Creativity for Sale Podcast - Episode S1 E19

Mastering the art of creative specialisation - Chris Do

Mon, 08 Apr 2024

Send us a Text Message."We can only do our best work for those that are aligned with what we believe and that tastes are similar. "Chris Do is an award-winning designer, educator, and host of The Futur YouTube and The Futur podcast. The discussion looks at topics such as the importance of specialisation, the challenges of creative careers, and the role of AI in the creative industry.



Show Notes Transcript

Send us a Text Message.

"We can only do our best work for those that are aligned with what we believe and that tastes are similar. "

Chris Do is an award-winning designer, educator, and host of The Futur YouTube and The Futur podcast. The discussion looks at topics such as the importance of specialisation, the challenges of creative careers, and the role of AI in the creative industry.~

Chris shares his journey from a humble beginning as a candy seller in school to becoming a successful entrepreneur and educator. He emphasizes the need for creatives to find their niche, focus on their strengths, and be selective about the clients they work with. 

The episode also explores the evolving nature of the creative industry, drawing parallels between the past and present, and the impact of new technologies like AI on the creative process.

Key Takeaways:

  • Specialise and focus on a specific area to become an expert and stand out in the market.
  • Learn the language of business to communicate effectively with clients and stakeholders.
  • Continuously seek new challenges and opportunities for growth, even after achieving success.
  • Embrace AI as a tool to supplement and enhance your creative abilities, not as a replacement.
  • Build a strong sense of self-awareness and confidence to overcome criticism and adversity.

Overall, this episode provides valuable insights for creatives seeking to navigate the ever-changing landscape of their industry, while staying true to their artistic vision and embracing new technologies as tools for growth and innovation.


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Chris Do:

we can only do our best work for those that are aligned with what we believe and that are taste. are similar. Our ambition, our desire for innovative thinking and design and willingness to take some risk, not a lot of risk, but some risk at least. So if we're aligned with those people, we have to say like, well, who are those people? who do I want to represent? And who am I a good representative for? And I think that's the other challenge that we have to get over because it's, unfortunately, we're trapped under the scarcity mindset. Like, Oh, I don't know when the next gig is going to come. So I better just say yes. And I don't want to pick a lane because picking a lane means other kinds of clients aren't right for me. And it's actually, the opposite is true. Where the more specialized we, we become, the more focused in what it is that we're able to do.

Radim Malinic:

Hello and welcome to Creativity for Sale podcast, a show to help you start and grow your life changing creative career and business. My name is Radim Malinich and creativity changed my life. You see, I believe creativity can change your life too. I even wrote a book about it and it inspired this podcast. I've set out to interview the world's most brilliant creatives, designers, writers, musicians, makers, and marketeers about their life changing experiences with creativity. If you ever wanted to know how people go from their humble beginnings to the pinnacle of their success, our conversations should provide you with an intimate look into triumphs, challenges, and untold stories behind their creative endeavours. We also discuss the highs and lows of creative careers and creative life. So, thank you for joining me on this exploration of passion, creativity, innovation, and the boundless potential within us all. Let creativity change your life. Are you ready? Today's guest has spent the last decade rewriting the rule book for education in the 21st century. He's an award winning designer on a mission to help other creatives build businesses and business leaders build better brands. He's a loud introvert, recovering graphic designer, educator, and host of the future YouTube and future podcasts. It's my pleasure to introduce Chris Do. Hello, Chris, welcome to the show.

Chris Do:

Thanks for having me.

Radim Malinic:

how are you doing today?

Chris Do:

Dude, excellent. Thank you very much.

Radim Malinic:

for those who may have never heard of you, which I think is very unlikely. could you briefly introduce yourself for me, please?

Chris Do:

Absolutely. My name is Chris Doe. I'm a loud introvert and I'm the founder of The Future, a company I started in 2014 after spending over two decades making commercials and music videos for a living. And it's the richest, most rewarding, soulful, meaningful work I've ever done in my life.

Radim Malinic:

I'm fascinated by the music videos and all that stuff, but I want to go somewhere to the beginning. And my question is, do you know what you and Johnny Cupcakes have in common? There's one thing that you and Johnny Cupcakes have in common

Chris Do:

Aside from him being on our

Radim Malinic:

and, and it's not making apparel. It's not making your own

Chris Do:

Ha ha No, I

Radim Malinic:

Um, okay. So I've, seen Johnny Cupcakes speak maybe 10 years ago and I believe just like him, just like yourself, he was selling sweets in a playground, on a schoolyard. Is that right? Have I got the information about you right?

Chris Do:

yes, yeah.

Radim Malinic:

yeah. junior high. So I believe Johnny Cupcakes, if I remember it right from that talk, that's what he did. And I'm thinking, How'd you get supplies to be selling sweets? And what's the margins? Let's talk about margins too.

Chris Do:

Yeah, so you have to remember this is like mid to late 80s here. So Costco wasn't a thing just yet and, or maybe it was beginning. but my uncle owned a liquor store and part of the liquor store is he has to stock on different kinds of chips and soda and candy. And he had the best assortment of candy. Every time we'd go in to see him, he's like, get whatever you want. It's like pretty exotic stuff that you don't see in the normal supermarkets. And my cousin would sometimes work at the liquor store, helping his dad out. So one day I get this idea that I want to sell candy and I want to buy the cool stuff, not the stuff you can get in the cafeteria. And so I said, Hey, put an order for me. He gave me a list, like a checklist of things that he could get. And I bought it from him wholesale and I just turned around and sold it.

Radim Malinic:

Incredible. good margins. Did you make money?

Chris Do:

Very good margins. Yeah. Relatively speaking. Yeah. It's like a 50 percent margins.

Radim Malinic:

Wow. So if you call yourself a An introvert, or you should consider yourself an introvert for most of your sort of adolescent life. How'd you come out of your shelf just to do that? Like, how'd you get that entrepreneurial spirit? look, I'm going to, good candy is a good candy. the sugar rush is there, but how do you break the barrier right from the start?

Chris Do:

I think you have to be more motivated than your fear. So my motivation is to have some money to buy a skateboard or something else. Or maybe it was a Swatch watch or something. We're middle class or maybe upper middle class, but my parents always made us feel like we were poor. Like I'm like, we have no money. I'm going to just go get things on my own. I always felt really bad about asking my mom and dad for stuff. So I'm like, I'm going to make some money. So I thought, okay, I don't want to talk to people. I really don't, this is very uncomfortable for me, but I like this idea of being able to be more autonomous and to generate my own income more than the fear of meeting and talking to people.

Radim Malinic:

I think that pretty much summarizes what we do for a living now, right? You don't necessarily want to talk to people, but you have to talk to people because you like the idea of the outcome. I think that's what we do. And I think that's why we get into this industry because sometimes, the fear shouldn't stand in the way. So you and I have met, in Toronto at the IGD Design Thinkers, which I think is a fantastic conference. And obviously I had the pleasure of talking to you on your podcast. And this was my pleasure to have you back to turn the microphone the other way and ask you questions. And. Your talk, I've taken, I realize I'm looking at my slides. I had quite a few pictures from your talk and it was the first talk of the day and you went big on, this is talk about sales and I'm thinking sometimes people want creative stuff. They want to be told like, there's this sort of a federal sort of creativity that you can one day achieve. And you're like, no, we're going to sell. We're going to sell and look, we've made this much money. We did this, we did that. And. I want to follow up on a conversation we had about creativity for sale, because is it sale of creativity? What do we do these days?

Chris Do:

You know what? I think there are a lot of really talented designers and artists out there who are struggling to make ends meet to get the opportunities because they haven't learned the other aspect of it. There's something that I heard, a very famous comic book artist, his name is Todd McFarlane. He was being interviewed from Complex Magazine. He said, the reason why I'm successful in doing what I'm doing is because I learned to speak two languages. I learned to speak the language of art and design, and then I learned to speak the language of business, and it's very important for us to be bilingual, and I don't think it's a thing that is disputed, it's an undisputed thing that Todd McFarlane is the most successful, financially speaking, comic book artist of all time. he owns toy companies, he owns lots of merchandising and licensing companies, and he also has one of the longest running, comic book series from Image Comics. So there's something about this that we need to understand how to speak the language of business. Those are the people who make the decisions to hire us, to give us not only their trust, but their money and to put their, the fate of whatever business enterprise they have in our hands. And it's a big responsibility. And sadly, I would say it's a very broad brushstroke statement that most of design education, formal design education focuses on the art and craft rightfully so, but neglects to speak about or teach. Business principles from the people who are actually done it themselves.

Radim Malinic:

that's a good analogy about speaking two languages because when you boil it down, we create commercial work. We create something that aids, economy per se. Like we obviously be helping people succeed, financially, business wise, the things that we create, obviously it's for that. I'm sure, from experience through the future, that lots of people don't want to get involved with the business, don't feel like that, that they should, they are artists. Whereas I'm sure when you, if you were to speak to Damien Hirst or whoever, Jeff Koons, they are shrewd businessmen. They don't create the work themselves. They got teams of people doing the stuff. And I think they are not, not only bilingual, but trilingual, they know how to do production and do everything else. And I think as we grow, would you agree that we accept these things more? Because. As novices, I feel like we want to change the world from our perspective, rather than having the world change around us, with us. Would you agree? Because we've got this naivety that we know everything.

Chris Do:

think there is, and I think it's because this idea that's been put in our head from our instructors and professors. Now, what we need to understand is, with exception, most art education is taught by lifelong academics, not practitioners in the field who are still active and relevant. So they're teaching you this idealism, which is great, especially as you're a young 18, 19 year old, and you think I'm going to change the world in my image. and it's going to be crafted around my perception of reality and the unique lens in which I look into the world. And then you got into the real world, and it's a little bit different. It's not so protected. And it's it's okay to be saying these kinds of message within a very, like an ivory of like academia. which they don't have to worry about because they're tenure. They, uh, have grants sometimes and they work on soulful art projects that aren't commercially viable. And so they're teaching these principles to artists and designers to go out into the and say like, you don't have to do that. But I find that. If people understand commerce and who makes our lifestyle possible, then we kind of have to meet them at least halfway. I say meet them all the way, but at least halfway and it seems reasonable. And so there's this unrealistic expectation that you can get out of design school and just be the sought after designer and make a good living doing it while not learning business or compromising at all.

Radim Malinic:

I think, would you say, as 21st century creatives, we have to be different to 20th century creatives? I happen to live just across the road. from someone called John Pash, who designed the Rodding Stone's Lips logo. postman told me once, he was like, I've only lived in this house for about six months. And he's like, do you know the guy who lives over there? And I started looking into his story because obviously we all know the lips. We don't know the man. And, so I've been looking at the story and, I've also met lots of creatives in London where there were sort of more old school, you know, older, creatives who didn't rely on, any internet. There was no such thing, it was such a different way of making business. And maybe their lives were slightly different because they didn't have the extra noise in their lives and extra comparison obviously flying around us all the time. So I'm always fascinated like when, How much was it for them easier? Was it not? Because in our lifetime right now in the 21st century, like we have to do lots of different things. And sometimes people say, you know, what DJ in the nineties was a DJ and that's all he did. they had all the other people doing stuff. Whereas now you're a DJ, you're a social media manager, you're a content creator. And sometimes I think about it, like, Isn't that amazing that we can do this, because we can actually learn how the world operates, how we can actually, how we can appeal to people, because what people see as a hindrance or extra burden is actually, you know what, it's in your hands. You can do this.

Chris Do:

Yeah. I think so, but it depends on how you look at it. It's, are you glass, half full or half empty person? I think in the eighties there was this golden or maybe seventies and eighties, there was this golden era where the highest, level of designer were flown in by helicopter to meet with CEOs and corporations design multi six figure projects. And there was this love and respect for the art and craft of identity design as it's practiced on the highest level. People like Saul Bass, people like Milton Glaser and Paul Rand, some of the European designers that came to America did some really amazing big things. I don't know what happened along the way with proliferation of desktop. design and publishing and the growing needs and challenges of what an identity standards looks like these days. It seems like the market is flooded with creatives. and kind of we do this to ourselves. We say, I'll do that for cheaper than Johnny. I'll do that. And then what happens is it starts to erode the level of sophistication with entrepreneurs changes. And so now we have this wide open marketplace that is both good and bad. there's good and there's evil in it. I'll say that. I don't want to be solely like this optimistic, Pollyannic person and looking at it like that. But I like to look at all these challenges as potential opportunity. The opportunity is always hidden inside the package of obstacles. And if you dig deep enough, you'll find something cool. I think what's really interesting in these times is, as a multifaceted communication design person, you have direct access to the consumer, to a fan base, and it costs you nothing to do. It costs you nothing. Now, I remember as a motion design firm, the way that we would get visibility for our work is to sponsor or to pay for our work to be included in workbooks or on special DVD reels or advertorial things that were part of the trades. And we would have to pay thousands of dollars to get access to this. And I would do begrudgingly. I say that because it wasn't trackable. It was, kind of dubious as to whether or not it was going to produce any real result, but it felt like we had to do it to belong to a fraternity of designers who were taken seriously. I'm sure you're of that age and era too, where there are black books filled with like photographers and illustrators and designers, and I still have some of those things. And those things were printed in thousands and distributed to art directors, art buyers and designers who are in a position to hire us. And we're hoping that in that 300 page book, they flip and find our one page and actually look at it and decide to remember it. And even a longer shot is to call us for it. That was bananas. And so today we are somewhat spoiled that we have direct access. That doesn't cost us anything. what does require us now is to make stuff and to be much more intentional about how we want to be seen in the world. What is our lens? What is our voice? And if we play the game, And we create value for people and we show up consistently enough, it will pay off.

Radim Malinic:

I'm not in here profusely. I'm not in here profusely knowing exactly what you're talking about. And I like your analogy about, I hope they open a page where we are on that page because I used to be featured and I used to pay for a page, which was literally thousands of pounds and an illustration book. Not that long ago, 10 years ago, maybe, and used to be shipped. It was a surface shipped in a USA post bag, which was literally like a full sack. The book weighed God knows how many kilos. It was incredible, but it didn't make, hoping someone would find you and it was not trackable. And when you think about it, that, that experience, it cost you maybe less, but you're still hoping that someone will flip the book open. Let's call it internet now. Let's, someone will flip the social media and find you somewhere. And I think the ratio, it's cheaper, it's, easy to be online. But you still have to do extraordinary work to actually stand out in that big noise, because if it was 300 pages you were fighting, now you're fighting, well, now we're in a, let's call it competition with three, four, five million people, and everyone, everyone's got the same shape of the social media, same shape of a website, which we've got the same screen to, project our work against it. But I guess there's more people. I think there's more, more chances to do more work because we've got more, founders, startups, more companies, more bigger budgets, bigger awareness, more multifaceted and fragmented marketing that we can be, we've got, frames and medias that we never had before. But that, I think, does it, I don't know, when you think about it, does it shrink, the budget like will be had and that attention because, the place to go to, to find someone is other, we used to be in my lifetime, it was in 20, 2005, it was a website. That website was the only place to be. Whereas now, people want to listen to our podcasts. Some want it on YouTube. Some want it on Apple podcasts. Some want it on Spotify. Someone wants it somewhere else. Someone wants it, you know, downloaded. Someone wants to read a book as an audio book. Someone wants to read it as a paperback. Someone wants to sign. And you're like, we're tailoring to all of these. personal favorite preferences, but sometimes you're like, can we simplify this? Wouldn't that be still possible? Which it might not be. so with the focus on sales these days, when you think about, How are we trying to be seen and do work with clients? from your experience, do people have the right mindset about getting new clients? Do they think, is it creativity first and money second, or is it, money first? Because with the, arrival and advent of, social media and YouTube, we seem to have this figure of 10, 000. Dollars, banded around as a sort of baseline. Does it bamboozle people before they can actually, no, does it make them want to run before they can walk?

Chris Do:

Oh, this is a question that opens up a lot more questions, I think. So let me try and see if I can unpack some of the things that might be loaded within this question. Deceptively simple question, a great question though. First is this idea of mindset. If I were to grab 100 designers off the streets of Los Angeles, just randomly pick, I'm just not sure how many of them think that marketing what they do is an important part of their work. that I think the vast majority, I would say 80 percent of them, 80 out of 100 would say, I just do good work. That's how I get work. And they're relying mostly on word of mouth advertising, referrals, and passive ways of people finding out about them. they do enough business to survive, but not necessarily thrive. And they look at the burden. I mean, marketing has a burden that they're like, Ugh, I can't be bothered by. And what they do is they see people who have fairly decent traction, whether it's a podcast or Instagram account or LinkedIn account. Those designers as being shills or somehow not real designers because they're playing the marketing game. They don't understand the importance of it. So let's put those people aside. If we have 20 people left now, the ones who are actively participating in the, I guess the act of generating leads for their business and doing thought leadership, whether you write a book or podcast or something else, then those people, I think have the right mindset to begin with. And now they're going to get frustrated. Like I'm doing the work, but I'm not getting the results. What am I doing wrong? Am I shadow banned? Cause that's the default. I'm so important that I'm causing the stir that people are shadowbanning me. No, I don't think so. I think most of the times it's because you don't understand how to write content for people to consume on the platforms in which you hope that they will consume them on. So now that would leave with us like of the 20, maybe two or three people who are embracing marketing, understand how to communicate, how to build thought leadership, how to connect with an audience. Then I think now the next part is they need to figure out. What is the point of doing all this stuff? Is it to generate more leads? to make more money? Or to be, just to have more work than you could know what to do with? And this is a fork in the road here, the proverbial fork. And so you come to the fork, and the fork says, go to the left, do as much work as possible, strike while the iron's hot. Well, the other person says, or the other road says, you know what? Do high quality work for a select number of people at the highest price in which you can charge so that you can focus on those people. So it's two totally different mindsets. One is a volume. Like I just want to grab as many clients as I can because if I'm prolific, that's the way to get to progress. And the other person's I want to be super selective and I'm okay that there could be long periods of drought. but when I feast, it's worthwhile. And so we're kind of divided in those two camps. I can't tell you of those three people that are left, which road did they pick. I just have a feeling as to which road they pick.

Radim Malinic:

Thank you. That's a very, actually very accurate answer. I think I read somewhere today that out of 260 million active users on LinkedIn, only 1 percent write content. So that's 2. 6 million people out of a billion. So that's basically, that's the basic decimal number of the users. But when you mentioned that, I think the word was like, get more clients. And I think that just seems to be, that's something in your message. Obviously you have one we'll talk about in about a future in a minute, but. It seems to be like we need more, more, more, like get more clients because for example, the first group of people you mentioned, they just, they do word of mouth, they survive, but they don't thrive, but, Sometimes they would like more clients, but then they don't necessarily need them because, how many clients do you need? do you need to grow your team? Or are you happy to wake up at 10 o'clock at night and work for two hours? You know, like I think that's just sometimes it's a personal preference, but the messaging, again, I think I'm going to process what's kind of out there is, More clients. do we need more clients or do we think like Bezos of starting and growing someone small? Like obviously, they've got a model of selling someone a book and having them as a customer, I'm as a customer and obviously selling them, a TV or whatever, of high value, or do we need to think like a construction engineer? do you just build one house and you move on because that, that your work is done? That builder doesn't need more clients. Whereas Amazon, do you need more clients? Like, how do you build it? what is the right medium? Does it, again, is it a question of mindset? Is it a question of business? How would you see it?

Chris Do:

Well, if I were sitting in front of a small group of people who are creative and understand that they've mastered the fundamentals of design and they could apply it to web, to print, to some other format. Okay, what should we do? We should say like together that it's best for us to be extremely selective about who we work with. Because we can only do our best work for those that are aligned with what we believe and that are taste. are similar. Our ambition, our desire for innovative thinking and design and willingness to take some risk, not a lot of risk, but some risk at least. So if we're aligned with those people, we have to say like, well, who are those people? who do I want to represent? And who am I a good representative for? And I think that's the other challenge that we have to get over because it's, unfortunately, we're trapped under the scarcity mindset. Like, Oh, I don't know when the next gig is going to come. So I better just say yes. And I don't want to pick a lane because picking a lane means other kinds of clients aren't right for me. And it's actually, the opposite is true. Where the more specialized we, we become, the more focused in what it is that we're able to do. First of all, the easier it is for us to do what we do because we've seen it many times before. So we're going to develop a reputation for one who's an expert at solving a certain kind of problem. So when you become that kind of person, you're able to transition away from being one of many to one of one. And I think that's the status we all would like to be at. Whether you're Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons or Joe Schmo at a design shop, you want to be seen and sought after as if you want X, whatever fill in the blank done, then you must go to this person. Everyone else is going to be a compromise. And that's a bold idea to embrace and say, yes, that's who I want to be. And that's how I want to be perceived. Great. I'm going to plant my flag in the ground and say, this is what I stand for. So any prospect that's interested in having this kind of conversation, I'd like to do this with you. And then it takes the work of putting out consistent pieces of thought leadership, usually things that you write, observations you've had, frameworks you've designed, any kinds of data or things that people in your market would find valuable. And if you could do that work, then you're going to attract the right kinds of customers. And that's the thing I would have to tell people, let's specialize, let's claim an area of focus, let's be extremely selective with who we work with, and because we don't work with a lot of people, we then therefore have to charge a certain amount of money, but to give us the kind of time and the resources to hire people, to be able to do the right kinds of research and prototype and do testing. And so we're not rushing through just to get the project done. And unfortunately, I see the vast majority of creatives that are working, whether they're in the US, Europe or other markets, are always seemingly behind or under the gun to like, get the project delivered as fast as possible. And I don't think that's, that's not the recipe for doing high quality work.

Radim Malinic:

how long did it take you to actually get to that mindset? How long did it take you to say, this is my flag in the ground? Because it takes time to grow. When I think about it, when you said, like, no, the fewer clients and we can charge more. From experience, I've kind of decoded the other day. It's like, you say yes to everything you can learn from. And then once you've learned you say no, so you can grow. So you actually, you get space to grow. So I've had conversations with up and coming designers and they said, well, I haven't worked on anything I haven't liked yet. Obviously now we've got the messages amplified through internet okay, you can work with anyone, you can be anything if if you double down on who you are. But. It always fascinates me that people say, I don't want to work with everyone. I don't want to try everything because I think, with the niching and specializing, sometimes you never know when you might find yourself be actually interested. So how long did it take you to find out?

Chris Do:

It didn't take that long, but I'll tell you something that I think I have this combination of both ignorance and arrogance. Ignorance, like I didn't know that was not a thing that you can do, and arrogance in the belief that I If I set my mind to something, of course it's going to happen, but we can get caught into two cycles and it's very important to point this out in case you identify that you're in one of two cycles. I'll present the darker of the two. It's the vicious cycle, which is, I don't know if I'm worth what it is I'm going to charge, so I don't charge enough. And then therefore I keep having to chase every single opportunity. So I'm saying yes to everything. And the clients. don't see a connection from project to project. I'm seen as a broad generalist without a deep area of expertise. And so I get all the bids. I compete with everybody and I win very few, but the projects that I win don't bring in a lot of money. So I don't have that runway in order for me to say like, you know, I need to be selective for a little bit. I'm always worrying about one month or two months worth of rent because that's all I've got to my name. I'm one financial disaster away from total ruin and bankruptcy. Let's talk about the virtuous cycle, where for whatever reason, if you're able to just go out in the market and just believe that you do something that's good and it's real, and you can give it to someone who also sees it in you, then you make a little bit more money than you think you should. And then you have a little breathing space. So you're like, okay, I'm not so desperate and I feel pretty good. Somebody paid me more than I thought I was supposed to get. The next person comes and you're like, I wonder if I could just ask for a little bit more. And you do that, and you keep doing that. And so eventually your runway goes from one month, to three months, to six months, to twelve months. And you're like, I can't believe I made more money on this gig than I would have had, an entire year of working for someone. And so now that puts you in a whole different place and a perspective. So you can sit back and say, What would be right for me now? Now that I've removed this immediate burden or desire that I have to pay the rent and keep the lights on, what should I be doing? for me, I was able to figure this out pretty quickly. And the story I tell people is, when I was at ArtCenter, they would have like a bulletin board of job opportunities. And I was looking for some side money, and of course they had the little things that you can tear off of the flyer that call this person. So I remember one was like, freelance designer wanted 30 an hour. I'm like, that's pretty good money for a kid who's broke, just living off credit cards. So I'd tear it off and call and they'd look at my portfolio and say, okay, we'll give you some work. And I was busy doing bank brochures. tri fold, gate fold, bank brochures. And I was like, did I really go to art school to go and work for banks? It's the most conservative, boring thing. I can't do anything that wouldn't feel inappropriate and self indulgent. So quickly, I'm like, the money's okay, it's not great, but I don't want to do this. I'd rather starve. And it's that willingness to say, I'd rather starve and reduce all of my financial needs down to the bare minimum. Just, mostly just rent. And eat at fast food places. Not great for your health, but that's what I would do. And eventually another gig would come. okay, now I'm going to charge them real money. and you get to do this. So I was starting to say no pretty quickly. And then about a year into my business, I learned the next very important business lesson. And I was working on a main title For Eraser starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Like it's still a big deal, right? We're talking about the mid nineties here. Arnold's still like a star. And the client who hired me to do this, sent one of their senior animators over because they didn't trust if I knew how to do this. And thank God because I really didn't know how to do it. I'm just a kid out of school. And then I watched this person work and he's showing me like little shortcuts and ways to make the animation better. And within a few hours, I'm like, gosh, that's what it's like to have some expertise, some knowledge about what you're doing. And then we delivered the project. And I turned to my girlfriend later on my wife. I said, I think we got to stop doing websites. logo design, entertainment flyers. We need to focus on this motion thing because I'm excited about this. I don't want to do anything else but this. And I feel like it's something I can sink my teeth into for the next 10, 20 years and still be excited about it, learning something new every single day. And then at that point we decided we're not doing any of this other work. We took it all off our website and just left one or two pieces and just relied on that in order for it to drive more work. It took a lot of faith. And it took some financial runway to be able to make a bold decision like that. But I, credit that with the thing that is a turning point for our service design company.

Radim Malinic:

what you mentioned there is actually something I've been thinking about to ask you anyway, is that I feel that there's no shortcut to experience. There's a shortcut to knowledge. You can read all the books. Now, as you say, like you can top up your knowledge that you're missing, or you can read the right books and you can do that, but there's no shortcut to experience. And I think sometimes actually, I would say that we get paid because we are more experienced. So you get your polar share saying, it took me 30 years to learn it and to draw it in 30 seconds. And sometimes, like knowing all the shortcuts, what to click and what to press is what the experience is. And I had an experience working as a retoucher. I had very multifaceted career. I mean, I have tried everything. I think that's why I ended up where I am today. But I remember working with retouches and he looked at my screen and he was like, yeah, you need to take up some yellow out of your blue channel. And my mind was blown. I was like, what do you mean? And by the way, I want to know how does he, like, how does he even know that? he's looking across the room. He's looking at my, I was working for a telephone company called OT and they got predominantly blue, visuals, which are terribly hard to print properly in CMYK. And he was like, yeah, you need to do this and that. I was like, what? That's incredible, like he can see that and it just blew my mind because I just wish that lots of people had that mindset of being curious, like how do I solve a problem with my, almost with your eyes closed? what is the equation? What is the problem? And, I just feel like with the shortcut to experience, which doesn't exist, do you sometimes feel that in a world that wants you to succeed in a way like we've got more courses, books, and videos on how to do anything, but do you feel sometimes misleading for the people to actually think, you know what, that experience also needs to come. It comes with time. you can't just get it done straight away because you just watched a video on how to get more clients or how to do this. Do you think sometimes it's misunderstood from experience?

Chris Do:

Possibly, once said to me, You don't learn how to play basketball by reading a book. You learn how to play basketball by stepping on the court and just playing and having someone guide you through the process and then doing the work that is often not talked about, but this unceremonious drills, just doing drill after drill. I have a friend, his name is Lance. He's got a boy and he's, Lance is a former, professional college, European circuit basketball player. And of course he wants his children to learn to love basketball. But one of the three boys wound up becoming very good at it. And even though he's undersized, he's an incredible, you know, he can dribble, he can pass, he can shoot, he has all the moves and it's incredible to see this. But what you don't see and what most people don't see is all the weekend spent doing drills with cones, just going back and forth, or just throwing a bunch of balls in the air and just, all these things that aren't fun to look at and do. I believe, one year under hyper focused attention rigor can be more than 10 years of like haphazard poking around. So it's not necessarily an indicator of time. It's the depth of the experience that you have and under what conditions. Give you an example. So when I was starting my company in 1995, motion graphics was not a term that had been invented yet, so that's how early in I am. And I remember working with a couple of the people in Hollywood, this is where I was based in Los Angeles, The rate of work and hours that they work a day are insane, totally unsustainable. They're doing 12, 14 hour days every single day. And the running joke was don't bother coming in on Sunday if you're not going to come in on Saturday. And if you worked nine hours, the joke would be half day today, huh? So there was a rigor there and a kind of, just a velocity that's just unmanageable. I wasn't quite sure how these older guys who were running the companies were able to do this. Later on, you find out some drugs were involved, but that's another story for another day. And I'm just sitting there thinking, Oh my God. So in a matter of three or four months, I think I had replaced my entire student portfolio, which had been built up for over four years. I was embarrassed by it because this is now like on new levels of understanding design, and it really excited me. And so if you work with someone who's working at a very high pace, working on the most creative briefs, You can learn so much in that period of time, being next to them by doing the work yourself and seeing how they think, if they're generous enough to explain to you, or you learn it through kind of observation, but you can do it. Now, the second best thing is to take a course or to be in a class, either in person or virtually, but you're not going to get the same kind of friction. And I think it's that kind of friction and that pressure that makes for beautiful things.

Radim Malinic:

I fully agree. I fully agree. I think that sort of incubation period where. And I will go back to education for a second, the incubation period, when you come out of university, where you've been taught to think, unless you go to a business degree, unless you go, that there is no such thing to teach you all of the stuff, because you have people come out of university and they're like, Oh, Okay. They can't use Photoshop really well, or they can't think business really well. They can't thinking, what was the point of going to university? Why would you do this? Whereas I think I'm a big fan of education. my education was in business management. It was not in anything creative. Creativity came second because I was just fascinated, like how do things operate? So to have the outcome, I think Sometimes being, being eager to jump the gun and go, look, I can launch my business. I can do this because I can learn this from offline courses. I think it's misleading because as you just said, you never learn better as we're working with other people because they've been pressing those keys, those buttons, moving things around the screen, let's say for 20 years, 30 years. And this is, I think, the most magical part of, you almost have your, like a bootcamp, like you see footballers playing, for example, we call them footballers, you call them soccer players. So let's go, let's take David Beckham, right? he was kicking a free kick 10, 10, 000 times in his spare time. He was kicking, kicking, kicking, kicking, kicking, you know, like no one knows that because you go as a young one, you go through academy, you go through, developing teams on, then you get to be on the pitch and we get to that top of the iceberg, okay, here's the footballer. He's ready, whereas you don't see the years and decades of graft and blood and sweat and tears. Whereas, I think we think that sometimes you can achieve that in university in three years, where you spend the first year drunk because you've found a left home. So you speaking to experience of, UK students, no, you. Don't particularly focus, then you do a little bit of work and then someone's doing better than you say for this heart and I think, this was worth, no, that was, this was not worth the time. you and I know that any failures is beneficial for your growth because you will learn from it. But, it's that sort of, that, that's almost like, how do we signpost it that it's not easy. Just to arrive and be amazing because you need that time and need that opportunity to learn even just actually to absorb from other people, because that's how you learn, because, there is many different ways to use Photoshop and many different ways to use any software, but we overlap, we have the common ways of solving problems and yet. We, I think we're losing that.

Chris Do:

I think, it's kind of hard to say because there are so many great tutorials out there. And I see people from using Illustrator and Photoshop and other programs where they show you, like a tool that you're not normally used to using, and they just show you like one way of doing it. And I was, okay, so here's an example. I grew up and got into design via Adobe Illustrator. And you know, you draw part of it and then you would use the mirror tool and you'd flip it over. And then I saw somebody showing this thing about how to set up your guide so that it automatically mirrors the other side for you. So you just draw half of it and you can evaluate it without having to flip it over. What a time saver that is. And so those are little things that are like little tips and tricks in the buttons that I think can be learned this way. I learned Photoshop on the job, self taught. The guy sitting next to me in the studio, totally random. I was watching him paint three dimensional letter forms, kind of like the way you would do it with an airbrush. And I was like, wow, how are you doing this? And he was so generous to say, oh, here. And so he showed me something that might've taken me. months, if not a year to figure out on my own. He showed it to me in 30 minutes or less. And I'm like, wow. So now I'm like painting in Photoshop in ways that I used to with an airbrush and Frisket film. And so to me, that was like, cool. And now we get to do this and sit over in someone's shoulder virtually while they show us how to do something. And There's some pretty cool tricks that people do that I'm like, Wow, never even knew you could do that. And that's pretty cool. So I think if you start with this place of genuine curiosity of I just want to be a geek about whatever it is I'm using and to like, know how every single button works so that when I want to communicate an idea, I know the most efficient, effective, and convincing way of doing it. The old way was to literally read through the manual. And I had a friend, who we sat down, kind of stayed straight out of college. He's can I read the manual? I'm like, huh? Usually I put the manual back in the box. I just try and poke around and figure it out. He literally sat there for a week and read it from cover to cover like it was some Playboy magazine or something. I was like, oh my god, what are you doing? But when he was done, he was so good. I'm like, how are you doing that? So his sense of rhythm and design was backed by his technical prowess and he was able to do anything. And for a long time, for years, I was like, I didn't want to animate next to you because you embarrass me. I'd rather just hire you to do all this work. Is that okay? And he's yeah, I'm happy to do that.

Radim Malinic:

I'm a big believer in the quote, but actually the book cover, a book title from Paul Arden's, it says, there's no, how could you, I was, how could you want to be? So I was one of the geeks, reading, uh, Adobe Illustrator book back to back because I wanted to know what the shortcuts are like, because I was like, I was bored going up and going through the palettes and from the top up, not top up menu, because when I was coming through the ranks, it was the noise of the keyboard. indicated how good designer you were, because, you can't sit with your hand in your pocket and poke around with your mouse or, a Wacom, because you've got all of these option keys, all of the things to press. So you basically, you make a noise if you, I don't know how it really feels now, but if you make a racket, if you make a noise whilst you're working, that means, oh, he's doing something, unless you're pretending to work, you know, but, yeah, I think that's, that's the kind of, I feel like, I, Our software, our hardware is our instrument, if you don't have to think about what you're doing, what you're pressing, then you can actually think about it, So I always use John Mayer as an example, he doesn't look at his fretboard, or Jacob Collier, these guys, they feel it because they still learning, they still practicing, they're still trying to actually improve their crafts, even though I think you're at the very top of the tree. In fact, if you've planted that tree and you're on top of your own tree and they're doing that. So I just, I think throughout this conversation, I think what you mentioned quite a few times, which I will summarize is actually that probably broke down the baseline of the breakthrough so much from unattainable to very easy, because what you described, like what took a person to show you 30 minutes to do, which would have taken you, a lot longer. Now that's a click of a button. That's AI enhanced button. that's something that, anyone can do, you know, we can do much more wonderful things and much more interesting things that you would need to be a real professional to do it before. But, with the sort of the rise of AI, I'm going to quote, I think one of your favorite authors, which is Seth Godin, who said that if you average, You're going to be replaced by AI. Basically, if you average, radiographer, if you're average designer, if you average whatever, like you're going to be replaced with AI. And I went to a conference, for a business elite. It was just in central London just last week. And they had a guy called Piers Linney who did a wonderful talk on AI, which was a proper grown up conversation about AI. It was like, It's here. It's staying here. In fact, it's not going anywhere and it will be everywhere, you know, and, it's only as the worst AI is, is today. Tomorrow it's going to be better. So I think we have to have a conversation about AI and creativity because as soon as generative AI came up, all of a sudden we have the creators are poked up their ears. I'm like, AI is here. It's going to replace us. And sometimes you think, maybe it should, because if that's, if creativity at that level is so easy, then you've got opportunity to do something different with it. what's your take on AI and how do you see it from where you are?

Chris Do:

I love Seth Godin, but I actually don't agree with him on this, that if you're average, you'll be replaced by AI. It's your unwillingness to adapt AI tools into your workflow that'll make you be somebody who's going to be replaced. And there's that famous, text meme tweet that was going around. It's you will not be replaced by AI. You will be replaced by someone who's using AI. I think that's really interesting because I know several people in my community who, for one reason or another, aren't great at doing whatever their chosen profession is. And while using AI, they're able to supplement things. And I'll give you an example. There's two people I know in particular. There's a woman, her name is Sherry, and she's an artist, classically trained. But, you know, to make a painting, it's going to take a really long time. But you know what she's really good at? She's kind of like a wordsmith. She's very good at writing and poetry. And so she's using MidJourney as she calls an AI sorcerer or AI conjurer. And she's able to write prompts that give images that I'm like, I don't even know how you did that. What the heck did you just do? Because I think I'm pretty good, but she smokes me. So now, based on her art training and her propensity to use words and her ability to describe things very clearly, she's able to overcome other people who are pretty good at image making, or maybe even excellent. And she's able to compete with them now. It's kind of wild. So that's really interesting. I have another person who's partially blind. and his name is, Matthew and he's partially blind. He's a photographer and he's partially deaf in one ear. So he's got some, and he's got like a learning disability too. He's like ADHD or something. I don't know what's going on, but he's able to use, Otter AI to listen to conversations as he's prompting in real time, because he's got this weird ability where he could listen to someone speak while managing AI in the background while participating in the conversation at the same time. So a brain like that needs more things to do. Otherwise, they're just bored out of their mind. They can't focus. But give him two or three things to do and he's doing them. So I'm trying to host a room and Matthew's sending me his call summaries. I'm like, what the person just said or what they meant to say. And he's just helping me to save a lot of time. So I'm like, this is pretty cool, So a person who has some physical, like partially blind, partially deaf, he's able to now use these tools to do things that he could not have done before. And I think we haven't even tapped into this kind of neurodiverse Group of people who are going to be able to use tools then give them a competitive advantage not to be on par But to be ahead of so I'm excited for them So there's all these people who are worried and most of them haven't tried to even use AI Which is like wild to me

Radim Malinic:

I think it's usually the, uninformed mass hysteria. And I think you get it with all sorts of things. And I mean, So many things have changed in our lives and changing into our lives of our ancestors and everything new seemed like a, like a sort of, a fear, like a challenge to our status quo, which we so much longing for, yet sometimes when it's here, we are surprised by it and threatened by it, which we don't need to be because we need to embrace it. so Chris, You've gone from, doing all these wonderful pieces of work to become an educator. I know that you were teaching at university for a while and now you've got your own, company. And how did you build? So it kind of sounds like it's been about 10 years of the future. why did you decide to stop being creative per se, because you call yourself a recovering graphic designer. how did your creative work run its own course? Cause I feel like we don't have infinite supply of, enthusiasm. I think like sometimes we just move on to the next thing and do that. So how did you get on from, that to actually start an educational thing?

Chris Do:

I think for a person like me, and I hope I don't come across the wrong way here is that I'm a deep diver. I like go super hot on something. And then when I'm done and I move on to something else. So when I'm in school, I'm learning traditional graphic design, because I think I'm going to design album covers and concert posters and things of that nature. and I pour myself into learning everything. I interned with my professor. I took every class that he was teaching and I would teach. literally sleep at school, spent all my time in the computer lab until they closed and kicked you out. And so I saw that I was advancing at a pretty, rapid pace and I was outclassing some of my, fellow students here. So I was like, what am I going to do here? Because they're busy learning fundamentals of design and I'm already building 3D models and doing animation. And they're like, what are you doing? I'm like, I'm bored. Guys, catch up. Let's go. let's do something more interesting. So the year out of school, There's this motion design thing, and now I'm like, oh my god, this is great, because I can learn about editorial, about directing, photography, cinematography, special effects, visual effects, writing, directing. Cinematography, Color Correction, all these kinds of things I can learn. I'm going to be busy for a long time. And that ran its course too. For about two decades, that's what I did. I went from designing the most insignificant thing to a TV commercial, to directing the entire commercial with no graphics in it at all. And so now I'm like, I'm bored. What's the next challenge here? I'm looking for my next thing to sink my teeth into. Throughout this whole time, I've been teaching design and problem solving at different, local design universities, right? So I'm like private art schools. I'm like, great. Let me do that. And I was like, okay, that's running its course. what is the next challenge? I'm the kind of guy who needs a new challenge. Because for me, if you ask me to design a poster, I'm sure there are people who can design it better than me, maybe a couple dozen people, but for the most part, I'm pretty confident I can design at least as well or better than the vast majority of people who call themselves a designer. And so what is the reward there for me? And if I free myself from the need to make money, which I was able to do because of the kind of industry that we worked in, being smart about how we charge and being smart about not spending money unnecessarily. I'm already retired, like I've been retired for 10 years. And so if I'm not challenged emotionally, conceptually, artistically, and I'm just going to listen to a client, tell me what to do. What is the point of that life? Now I get to explore something much more meaningful to me, which is how to become the best teacher that I can be. Because I think before my identity of being a designer, I was a teacher first, but I didn't think that was a valid profession. Being that I don't want to starve. I don't want to suffer. And so it took me a while to figure out this business model. And yeah, we've been doing it now exactly 10 years, 10 years and a couple of months.

Radim Malinic:

Congratulations. one word I'm taking from this answer is challenge. And I think this is how we are hardwired. as we've got survival instinct, we need to be solving problems. And, sometimes I feel like when, I read about intermittent fasting, we need to be hungry. We need to actually, you know, when you bloated, when you overloaded, you're not going to be exactly looking for the next challenge. So I think I'm looking for something new, looking for those sort of new bits of dopamine and challenges. I think it always makes a wonderful experience. when you're talking about the sort of the education and talking about your creative career, we haven't really talked about sales. Was the sales the challenge? Would you say that's what it was the next challenge?

Chris Do:

I think it was Buddha who said this, like the avoidance of suffering is suffering itself. And so if we just understand that our lives are going to be filled with problems, we just hope to have higher quality problems. So the first problem you have is I want to start a business. I don't know how to start business. Then you get business and you think, why am I only getting 30, 000 gigs? What do I need to do to get to the next level? And you keep doing this and you keep doing this. And now the new problem is how do I manage the team? And now you have a team and it's like the culture of the company is really funky. And I need to deal with that now because I didn't hire correctly. And so you keep evolving the kinds of problems and the challenges that you have. So you can't be in business if you don't know how to do sales for very long. or at least do it well or profitably. And so my biggest challenge at that time was like, how can we keep winning jobs that are under 200, 000, but over 200 grand, we just can't win those jobs. And that's when my business coach really helped to unlock something. And he taught me a very valuable lesson. He says, you think you're playing in the major leagues, but you're a minor league player competing with the very best in the world. Because once the budget goes past a certain threshold, they could literally call anyone in the world. from Europe, from Asia, from America, from Canada, South America, wherever, they can call anyone and have them pitch on this and bid on this job. So it's like the level competition get incrementally harder, got exponentially harder. And so let's try to figure out what you're not doing that's hurting you. And let's correct for some of those things. And so once he laid it out to me, I'm like, Oh my God, that's what I was supposed to be doing. I didn't know because I worked for myself mostly. I didn't have someone to shadow and to learn from. So yeah, there's all these challenges.

Radim Malinic:

So when you put yourself in, obviously in a public facing sort of position for your business, I'm sure we can agree that sometimes people are not necessarily into what you do, some, you get the people who are with you and people who are against you. And if it's okay, I just want to ask, how do you deal with the adversity sometimes? Because they're There are millions of people who love what you do. And sometimes, we all find a dickhead in our life who

Chris Do:

Yeah, yeah.

Radim Malinic:

we do. How do you deal with that?

Chris Do:

I think if you're going to put yourself out there, you need to do some inner work. You need to learn to accept who you are, to know what your strengths and weaknesses are, and to be totally comfortable in that. I think that When people say bother, it's just because some part of that still feels true to us. I would say this to somebody. Here's the test, right? Somebody's like, you don't know what you're doing about design, and you're like, really depressed and sad about it. And I said, do you believe that to be true? you don't really know what you're doing with design. And they're like, no, no, of course I know what I'm doing. I say, are you sure? yeah. So here's the test. I'm going to call you a purple alien with 14 eyes. Does that offend you? no, not at all. Like, not even a little bit. Like, in terms of how it irritates you from zero to 100, what is it? They're like, zero. So why is it that this other comment bothers you? Because some part of you actually thinks that you don't know what you're doing. And so that's where this becomes a problem. So what happens is for most people, they are still like children living in an adult suit, right? This body, this flesh bag that we live in and have a lot of unresolved childhood trauma, and we all need a lot more love. And we're super insecure about who we are, especially as creative. We're so sensitive. So we don't create things that have a point of view. We don't say anything because we're so afraid of the blowback. if you believe what you believe, then I would rather be around with fewer people who are comfortable accepting me, not necessarily agreeing with me. And rather than trying to chase a whole bunch of people who don't care about anything about what I do, and are going to disagree with me whenever they feel like it. It's like the kid who, sprinkles salt on slugs just to see them suffer. It's like, there are people out there like that. And if that's going to get under your skin, then I would say, let's do some inner work. And to take small steps to expose a little bit more of yourself and through that exposure therapy, if you will, you'll become desensitized to it. So for me, there are a lot of critics out there. All you have to do is read any comment on our YouTube channel. And you're like, God, they hate me, but I'm good with it. it's par for the course. You can't have a critical thought if you're not willing to risk alienating or offending someone. I don't go out to try to be offensive, but sometimes people are, are like triggered by the strangest little things. Even when I say you're worth it, you should charge more. Oh, so you're out there peddling this self help crap, aren't you? You fake guru. You, I'm like, okay, well go kill yourself. I don't know what to say. if I'm saying something positive and they're still having a negative reaction to it, What can I do?

Radim Malinic:

Chris, I think this is a fantastic way to park this conversation because. As you know from our first part on your channel, the negative part is not about a person, it's about who says the comment, it's basically is about a person who says the stuff. thank you very much for this because I think you summarized it really well because it's actually what's come up. come from inside us, what's in the work, that, that helps us to actually grow and be somebody different. So thank you for making the time. It's good to see you again. And, Thank you.

Chris Do:

Yeah. I really enjoyed the conversation. I think there's so many threads I'm looking forward to continuing our conversation. Thank you.

Radim Malinic:

I can tell you I've got twice as many questions ready for you. Thank you, Chris. Thank you.

Chris Do:

I love it.

Radim Malinic:

Nice one.

Thank you for listening to this episode of Creativity for Sale podcast. The show was produced and presented by me, Radim Malinic. Editing and audio production was masterfully done by Mackay from Seven Million Bikes Podcasts. Theme music was written and produced by Robert Summerfield. If you enjoyed this episode and would like to support the podcast, please subscribe and leave a rating or review. To get your own action plan on how to start and grow a life changing creative business. You can get a copy of the Creativity for Sale book via the links in show notes. burning, and until next time, I'm Radim Malinich, your guide through this exploration of passion, creativity, innovation, and the boundless potential within us all.






Radim Malinic

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