration. This path of exploration became one of his most ingenious marks.
“Even though he was offending me terribly, I said ‘Thank you so much … because I think I might have something.’”
Getting outside is never without discomfort—it’s a perfect tension of humility and boldness. It takes both to step out into the unknown. But outside is where the riches are—and the more we are willing to step out, the greater the reward can become. And while it took a physical removal for me to appreciate this idea, “getting outside” is really just a mindset of willingness to venture into the unknown, embrace discomfort and become unqualified once again (or even better—totally wrong).
What doors do you see waiting to be opened? What rich insights—and even future—might be waiting for you outside?