Wrestling the Intangible

What is cool, anyway?

“We look at cool as a commodity now—an option. What isn’t understood by many, yet coveted by few, is that cool isn’t now. Cool is everything. It’s now, then, again, around. It’s always lingering. Without cool, we don’t have that moment. We have a moment, but it’s never that one”. – Me, 2011.

What was 27-year-old me trying to reckon with back in 2011? What was I coping with when I wrote those plodding, confusing words? 

I was just a 27-year-old trying wrestling the intangible in 2011 when I wrote those words. And while I may not remember the exact cause of my contemplation, I do remember that time vividly.

In 2010, my partner Jim and I took the plunge and started our own business with all the baggage of being a young entrepreneur. It was a bold move, but we were determined to make it work. And yet, as the dust settled in 2011, I realized that the true impact of our decision had yet to hit me.

I quickly realized that as the creative leader of our business, the responsibility of deciding what was “cool” and what wasn’t fell on my shoulders. This newfound autonomy was thrilling and terrifying as I struggled with subjectivity and the pressure to deliver outstanding ideas.

But over the years, I’ve developed some theories for handling the weight of creative leadership:


1. Practice empathy. Listen to people. Be a sponge. Talk to people from all different walks of life. Volunteer your time. You’re there to put a brand into context for a wider audience. I can’t believe people in my line of work don’t deploy this tactic more often. 

2. Observe mindfully and actively. What you put into it is what you will eventually get out of it. I am gifted with an exceptional memory. I can tell you all about my favorite day of kindergarten and what I felt and heard. Stay directly tuned in with the zeitgeist, and edit it like your own movie. Make your memorable experiences work for your clients; that’s your job. 

3. Know when to hold ‘em. Trends are like poker hands. In other words, trends will come and go. Watch them pass by and decide when and if you can exploit them. If you can’t make it work for your clients quickly, sit this out. Trust me, the last thing you want is to be seen as exploiting a fad after it’s run its course. On the other hand, watch trends closely, and see where these longer-living counterparts might fit into your client’s creative portfolio.

4. Envy will get you nowhere. It’s great to watch what others do with their brands, their clients’ brands, etc. Do not fall into the “I wish we had” or “If we were more like this” type of thinking because it is a dead end. Stop dwelling on your weaknesses and focus on improving your strengths. 

5. Find a practice that lets the steam out. In commercial creativity, you’re paid to ensure your output has an effect. It’s easy to say, “I’ve always wanted to try this,” and then take your excitement and shoehorn it into whatever you’re working on. If you want to try a new technique or work in a new medium, do it yourself first. Consider it part of what I talked about in number 2, the zeitgeist. Explore and harness it, but don’t try to cram it into an existing project. This will lead to disappointment for everyone involved. 

6. Learn the difference between too much and enough. I’ve written about this in the past, but I cannot emphasize it enough. It comes up time and time again for a reason. Just because you can doesn’t always mean you should. Take time to apply strategic thinking to your output and make sure it hits the mark. 

In conclusion, when it falls to you to be the objective truth, you have to get outside your own echo chamber and do your best to consider all the variables. It’s your belief in the idea that makes the intangible tangible. It starts with you.