The 5 nerdiest things that made my creative career

Pretty much every Creative Director I know is a geek or a nerd (there’s a difference). And by this, I mean that each one of them has an interest, bordering on obsession, in the obscure details of a specialized field — whether it be film, art, science, technology, or culture.

Your mileage may vary, but I’d like to out myself and tell you about the truly nerdy activities and interests of my youth that gave me essential skills I use each day in my job as a CD.

1) Adventure Gaming

As an adult, I’m not much of a computer gamer. With the exception of Adventure on the Atari 2600 and the first version of Civilization, I’ve never really developed an obsession with digital games. But what I did have, more than 30 years ago, was a passionate love affair with old-school, pen-paper-and-dice role playing games — especially Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. As a side interest, I eagerly consumed the genre of Choose Your Own Adventure books that worked like primitive computer games, but in printed form.

Dungeons and Dragons Cartoon
Via Blogspot

What it taught me

User experience. Both playing and designing adventure game narratives trains the brain to consider multiple variable paths at several points, and imagine and control the user experience for an interesting outcome. Sound familiar? It comes in handy when planning online experiences such as web sites and nifty interactive ads. (I’m guessing the people behind this had similar experiences.)

2) Debating Club

Yeah, that’s right. My friend Keith told me it would be good for my university application and resume. But as the son of a lawyer (later judge), argument came naturally to me.

What it taught me

Basically, everything. Formal debating often requires defending a position you don’t really believe in. I cannot endorse this discipline enough. Creative strategy is all about putting yourself in someone else’s skin and understanding why they think and do what they think and do. It also teaches you to hold your emotions in check, which can be especially important in a tense meeting or social media firestorm.

3) Drama

I took optional drama classes from Grade 6 straight through to first year university. I was never a great actor, but I really enjoyed writing and performing scripts.

John Lovitz: "Acting!" SNL
Via Videogum

What it taught me

Immunity to stage fright. Considering how few people fear public speaking less than death itself, anything that helps you deliver a convincing and organized live performance is going to be valued by clients and colleagues alike. A member of my family started with a BA in Drama and is now president of a marketing company. It should be mandatory training for people who want to succeed in this business.

4) Student Council

I was Chair of my high school Student Council for a year. Unlike the “popularity contests” in some schools, our student government elected its own executive from members at large, themselves chosen by the student body. (I doubt I would have ever attained the position otherwise.)

Still from "Election"
Via eonline

What it taught me

Politics. Have you ever seen a workplace without them? In the agency world, you don’t just have to navigate your own company’s politics, but help your clients stay one step ahead of theirs. Being on Student Council also teaches presentation skills, event planning, budgeting, and dealing with The Man.

5) School Newspaper

I started my first school newspaper in Grade 5. It was an independent ‘zine, really, that my friends and I mimeographed with the help of a kindly librarian. Our teacher found out, and rather than being impressed he seized editorial control and made it a class project. I didn’t return to student journalism until my first year at Queen’s University, where I wrote album and concert reviews.
Hunter S. Thompson at his typewriter
Via Blogspot

What it taught me

Productivity and conciseness. Writing for print means cranking out a couple of hundred words on tight deadlines, while still trying to be interesting, structured, and accurate. Concert reviews often required staying up after the bar closed and filing in the middle of the night while in a state of questionable sobriety. (What could that possibly have in common with agency life?)

The good news is, if your kids are showing nerdy or geeky tendencies, they may have a career in advertising ahead of them. The bad news is, they may have a career in advertising ahead of them. 🙂


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