Creativity needs Conflict.

Creativity asks us to change. And people don’t necessarily like change.

A couple of months ago, a woman named Susan wrote us a love letter of sorts.

Last year, we created a brand identity for the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love in San Francisco.

Susan, the woman who wrote us the letter, is a native of San Francisco. Almost twenty years ago, she left for the east coast, but her love of SF never left her.

Susan came upon a poster we created for the Summer of Love, and it struck a nerve in her. A really major nerve. She told us, “while I’ve picked up the occasional black and white photograph of the Golden Gate Bridge, nothing struck me like the SF Summer of Love commemorative images.”

#1 from a poster series Teak did for the 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love.

So she set out to track down large prints of the posters for her house. It wasn’t easy. After several months of dead ends and calls unanswered, somehow she found us.

We were so flattered that we responded right away, and in time printed the posters for her.

Before Susan was able to track us down, her daughter made a birthday card inspired by one of the posters in the Series.

In response, she wrote us an amazing letter of thanks and sent us a care package from where she lives now (New Jersey). In the letter she shared a beautiful story of her childhood in San Francisco– about her incredible Grandmother Nellie who owned and operated gay bars here (well before that was even a thing.)

While neither being gay nor a drinker, Nellie felt it was her mission to take care of the underdog (she often spent her days bailing her customers out of jail, as it was common at that time to be thrown in jail for just being gay.) Her grandmother was such a San Francisco icon that Herb Caen wrote about her in one of his books. As Susan told us, growing up with Nellie made it easy to love San Francisco.

In her letter, Susan also shared her bucket list. In addition to cooking school in Europe, and living abroad for a year it included getting prints of the posters we designed. Seriously. Wow. It felt great to see our posters get crossed off the list.

Susan’s Bucket List (with our Summer of Love Prints crossed off)

It is beyond rewarding to see something we created connect with someone in such a powerful way. Whether you’re a writer, a designer, an artist…isn’t that one of the primary reasons we create?

The story of how those posters came to be was a little more rocky.

Yeah, I know it seems kind of over the top when the subject is the Summer of Love and we’re creating an identity and posters for it. The Summer of Love, however, was such an iconic and historical moment in history. It conjures up very specific and interesting imagery. It sets a high bar.

Here at Teak we really pushed each other to capture the essence of the era, but also make it feel like a modern event. And make it clear that we’re asking you to come visit this event in San Francisco. To do that right took effort, and we didn’t always agree with each other on what was right.

Then, we had to convince our partners at San Francisco Travel on the idea of NOT using any of the existing brand architecture (besides their logo). The illustration, the typography, even the colors were outside of the defined brand.

This direction was a huge departure for the brand, but we felt strongly it was actually on the brand of San Francisco and absolutely the right way to go.

Our meetings got plenty tense. More so than any in the seven-or-so years that I’ve worked with them. And when I say “meetings,” it took more than one. Even if they asked us for other ideas, we kept bringing this one back. It was uncomfortable. And I’m sure we got annoying.

It’s not comfortable to disagree. Most of us would prefer not to argue or get frustrated with someone else. Conflict — being uncomfortable, challenging each other, is critical for creating something of value. It is, I believe, the foundation of creativity.

Conflict– being uncomfortable, challenging each other, is critical for creating something of value. It is, I believe, the foundation of creativity.

Our brains are wired to create familiarity. Patterns are created in the brain so that we don’t have to “re-learn” everything over and over again. (Read one of Edward deBono’s books starting with The Mechanism of the Mind or Serious Creativity for more detail and background on this concept.)

Imagine if you did the same thing every day, but everything you did felt unfamiliar and new. You wouldn’t have a routine, you’d be fumbling around experiencing the same things as if they were brand new all over again.

This is why new ways of thinking are often met with resistance, skepticism or outright anger. These new ways don’t conform to the patterns that have been created in our brain.

This is truly what creativity is- presenting ideas that don’t conform to those patterns. Ideas that challenge us, force us to pay attention and ultimately have the power to inspire us and change how we think.

Perhaps this is why children are so creative. The patterns, these tracks in the brain, haven’t been put down yet so they are open to any and all things. As we get older, those tracks that are so essential for us to be able to process our daily lives are the very things that literally get us “stuck in a rut.” Creativity asks us to change. And people don’t necessarily like change.

Creativity asks us to change. And people don’t necessarily like change.

And it’s not about right and wrong – that your thinking is wrong and mine is right. It’s about each of us being willing to embrace the conflict created in our minds to accept “different” thinking.

It took conflict to create something that connected with Susan on a deep level. Perhaps in her case it actually led her back to the tracks in her mind created when she was young. Places in her mind she hadn’t visited in a long time. It took conflict within the culture of Teak to challenge each other and push each other to do something better. It took conflict with our client partners to convince them to jump out of the tracks in their mind that kept telling them that something different was uncomfortable and therefore couldn’t be right.

Two more posters from the series.

To me, these two stories emphasize the need to create a culture that encourages and supports the right kind of conflict. The kind of culture where we are encouraged to create something different, to create something that makes us or others uncomfortable. And the kind of culture that supports those efforts– in fact, is willing to fight for them.

Thank you Susan for your letter of love and for support. It reminds us why we do what we do, and encourages us to continue to do it the way we do.

About me: I’m a Partner/Creative Director at Teak in San Francisco. I’m from Colorado, moved to Chicago for 8 years then settled down in San Anselmo, California (the birthplace of mountain biking) with my wife to raise two amazing kids. I’m a huge fan of the Chicago Cubs, Denver Broncos and Peet’s Coffee.

This is me on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Read my previous Medium article here.

Owner/Creative/Strategy at Teak in San Francisco + Re-heater of Coffee

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