November 25, 2019

You Have a Problem: Reframing Gear Acquisition Syndrome

We take a much-needed look at G.A.S., what causes it and how to pass it. We promise that this will likely be the last double entendre involving the word “gas” in this article.

What is G.A.S?

It’s not quite the common cold, but it can make us just as miserable. G.A.S stands for “gear acquisition syndrome” and is a strain of addictive retail therapy commonly associated with photographers. It involves purchasing gear at a rate that’s higher than needed and often distracts from the activity the gear’s intended for.

Yet this type of acquisitive behavior can easily affect non-photographers as well, such as people who work with audio. Rob Power and Matt Parker of Music Radar outline the 7 signs of G.A.S. which just as accurately represent phases of G.A.S. We’ve listed them here with examples from our own experience with G.A.S. (aggregated so we don’t single anyone out, Nate).

  1. Dissatisfaction: you’re dissatisfied with your current equipment.
  2. Desire: you see a new piece of equipment that will “complete” you.
  3. Research: you suffer hours of paralysis by analysis wading through options.
  4. Purchase: you break the deadlock with a rapid series of smaller purchases or a single big buy.
  5. Guilt: the gaping hole in the credit card or bank account leaves you pondering your decision, which may take you back to #3 to confirm if you made the right decision.
  6. Acceptance: you come to terms with what you’ve done, and might be filled with newfound and unbridled optimism toward your creative output in the vein of “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!”
  7. Relapse: your unresolved dissatisfaction quickly returns to attack your new creative implement, potentially as you discover that one missing feature that will completely upend your career.

What causes G.A.S?

Photographer, neuroscientist and writer Joshua Sariñana gives a highly detailed breakdown for G.A.S. and also explains the neurochemical mechanisms for how stressors trigger impulsive behavior and how purchases tap into our brain’s reward center. But of the many possible causes for those stressors, he proposes the most likely culprit in creatives: the fear of creativity itself.

Uncertainty: The creative process is already fraught with uncertainty and this uncertainty gives rise to fear of failure, criticism or even critique.

Catastrophizing: This is a common behavior where we always imagine the worst-case scenario. Combined with an existing cognitive bias against ourselves, this behavior repeats and small challenges seem insurmountable.

Avoidant Behavior: Like most living things, we tend to avoid discomforting things, even if that very thing is beneficial to us.

Buying Gear to Ease the Pain: Sariñana notes the potential for buying new gear to resemble drug abuse in the sense that we quickly acclimate to the ‘hit’ that comes with our new purchase, only to seek out bigger and better rewards.

How to get past gas

If you or someone you know has G.A.S., here are some ways to tackle the problem. Some involve dealing with the physical objects themselves while others focus on the mindset that leads to G.A.S.:

Realize you may have it: Even if you’re not a “gear head,” you might be acquiring services, plugins, memberships and subscriptions just as you would physical tools.

Validate yourself: Remind yourself that you are enough, even if your tools were to magically become primitive tomorrow. You have the talent to create something good with what essentials you have right now and the resourcefulness to improve on it later in the polishing phase.

Unplug: Our constant exposure to iconic, famous and professional-level content or simply content that we love constantly reminds us of how painfully inadequate our work is. Accompanying this, the democratization of creative tools means new markets to be targeted with marketing.

Be deliberate: Whether it’s finding references in the planning phases or only searching up in designated phases, if you find yourself stressing more about gear than creating, then it might be time to unplug from your media exposure.

Each item becomes a promise: Realize that each piece isn’t just an obligation to use it: you will have to maintain it and some items might require more purchases to keep them in good condition. If you have too many promises to keep, KonMari (Marie Kondo’s Shinto-based tidying methodology) your gear, digitally if you must: gather all your tools in one place (or start with one category of them if you’ve got that much) and notice how much you have. Keep the essentials, followed only by the ones that stir positive emotions. Take everything else out of play.

Get creative: this doesn’t just mean actually going out or staying in and doing the thing you bought the gear for. This means finding workarounds for limitations in the entire creative setup that includes gear, you personally and your situation. Consider using creative constraints to your advantage.

Borrow or rent: This might help you to let go of the idea that you need to have (as in own) a given tool to validate your creative title, and be comfortable with the fact you just need to use it for that project — especially true if you need to beef up your tiny mirrorless camera just so a client takes you seriously on that day. Likewise, borrowing or renting lets you “try before you buy.”

Co-buy or own: Or, if you’ve thought ahead and are sure you want something and will use it for the long-term: commit to making a few key purchases, either yourself or with someone, and then commit to using them for many years. Once you’ve committed, you’ll come to appreciate and acknowledge their limitations in conveying what you put into it. Assuming you’ve been using this gear this whole time, you’ll come to love it so much you won’t want to lend it out or replace it.

Make shit: Learn to be comfortable with making highly flawed and imperfect work with no intention of sharing it (or the possibility that nothing will come of it). The obsession with constantly making work for display to reinforce a given title may lead you to want to always “put your best foot forward” and buying new tools can add that polish.

The Takeaway

It’s okay. Everyone has suffered a bad case of G.A.S. or several relapses over the years (we’re pretty sure we’ve had a few). What matters is that you catch yourself early or you tweak your rate of acquisition to match your growing skill level or the actual demands of your jobs or career aspirations.

Regardless of what stage you might be in, for those who think you might be catching it, we highly recommend this detailed recount by “gear addict turned photography addict” Olivier Duong.

In writing this, we found a disproportionate amount of literature connecting G.A.S. to photographers and to a lesser degree, musicians. But this problem extends far beyond those two fields and even beyond physical “gear” as we know it to include subscriptions, plugins, services and software.

Whether you’re an artist that’s bought maybe a hundred Copic markers too many or a hobbyist sewer that’s filled their basement with more bolts of fabric than they have projects for, we’d like to hear any experiences with G.A.S. you’d like to share or suggestions on a broader term that captures this insecurity-driven acquisitive behavior in creatives.

November 21, 2019

How to Avoid Climbing Up Mount Stupid
or Into The Fraudster's Cave

We look at the relationship between knowledgeability and confidence, including the pitfalls of both overestimating and underestimating ourselves. We look at the risk of climbing up Mount Stupid and climbing into The Fraudster’s Cavern.

Mount Stupid and the Dunning-Kruger Effect

Often charts that feature Mount Stupid place “knowledge” or “experience” of a given topic on the horizontal X-axis and “confidence” or “self-perception of competence” on the vertical Y-axis. Mount Stupid is an anomalous region of the graph where the Y-axis is a lot higher relative to the X-axis. In short, it’s a peak where people are overconfident in their competence despite lacking significant experience or expertise. Webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal also frames the chart around the “willingness to opine on a topic” against actual knowledge of said topic.

The chart featuring Mount Stupid is often used to illustrate the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which is a cognitive bias where people lack the self-awareness to realize their overconfidence in their cognitive ability. It was originally described by social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger in 1999, who also studied the effect’s prevalence in different cultures.

The Fraudster’s Cavern and Imposter Syndrome

Charts that include Mount Stupid often depict the “land” that follows as an upwards curving line that implies exponentially increasing confidence as expertise rises. But these charts don’t include another anomaly, one that accounts for a related if not opposite phenomena of the Dunning-Kruger Effect: Imposter Syndrome. The term “impostor phenomenon” first appeared in 1978 in “The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention,” an article by Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanne A. Imes.

Imposter Syndrome is another common bias where highly competent people who are externally recognized as such incorrectly believe their success has been achieved by pure luck or by perpetually deceiving (or defrauding) others into overestimating their competence. In short, they’ve only been “faking it ‘till they make it.”

For the sake of our graph, we’ve put this anomaly near the far right side of the graph where it can potentially pop up. In keeping with topographical metaphors, we’ve called this The Fraudster’s Cavern to illustrate how those with Imposter Syndrome underestimate their competence and thus may also be a lot less willing to opine about it.

The Culture Factor

In later studies, the prevalence of both the Dunning-Kruger Effect and Imposter Syndrome (and their associated “symptoms”) was shown to differ by culture.

Depending on what our given society emphasizes, be it a high level of self-esteem or self-criticism, these values have the potential to influence individual tendencies and actions, such as whether repeated failure leads to self-directed improvement or moving onto other things.

Independent of the cultures we grew up in or are influenced by, it also goes without saying that everyone and anyone is vulnerable to barking up Mount Stupid or slipping into The Fraudster’s Cavern at some point in time — even if we don’t suffer from something that pervades our lives longterm such as the Dunning-Kruger Effect (or the opposite known as the Jonah Complex, which involves avoiding applying one’s talents).

The Takeaway

It’s not hard to see how these two tendencies can crop up in the world of creatives. Certainly, creatives are no strangers to the sense of self-doubt, but against a cultural background that often encourages or forces us to have an opinion on a variety of topics, there is always value in admitting you don’t have all the answers — yet.

We’re at the point where the speed at which we absorb information far exceeds the time we commit to mulling over, challenging and consolidating that information, must less our perspective on it. As a result, it’s not hard to see why we risk unwittingly becoming mountaineers or spelunkers. The keys to solving these? Seeking out quality feedback from honest peers and being willing to take constructive criticism well.

With every achievement, comes the belief that you need to reassess where the next goal or peak lies, should you aim to dedicate time and resources towards improvement. While we agree that life itself changes dynamically in the face of a goal, there’s often a lot of additional baggage with the relentless pursuit of goals. It’s perhaps an oversimplification of the belief that at some point, you have to come to terms with how your life looks and how your relationships play out in the face of “growth.”

November 18, 2019

How Class is Limiting Performing Artists

We look at how class plays into the lives of performing artists, specifically actors, and what does it mean for shaping culture through media. By examining the realities of a career as a performer, we talk about why it’s important for diverse viewpoints to stick around for the long game.

The Reality of Performing Artists

Interviewing and pitching clients is part and parcel with any creative career, especially if you’re independent. But for performers, there are a few factors that when combined, make the economics of staying in the profession particularly difficult (which of course, includes getting low-balled like all other creatives).

  • Training: just as being a photographer isn’t just about clicking a shutter button, being a performer isn’t as simple as doing your best impression or showing off your best dance moves.
  • Maintenance as Lifestyle: One key to getting repeat or more lucrative work is specializing in a given style or role. Depending on the demands (either of physicality or difficulty, for instance) that means adjusting an entire lifestyle towards the maintenance of their primary creative tools: their body and their mental health.
  • Pay-to-Play: Staying in the game costs money independent of maintaining the aforementioned healthy lifestyle. This applies whether you live and work in a place that has strong industry regulation that includes guilds (labor unions) or, like Hong Kong, where there’s little to no support.
  • High Rejection Rates: Rejection comes from all kinds of factors independent of how well someone auditions. Even if a performer learns to cope with it as a matter of life, the reality is each rejection means one less paycheck.
  • Constant Spec Work: Auditions are similar to design contests in that you have to rehearse and train to shape yourself to compete with others for the approval of the client (i.e. casting director). Combined with the aforementioned high-rejection rates, this results in a lot of free work that might not be used at all.
  • Job-to-job: Full-time roles are limited as well, unless you’re able to join a theatre or dance company, a media company as a host or, subject to qualifications, behind-the-scenes or administrative roles.
  • Career Limitations: Constantly keeping schedules flexible to allow for model castings, auditions and ideally, important but high-commitment “plum” roles means performers frequently work other jobs where they may have to artificially cap hours or aspirations.

Why this matters

You might not watch live theater or watch movies, but these mediums have institutional power that retains a lot of influence over the creative output of a given society and what the public sees. And since the audience is effectively the market for creatives, their culturally-shaped tastes, affect which stories get ordered to be made, how many roles are created and which performers get hired.

It’s worth mentioning that the competition for limited roles has also sparked debate over race and nationality (specifically between the US and UK) at the Hollywood level. Yet, the class-wide decline of actors from certain backgrounds is an issue that can have long-term consequences.

Scottish actor James McAvoy, himself the son of a builder and psychiatric nurse, put himself through drama school working at a bakery. Although he emphasizes he has no beef with the success of actors educated at prestigious schools, he warns of what happens when only one group of people become responsible for all the artistic output:

“That’s a frightening world to live in, because as soon as you get one tiny pocket of society creating all the arts, or culture starts to become representative not of everybody but of one tiny part, and that’s not fair to begin with, but it’s also damaging for society.”

The Takeaway

Regardless of the creative field involved, we think it’s important that people get onto a career path that aligns with their aptitudes and passions. The issue is even when both of those are present, not everyone has the same socio-economic opportunities to carry them out all the way, whether that means going through the formal education route that leads to a career after or learning on the job.

It’s not a simple matter of being able to afford individual items like new drawing tools or dance classes in the early stages once you’ve decided to pursue a creative career. It also means having the means to support yourself between dry spells to stay in the game for the long term once you start working.

Even as working creative professionals continue to struggle with the validation of the industry, we likewise have to be wary of the next generation of creative storytellers having opportunities to make their voices heard by being hired. We often talk of the need for diverse viewpoints in the media and the need for stories to be told by different people as well — not just in terms of what they look like, but the circumstances they came from that enrich their work in ways you just can’t imitate.

November 4, 2019

The Importance of the Daily "Brain Shower" aka Sleep

The Wired’s Sara Harrison breaks down the results of a study by Dr. Laura Lewis on the importance of sleep (as if you needed another reminder). Lewis and her team at Boston University Lab have revealed how our body clears toxins out of our brains as we sleep.

The Study

The study aimed to test the role of non-REM (deep) sleep in removing toxins in the brain by examining sleep cycles that were as realistic as possible. Here’s how they did that:

  • Late nights: to ensure the sleep cycles were as realistic as possible, subjects were instructed to stay up late the night before so that they could drift off easily at midnight, when the tests were run.
  • Non-invasive: Participants had to lie down and fall asleep inside an MRI machine and were fitted with an EEG cap to measure the currents flowing through their brains. The test was as non-invasive as possible, even forgoing the use of injected dye commonly used for mapping out the body during MRIs.
  • Isolating Metrics: the MRI measured the levels of oxygen and cerebrospinal fluid — the clear liquid found in the brain and spinal cord — in the brain. This was to better understand their relationship during sleep.

Harrison notes how Dr. Lewis sacrificed her own sleep for science to conduct the late night study, running tests until 3am before sleeping in the next day: “It’s this great irony of sleep research,” Lewis says. “You’re constrained by when people sleep.”

The Findings

Lewis found that during non-REM sleep (also known as deep sleep), the following took place:

  • Neurons synchronize:These specialized cells that transmit impulses start to switch on and off at the same time.
  • Blood flow decreases: When they switch off or “go quiet” they have less need for oxygen and as a result, blood flow to the brain decreases.
  • CSF fills in:  When this happens, cerebrospinal fluid rushes into the added space and washes over the brain in large slow waves.

The results builds off of a previous 2013 study led by neuroscientist Maiken Nedergaard that showed toxins like beta amyloid, a potential contributor to Alzheimer’s disease, was cleared out in mice during sleep. Suffice to say sleep is as important for humans as it is for mice.  “[The paper is] telling you sleep is not just to relax,” says Nedergaard. “Sleep is actually a very distinct function.”

The Implications

Harrison notes that this study only focused on non-REM sleep in healthy young adults and not on other sleep cycles and in older people, which means more research is needed. Still, the findings might help improve treatment for conditions such as Alzheimer’s: where previous medications just focused on targeting certain molecules like beta amyloid, understanding the important role cerebrospinal fluid plays means a new path towards other treatments. For one, Nedergaard says, future treatments might emphasize increasing the amount of cerebrospinal fluid washing over the brain.

Where we’re going with this

Even if we don’t have Alzheimer’s, we can’t ignore the important relationship between sleep, healthy brain function and mental health, issues of which are exacerbated by sleep problems especially in those with pre-existing conditions. To add to that, workers in our creative industry are more susceptible to certain issues such as depression.

Even for those who don’t suffer from said issues, it’s unlikely we’ll hear the conclusive end of the debate on how much sleep is good for creativity, with some arguments broadly praising the benefits of less sleep and others suggesting it depends on the type of creative. For that reason, we’re not going to flat-out suggest you get more sleep than you need to feel good nor will we be penning an Analysis titled “Why You Don’t Actually Need to Sleep That Much” anytime soon.

Rather, we take this study as proof of the overall importance of a good night’s sleep, which now that we see how cerebrospinal fluid is involved, could be affectionately (and accurately) called our daily “brain shower.” Just like a real shower, the exact length varies by the individual and you take as long as you need to start/end your day feeling clean, refreshed and creative.

October 31, 2019

Smart Brevity & "Dumbing Down"

We look at how Dr. Ian Bogost views the misplaced academic fear of needing to dumb down ideas for wider audiences and how to reframe that perspective. We also break down how to approach gaps in knowledge in situations where we assume the role of educator or expert.

Smart Brevity vs. Dumbing Down

Speaking about academics lamenting the need to dumb down their work to reach broader audiences, editor for The Atlantic Ian Bogost (and scholar himself), argues that if you write from a place of contempt, your information might not be so valuable and you might not be so smart after all: “Doing that work—showing someone why a topic you know a lot about is interesting and important—is not “dumb”; it’s smart,” he says. “If information is vital to human flourishing but withheld by experts, then those experts are either overestimating its importance or hoarding it.”

We can’t ignore the fact that we have unprecedented access to information and people have a need to know — whether out of genuine curiosity or anxiety out of not knowing. As such it’s become equally important for audiences to be able to absorb large amounts of complex information and media to process that for them, especially on relevant if specialized topics.

We previously wrote about the importance of slow journalism, the long-form content it tends to produce and the need for audiences to make time to actually process information again. Axios, for one, was launched with both the intention of sharing important (and accurate) information efficiently. In fact, this very Analysis series was inspired by Axios’ approach to “smart brevity” with the aim of helping readers make sense of the world around them.

In short, if you’re frequently in a position where people turn to you for knowledge, it’s less that you have to deign to “dumb down” your ideas — not too far off from the fear of “watering down” the craft for exposure that many creatives have — but rather, you have to get creative with how you package them if you deem them important enough to share.

Dumbing down is not as big a threat as imagined

To debunk the myth of dumbing down as being necessary to impart knowledge (especially if coming from a more formal context of expertise like academia), Bogost says scholars need to keep two key things in mind:

  • Context is Key: Where scholars need to write and publish a means of gaining the reputational currency to fund their careers, writing outside of the academic context is for different purposes. Similarly, what you do as an artist (title or not) will differ what you do if and when you do client work or collaborations.
  • We’re All in the Same Boat: Bogost notes that unlike other experts, academics are often teachers and as such, are involved in careers that emphasize helping people anyways. He also points out that writers and journalists write with the same core intention as well, even if yes, their work does also serve double-duty for career advancement.

We personally recall some professors in junior courses that would instruct us to write as if we were talking to non-experts and others in later courses emphasizing the need to speak directly to the expert grading them. It’s less about which approach is correct, but that the audience — the very people listening to our message — should be at the center. So in the context of creatives, we’d add another special point:

  • Don’t Throw Them Into the Deep End: As creatives, you need to communicate ideas of varying complexity to all types of people. Thinking of how to move the narrative (or production) along begins with something shallow but progressively, you’re bringing them deeper into the story, opportunity, or workflow. This isn’t a hard-fast rule because naturally, some things are common knowledge and others can be inferred, especially if you work with someone closely and regularly.

The Takeaway

When it comes to different contexts where knowledge is exchanged, whether it be in a public talk, in a private meeting or on set, there will always be scenarios where someone doesn’t get it or wants to know more. It simply comes with the diverse territory we work in.

Yet in all cases, sharing of knowledge — assuming it’s that it’s true to the name and not flaunting how much you know — has to come from a place of sincerity that takes effort to:

  • Get to the point intelligently: to render the most helpful amount of knowledge and in the most helpful terms necessary for a person to understand its importance if not do something with that information.
  • Reserve judgment: not everyone is a serial Googler (or reader of decks and briefs, sadly). You will always encounter situations where there will be a gap in up-to-date knowledge, expertise or understanding, and you will be on either side at some point. There’s no certificate or badge of honor for you to rattle off what you casually absorb on Reddit, in your news feed or anecdotally and yet be unable to actually explain that information to the uninitiated.
  • Reach understanding: means actively and dare we say, creatively, searching for new angles or means of communicating ideas, intents, and emotions so that we reach understanding — even if we don’t reach consensus.
  • Direct frustration: We aim to keep anger and frustration to a minimum projects in a way that’s distinct from pointing out gross errors or maintaining a sense of urgency on tight deadlines. Try as we may, we still might not reach understanding, however. But if you’re redirecting frustration at the situation rather than people, you’re more likely to focus your limited energies on immediate problem-solving as opposed to “hunting for the screw-up.” Save that for the debrief.

The final caveat is, of course, if you’re creating as an act of expression and less of communication or if you’re doing so for a niche audience. If you as an expert in your style or your work isn’t intended to be understood or engaged with by a broad range of people, then by all means, stay true to your vision and don’t let the need for greater exposure cloud that.

October 25, 2019

The Coming Age of Fake Faces and Voices

As AI and machine learning become better at reproducing human likenesses and speech, we wonder how society and the creative industries will cope once the technology becomes widespread. We look at the possible ramifications of Deepfakes and the lesser-known Adobe speech engine VoCo, dubbed “Photoshop for the voice”.

Deepfakes and VoCo

By now, the Internet is no stranger to Deepfakes, whether it’s through hearing about its baser use cases or laughing our way through “re-cast” scenes from iconic films. The technology uses multiple images or footage of a person’s face to create an animated model that can be superimposed atop the original. But few seem to be aware of a similar and arguably, more powerful technology: fake voices. When it was announced in 2016, VoCo was touted as Adobe’s “Photoshop for voice” and while updates have been sparse since, other similar platforms have stepped in, such as LyreBird.

To get a feel for what Voco can do, check out this video where the technology was first debuted at Adobe MAX 2016. It shows the speech engine replicating the voice of actor and director Jordan Peele (who co-hosted) to make him say some funny but embarrassing things he has never said before — all using only 20 minutes of his recorded speech. Coincidentally, Peele also made a PSA where he provided the voice of a deepfaked President Obama in an effort to underscore a renewed need for media literacy in the age of Deepfakes.

Misinformation, Echo Chambers and Social Fallout

We’re continuing to keep a pulse on the potential for big data to amplify narratives, sway conversations and change culture for better or worse. Unfortunately, in the age of fake news, fact-checking is playing a losing game of cat and mouse with dubiously factual content or straight-up misinformation.

We’ve always used a combination of technology and creativity — well-intentioned or malicious — to shape reality, whether it means “cheating” shots to get a certain look on a budget or doctoring media for libelous reasons. Yet every generation has also had experts that keep us informed of how these things are done. The issue that’s most worrying is both that the tech is improving and we’re not listening anymore: even when shown evidence against their beliefs, people will dig in their heels and defend them.

Social media’s information silos and echo chambers threaten to become even worse once the average tech-savvy netizen is able to Deepfake and VoCo-lize with ease. When we lose the ability to trust our senses that much more (something we’ve already been losing as of late), it makes even the most engaged of us despondent to the state of the world and eager to just shut everything off.

The Potential Creative Outcomes

All said, it would be cynical to conclude that the only uses for these technologies are nefarious ones. “Hate the player, not the game,” as they say and we see a lot of potentials for Deepfakes and Voco to assist artists and creative workers.

For creatives providing their likenesses or voices and the people processing them, we see this new dynamic going one of several ways:

  • Quick Fixes: Not unlike content aware tools for Photoshop, Deepfakes and VoCo-like technology can help patch up more severe mistakes that can’t be done with conventional editing of the source material. This will evidently, lower the cost of reshoots and other production expenses as Adobe originally stated for VoCo.

As always, getting things done right the first time will always prevail, and for that there will be someone still thankful for not having to Deepfake or Voco correct hours of poorly captured footage, not to mention it still might not replace the real thing (which is why practical film effects still have an edge on CGI in many cases).

  • Updated Terms: We imagine there is a need to update contracts down the line that prevents someone from creating derivative content off of the images provided for a given project. For instance, an agency could create advertising materials out of video footage of us from say, a music video — so long as we’ve signed off on it.

But as the legal stance on deepfakes and similar content catches up, we could see the addition of key clauses that stipulate something to the effect of : “the client shall not create new material generated by AI taught using the artist’s likeness, voice or previous work.” Or if we allowed it, we could negotiate to be compensated depending on how much content is generated against a portion of our day rate (we’re going to assume the original voice of Siri, Susan Bennett was paid handsomely for her efforts).

  • Composite People: If Generated Photos’ 100,000 Faces project (which generated as many portraits through machine learning) has taught us anything, it’s that AI is getting better and better at generating realistic likenesses of people (albeit portraits of them). We can and should protect the rights to our unique selves and content generated from them, but what if we become less than a thousandth of a generated person in body or voice? Perhaps we could be entitled to a thousandth of the royalties, depending on the platform!

The Takeaway: A Re-Shuffling of the Creative Landscape

All in all, we still don’t know how much machine-generated personalities will change the creative landscape just yet, but we doubt it will be a clear-cut net positive or negative. Take our previous example of digital clothing collections made for the gram: in cases like these, the designer keeps their job, the pattern maker loses theirs, and the 3D modeler posing outfits onto customer photos gained a new one.

Even once we get to the stage where we’re using fully-posable photorealistic models of digital people using text-to-speech that nails personality, we predict the most-respected work and their creators will continue to pride themselves on employing, connecting with and working with real humans that can think for themselves, versus simply doing or saying what they’re programmed to do.

October 21, 2019

On Compromise: The Difference Between Renting Out and Selling Out


The fourth edition of Career Myths, a WeTransfer series, asks the question: is it possible to sell out on your own terms? We take a look at what selling out means in today’s creative landscape and how that differs from renting out.

Examples from the Past

The article points to the success of painter Salvador Dalí, whose estate ended up being worth $87 million by the time he died. His name is synonymous with surrealist painting, yet many considered him a complete sell-out for his work on projects ranging from designing the Chupa Chups lollipop brand logo to appearing in commercials for all sorts of household products.

Other examples include hard rock bands like Metallica who changed their sound for mainstream consumption and any number of celebrities that were once popular but took on any number of projects to bring in more money as their fame dried up.

Things Have Changed

Today, the distance between brands and creatives (and the public) has never been smaller such that more and more people are working together. Companies are looking to broaden their image and creatives are trying to expand the portfolio, meaning the chances of these two sides interacting are higher than ever. And in the process, the ability to create our own future has become as easy as the idea of “staying true to the cause” has become murky.

Refinery 29 calls it “Generation Sell-Out” because of how we’re encouraged to monetize our hobbies and turn side hustles into businesses. Whether it’s out of genuine desire to “do what we love” as a career or an obligation borne out of economic hardship,

If we were to frame the above examples today, we’d actually see some parallels between rockstar artists and us influencers-in-waiting: we need money at different points in our lives and assuming we’ve committed to non-traditional career paths, how else do we make bank? The only real difference is the amounts needed to support our respective lifestyles and how much we can get.

Renting Versus Selling Out

When we traditionally think of “selling out” in the negative sense, we see it as compromising on some sort of moral high ground, maybe the one embodied by the themes of our work, for a chunk of cash. Before, we viewed it as giving up on some sort of greater cause, succumbing to the demands of something lesser or even directly opposed to us. What we once thought of as “sticking it to The Man” only to be working for him later.

Yet today, we might be quicker to judge each other for the products we buy or the type of media we consume over the big company we just landed a contract with. Why is that? There seems to be a tacit agreement that comes with the “hustle culture” that acknowledges everyone’s need to make money, and that renting out their services allows them to pay rent or debt or prepare for the next move.

So what are your terms?

The WePresent article cites the practical example of French illustrator Matthieu Bessudo, better known as Mcbess (aka Matthieu Bessudo). For him, commercial work is simply a fact of his career and his calendar, but he does this work within a few parameters:

  • Maintains personal style: He does not compromise on his trademark monochrome style.
  • Chooses clients: he only works for brands he likes or for products he actually uses.
  • Exposure optional: He doesn’t post commercial work on social media unless contractually bound to do so.

Despite being established in his career, McBess treats commercial work as a reality he doesn’t necessarily plan to escape from or eliminate because it allows him the room to create work he’s truly passionate about: “I’m not that interested in working for clients, but I have to do it because I have rent to pay. I have to support myself.”

If you’re in this game for the long term, it does help to be pragmatic and readjust your parameters depending on what phase you’re in or plan to be in.

The Takeaway

We know that no two creatives or careers are the same. That said, we think it’s important to identify our parameters and our red zone, lest they pop-up when we least expect. The trick is knowing when you’re just renting out and when you might be really selling out.

On Renting out: We view renting out as offering services, skills, and talents for hire for a specific time frame. That said, we might run into conflicts that relate to the valuation of those things (for more on this, check out our Money Moves series).

  • Identify the work you’re fine with: Unless you’re able to get paid for one skill (say, just shooting photos without having to edit or retouch), you might consider picking up other skills you’re okay to learn and develop to stay hired and competitive.
  • Do the calculus: Regardless of whether you’re just starting out or not, ask yourself if this job or relationship will provide meaningful compensation in terms of money, satisfaction, practical experience, “exposure,” portfolio or network?
  • Plan Ahead: If you need to rent your services either more often than you’d like or doing work you’d prefer not to, then you will have to plan ahead so you can use the money you gain to build towards the next phase instead of getting stuck on the hustle treadmill.

On Selling Out: We treat selling out as a compromise, whether it uses our talents or not, that conflicts with our core being or dignity (think being paid to act like your most despised person for the day).

  • Where do you stand: What are your strong preferences and what are your deep-seated beliefs? Do you actually equate working for Client A with selling your soul, or is that client just currently taking a lot of flak from the media or your peers?
  • Consider Two Styles: Sometimes, the nature of client work can mean you end up working in a style that’s distinct from your own personal style as an artist. Make sure you don’t neglect the latter and be extra protective of it.
  • “Sell out now, go clean later”: If you really need to sell out to pay the bills, will it be worth it? How often are you going to need to do this? Again, plan to get out of this phase as soon as you’re able and especially before you have a strong following.

To conclude things, there’s one particular thing to be aware of, and it certainly doesn’t make the idea of monetizing hobbies any easier: Realize that when money is on the line, the rules of engagement change. Taken from experiences around us, playing a sport or taking photos for money can fundamentally alter your relationship with what was once a source of joy. Once we start to think transactionally, the dynamic changes and there’s almost always unwanted pressure that gets added on. So consider it perfectly fine to do something you’re decent at purely for your own therapy and enjoyment — not another skill to add to the “package.”

Whether you have to rent out or sell out to survive and make it to a better place, this is not an invitation to do anything morally wrong, no question there. But by recognizing that the “high ground” of the starving artist is romantic but outdated and unhealthy, you can start finding ways to build toward a healthy and sustainable creative career.

October 3, 2019

Foot Locker Bets On Cultural Authenticity With Greenhouse Incubator


Streetwear and sneaker industries continue to mature into lucrative segments whilst brands are upping their investment in cultural capital for the next phase of the game. Once considered a core part of the sneaker landscape, Foot Locker is trying to find its place in the modern battlefield of sneakers, fashion, and youth. The recent launch of Foot Locker’s Greenhouse hopes to give it the “cred” needed to expand beyond its household name as a retailer.

What is Greenhouse?

Project Greenhouse is Foot Locker’s recently launched initiative that’s meant to change how the brand interacts with a younger, culturally-savvy customer base. Greenhouse is headed by Mel Peralta, founder of watch brand FLüD. In his words, “Inclusivity, empowerment and innovation are really our three big pillars behind the identity of Greenhouse.”

This modus operandi is meant to be drastically distinct from the corporate obligations of Foot Locker proper, and for this reason, Greenhouse will have its own separate office far from Foot Locker’s Manhattan headquarters. “We wanted to make sure that we had a group that was really close to culture, that was not breathing our own air all the time,” said Foot Locker CMO Jed Berger to HYPEBEAST. To do this, Greenhouse will revolve around three key parts:

  • Collaborations: directly working with designers and creators on projects with cultural impact.
  • Concepts: connecting with brands in unconventional ways.
  • Think Tank: creating culturally-progressive initiatives within the company itself. This was Green house’s original purpose as a purely internal project before it branched off.

In Execution

Keeping with Foot Locker’s strong retail roots, Greenhouse will exist as an app where customers can buy exclusive product and check availability for items limited to select stores. But the primary goal for the incubator remains to create cultural capital through the talent it works with. Here are some of the names attached for the initial launch:

  • Photographer Christina Paik
  • Davin Gentry of Diet Starts Monday
  • Banga of PaperBoy Paris
  • Artist Victor Solomon
  • Designer Nicole McLaughlin
  • Founder of VFILES, Julie Anne Quay
  • Treis Hill of ALIFE
  • Dao-Yi Chow of Public School

Included inside the scope of this first push is O-1, a sustainability-focused e-commerce platform headed by Chow, and Project 366, whose aim is to identify young talent and offer mentorship towards retail early as opposed to waiting until they’ve had to grow their brand on their own

“All the cool kids are doing it.”

Foot Locker is certainly not the only brand to launch public-facing initiatives geared towards folding in young stakeholders into its ideation strategy. Regardless of their scope or under what dynamic the initiative operates, the end goal is to create a gateway on the side specifically for creative talent to connect with a brand or other brands, and to fast track them towards contributing their skills to the industry. Other brands that have done this:

  • LVMH Prize by Louis Vuitton: A program to empower and equip young designers with experience and resources
  • Studies____ by Reebok: A Kerby Jean-Raymond (of Pyer Moss) initiative focused on pairing designers with Reebok
  • Pensole: An ongoing footwear design program
  • Sneaker Essentials: A co-created curriculum featuring the Fashion Institute of Technology and Complex Magazine

Cultivating Talent for Tomorrow

At a time when brands are both mirroring the moves of their competitors while trying to differentiate, the launch of Greenhouse demonstrates how important cultural relevance and authenticity will be down the line. Part of that has meant that brands took stances on politics in a bid to demonstrate a better understanding of their target markets through their PR and business decisions. That was the output end of the brand strategy. On the input end, recruiting and nurturing loyal talent is as essential an investment as proprietary technology.

Why? In the constant arms race to show how different or better a brand is over its competitors, Foot Locker as a retailer is both late and outclassed compared to larger brands. That said, with sneakers set to outsell fashion footwear in the States by 2020, there will still be plenty of business to go around for this rapidly maturing segment. And when other brands join the fray, it will be interesting to see how their initiatives operate differently, what emerging talent they find and what new ideas come of them.

What’s the Missing Link We See?

One of the most frequent conversations we have is around structure in the realm of creativity. Structure manifests itself across both back-end and front-end elements.

  • Business (back-end): How do you create a viable business and build in the day-to-day requirements to ensure you can monetize your creativity?
  • Creative (front-facing): How do you plan out consistent and scalable creative execution?

In our experience, ideas are rarely the hardest part. Anybody can come up with a good idea, at least once. But understanding how to build something that can consistently exist in the realm of relevancy and (financial sustainability) is much more difficult.

September 23, 2019

The Balance of Time, Meaning and Money


Several studies say that people who value time over money tend to be happier and this seems to also apply to graduates in spite of debt, and independent of socio-economic class. Yet our modern lives show that we can buy back time and the happiness that comes with it. And if both are present how does the concept of “meaning” factor into this?

The Evidence

University of British Columbia researchers asked graduating students how satisfied they felt with their lives over the course of a month. They surveyed the students again a year later. In both surveys, about 62% of them said they valued time more than money, and those people were happier. What’s more, valuing time over money brought double the magnitude of happiness linked to materialism in general and happiness known to accrue from high parental income.

In further research, “People who value time make decisions based on meaning versus money,” says study leader Ashley Whillans, an assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. “They choose to do things because they want to, not because they have to.”

Although Canadian tuition (and the resulting student debt) isn’t as high as in the United States, the emphasis on time over money does seem to carry over into adulthood and across different countries. A 2016 study of American adults found that they were “happier and more satisfied with life than the people who chose money,” even after accounting for differences in age, income, and the amount of time people spent at work or at leisure.

Another survey from the Pew Research Center asked people to rank various activities based on meaningfulness. The top three? Time with family, friends and time spent outdoors. After that was pets, listening to music, reading, and religion. In eighth place: job or career.

Income Satiation and The $95,000 Threshold

Naturally, it’s too simplistic to conclude we should just drop everything and just “live our best lives.” A lot of us have to put food on the table and sometimes we have to spend money to make money. So how much time and money do we really need?

Well, it differs by the country, but “income satiation” seems to happen between $65,000 and $75,000 for emotional well-being, but for life evaluation (long-term goals as opposed to day-to-day satisfaction), that kicks in at about $95,000. These two thresholds for satisfaction happen later for wealthier regions.

As for time, it’s more complicated. It’s certainly a lot easier to focus on time when we have financial security, but it seems even when we have that, we still feel like we’re short on time and we suffer for it. For North Americans at least, our culture creates a famine of time where the stress of not having enough time to do all the things we want to do is more worse than being out of a job.

To this end, modern conveniences that include the gig economy (as in paying people to do our tasks instead of doing them ourselves) allow us to buy back some of our time — and thus, some of our happiness. In a survey of more than 6,000 people in the United States, Denmark, Canada, and the Netherlands (including 800 millionaires), those who spent the most on time-saving purchases reported higher levels of life satisfaction.

That said, there’s bound to be yet another ceiling here. Does your lifestyle mean you’re constantly converting time to money back into time, and leaking both in the process? How much of your lifestyle is contingent on “paying to play,” much less “paying to win”? For creative types, this is especially worth considering if we find ourselves excessively needing to convert money to time or worse, the inspiration that fuels our work.

The Key Takeaways

  • “People who value time make decisions based on meaning versus money. They choose to do things because they want to, not because they have to.”
  • Humans adapt to a lot of things including happiness, which is why we can actually reach a cap where more money doesn’t equal more happiness.
  • Money can buy happiness when we pay to free up our time, but only if that time gained back is actually free time.

So assuming you’re generally not satisfied with all things considered, Whilans suggests active leisure and just about anything physical versus passive leisure like just watching TV or giving away our time by volunteering. Whether we choose to do that or not, the idea is to change our perception of our time, one that doesn’t have a dollar or utilitarian value on it. Not only does that free us from feeling “starved” for time, but it could also allow us to do highly meaningful work (creative or otherwise) that we might not get hired to do otherwise. The caveat is that we have to plan ahead for how we spend any free time we suddenly happen upon (for fear it gets filled with something else out of compulsion).

To try and put our complex lives in a nutshell: there’s a strong link between our satisfaction and the balance of a triangle includes time and money on the sides supporting meaning at the top. Modern conveniences mean that we have more options to shuffle and “convert” our resources as we need, but unless we get our reasons in order, we’re less likely to find anything resembling happiness in the long run.

September 16, 2019

What to do when you feel uninspired at work

We’ve all been there before where we find ourselves in a rut or hitting a wall (or several) that leaves us uninspired. Busy modern work schedules have always existed, but this generation’s situation has perhaps evolved faster than we can cope. So how do we continue to fuel inspiration at a time when creative work will increasingly be in demand?

The Progress Principle

One of the most common sources of lowered motivation at work is what Harvard researchers called the progress principle, which is the idea that making progress in meaningful work is the “single most important factor” in boosting one’s “emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday.”

The idea of small wins is a very popular means of tackling the day-to-day, especially where the list of tasks and nested subtasks becomes a veritable mountain of work: Moving the needle even a tenth of a degree reminds we are capable of effecting change. This goes hand in hand with chunking as a means of rationalizing a seemingly incomprehensible workload. But this isn’t the complete picture because it’s only a means of getting through work we have to do — it says nothing of the emotional value of the work or our perception of it.

The counterpoint is that when we aim to chip away at small wins, we lose sight of the bigger picture. The goals of many is often to tackle the biggest, most challenging task first, when we have an abundance of energy and attention versus deferring tough tasks towards the end. Oh wait, that’s procrastination right?

The Threat of Confirmation Bias

When individuals or a group of individuals finally arrive at “what works for them,” it can be an enormously cathartic moment that has lifelong ramifications (for them). The issue is when these ‘eureka’ moments then become the gospel that self-help books, lifestyle blogs, anecdotal and even scientific research say applies to a lot of people.

Unfortunately, the promise of “that one book” or “that one podcast” is tempting to jump on as a means of getting ourselves out of the mud and back into the game. But the reality is, although many other human beings have experienced what we’ve been through, looking through only their pool of answers distracts us from finding our own.

Fatigue and The Spectrum of Inspiration

A lack of inspiration has less to do with the amount of work or stress (people can have ‘good’ stress that comes from a fruitful and engaging lifestyle) and more to do with our distance from inspiration.

Whether our inspiration comes from internal or external sources, we can feel uninspired when we’re cut off from that wellspring: maybe you haven’t traveled somewhere new for a while, checked out any new spots or shows, interact with people that are important to you or even just had time to be alone with your own thoughts. In short, you’re stuck in the same dull place for too long—geographically or mentally.

It naturally follows that we need to bring back (read: reschedule) these inspirations into our lives or find new ones. However, an important caveat—especially in our current era—is that we must also have some tangible access to them. FOMO is a thing and the gap between what our situation could be versus what we can realistically achieve in our situation doesn’t always turn into the stuff dreams are made of: it decays into restlessness (despite the intended audience of this particular source, the symptoms certainly apply to all modern humans).

At the other end of lacking inspirational things in our lives is the excess of things that can drain our mental batteries that while constantly evolving, haven’t updated quickly enough to process the new glut of stressors (if they were ever meant to). When this happens, we might start a cascade of rushed, unconscious but poor decisions that take us to a place we might not have wanted to end up.

The Fall Back

Sigh, such is reality that try what we can, following the conventional wisdom of “you just need to chill out” is not always possible and we don’t know what else to do.

  • Do less or quit — temporarily: Where possible, cut out the tasks that will lead you to burnout.
  • Reframe: If the cause is that you’re too overloaded by the situation to even consider seeking out inspiration, is it possible to see this from another angle or find the silver lining? Are we unconsciously starting to catastrophize because of how we view the situation?
  • Counterbalance and offset: If you can’t substantially change your work situation and can’t leave, the only solution is to deliberately counterbalance that with what free time you have.
  • Medicate—RESPONSIBLY: Assuming your lack of inspiration isn’t a symptom of something more serious, responsible non-dependent self-medication remains an option. We already use technology to regulate and adapt to a stressful modern life. Used appropriately, chemical technology can give us the same helping hand. This isn’t a call to abuse substances, but to try out other options such as nootropics.
  • Soul search: If all the articles, chats with friends and podcasts aren’t helping take the “me” time you need to be alone and uncomfortable with your thoughts.
  • Forget “perfect,” just aim to learn: Going out and learning something provides you with a double dose of growth. Acquiring knowledge introduces new stimulus while also touching back on the idea of achievement.

At the end of the day, it’s not always easy to turn that feeling of “meh” into “chyeah!” but it is possible. Creativity isn’t driven by serendipity, it’s about constantly finding solutions through unexpected connections, something we’ve doubled, tripled, quadrupled down on. Like a muscle, it can be trained and enhanced through focus and practice.

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