Five Things I Wish I’d Known Sooner

Some nice folk at Hiive got in touch this week – it’s a network for the creative industries where you can showcase work, get access to educational resources, look for relevant jobs and so on. It’s backed by Creative Skillset.

They asked me if I could offer some advice and tips to aspiring creative folk, which got me thinking (it’s nice to start the year with a bit of reflection).

So here are five things I believe now, but wish I’d known a bit sooner.


Whenever you apply for a job, or get a new job description, there’s a natural presumption perhaps that somebody somewhere has thought really long and hard about that description of the work to be done. I realised back when I had job descriptions that there were two things working against this presumption.

Firstly, the world changes, and you can’t expect someone writing a job description to get what the future might contain. Secondly, because they’re busy trying to do the work in a changing world, the opportunity for them to spend a proper amount of time defining a job description is rare. It’ll be scraped together in evenings, weekends, pieced together from older job descriptions and voguish terminology.

So don’t use a job description as a remit, a set of boundaries not to cross. Understand it as a platform, a place to start from, and reach out and up. It’s an excuse to start, not a place to stop.


I first really started doing innovation off the back of a pitch I worked on at PHD. It was for a major record label, it was 2007 or something, and nobody really knew anything about this thing called Myspace beyond how to buy a banner on it. Except at the time, I happened to be in a band as a hobby, and ran our Myspace page. It’s also where I learned to code (really badly). Somebody told the Strategy Director, I was drafted on to the pitch team, and it went from there.

We’re not simply the work side of what we do; we are whole people. Everything you do, everything you’ve learned, everything you’ve ever practices or tried… it could all come in handy, and you just never know when. It’s what the brilliant Nilofer Merchant calls Onlyness:

“Onlyness is that thing that only that you can bring to a situation, the collective combination of all your experiences, hopes, dreams, achievements, setbacks, meanderings and accidents of birth… until we honor Onlyness, we are limiting our selves, our organizations and our economies.”

You’ve got to be that whole person at work, otherwise both you and the company are missing out.


I do enthusiasm really well. It just seems to flood through me at certain moments, and then the whole experience of working well on problems to solve just seems to be the easiest thing in the world. But that state of enthusiasm isn’t the thing that gets things done.

Tenacity, understanding how to push through the hard yards, to get things into a shape is a much more valuable skill set to develop. Tenacity is still there at two in the morning long after enthusiasm slunk off in a taxi home. And that’s OK.


There’s nothing better when you find a new rabbit hole to fall down, a field or area or technique or movement which feels that it could inform a significant part of this next project that you’re working on. And the time pressures will force you to cram as much learning about it into as short a period as time as possible, so that you become the de facto expert in the room.

Always push through that learning curve, until you are comfortable in realising how little you actually know about it. It’s not The Matrix, you can’t learn Kung-Fu in a single download. But you can get to a stage where you understand the territory enough to know what sort of specialist you need to help you out…


I read this post, What Specifically Does A Generalist Do?, in 2008, and all of a sudden everything became crystal clear about what I might be. A few years previously, somebody had said over a pint “You know your problem? You’ve got to pick something to specialise in…” which sounded terribly, terribly boring. Where’s the skill, fun, learning in trying to do the same thing over and over?

Generalism has given me a lens to examine everything from client problems to my own skill set with. It’s helped me understand that there are specificities in a generalist approach which is vital for anything in a changing world; strategy, design, innovation or whatever else. It didn’t turn out to be a problem after all.


Hiive have recently been delving into the top drawers of creative from different industries. For a chance to win one of five Artefact for Pocket sets courtesy of Hiive & Smithery, add a picture of the tools you use on a daily basis to the discussion in Swarm and mention Smithery in the comment. Winners will be chosen at random on 5th February.

Yellow Pocket


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