Font size

Small Regular Large


Shawn Mak

How to forge creative resilience during a global pandemic

2020 has brought a few unsavoury “c” words into our lexicon: Coronavirus, COVID-19, circuit breaker, to name a few. While everyone and their isolated neighbours brandish these words with whispered sighs and audible frustration, we should be wary about letting that other “c” word go down the proverbial toilet in 2020: Creativity. Just because the world is in lockdown doesn’t mean creativity should be. While we all adjust to a pandemic world, it’s even more important to prepare for a post-pandemic one.

Besides adding a few choice words into our cultural lingo, COVID-19 has certainly brought on tidal effects on industries and lives over the past few months. Certainly, this global pandemic has spread far and wide, impacting businesses, lifestyles and livelihoods on a global scale. And the world of advertising and marketing is not spared. Brands are gun-shy about spending, as companies collectively take a wait-and-see attitude in response to consumer confidence. And for months, there has been no telling which way the market will go, and when the market will show an uptick. And at time of this writing, that end is still not in sight.

Crisis: A liability or an opportunity?

Many creative and production agencies out there—digital, video, print, marketing, advertising—are feeling the hurt; not to mention freelancers who are also floating around looking for work, knocking on every door. Some agencies are quick to introduce response toolkits and marketing counsel for their clients. Others are forced to shift gears and finally embrace agile to cope with new processes and even newer ways of working. Yet others are forced to pivot work-in-progress advertising campaigns to more market-sensitive ones in record time.

However, some may not be so lucky, as work slows and teams scale back. For some Creatives, this may be the time to take a well deserved break. But after that initial wave of woohoos! and day drinking, catching up on past seasons of Black Mirror in your boxers, or virtual yogas and flicking through mindless TikTok videos… indeed, once the novelty of #WFH wears off, and you’ve finished all 5 seasons of Better Call Saul, we are starting to see a new creative class emerge from their man and woman caves, rubbing their once again puffy eyes, and asking themselves the question, “What next?”.

Creativity never takes a break, not even in lockdown

While work may take a break, creativity never takes a break. Not for the true Creatives anyway. This is where different types of Creatives emerge: Those who are creative by trade, or by life. In other words, Is creativity a job to you? A career? Or is it part of your DNA? For career and lifelong Creatives, this is not the time to slack. Because there’s never a downtime. They see inspiration everywhere, and simply have a need to express and produce. And to these folks, chink! chink! (yes, count me in on the day drinking).

So if you’re a Creative under lockdown and have nowhere to channel your energies, here are 5 things you can do to keep yourself juiced up, even when the market is down. Because the last thing you want is to circuit break your own creativity. The beauty in what we do is that our minds are never locked down or locked in. They are free to roam and wander. So if you take advantage of the downturn to double down and adopt the following tips, the better shape you will emerge when we come out of this on the other side.

1. Learn a new skill to increase your market value

Downtime is the best time to pick up a new skill.

The good news is, Creatives are more prized than ever before because we live in a creative economy. We have won a seat at the table, as they are so fond of saying. But with this privilege also comes expectation that we are simply in charge of (and need to do) much much more. We are involved in more aspects of communication. And many are struggling to cope with this new reality. But the real reality is, the more you know and the broader your skillset, the better you will cope.

Besides, picking up a new skill can help increase your market value. It will make you much more employable, and much less fire-able. Skill development after all, is a cornerstone to career progression. Companies are looking for serif-t Creatives these days. Are you that serif-t?

So…to designers who have yet to make that leap into digital...What are you waiting for!? If I can reach out and shake you, I would. No more excuses! Take the opportunity now during lockdown to tap the heck out of your Adobe CC subscription (which you’ve already paid for). Poke around Adobe XD, learn Adobe Dimension, take a crack at video editing, or tinker with After Effects. We live in the age of information. You can learn anything online. And there’s no time like today. For when the new “old normal” resumes, you likely won’t have the time again.

2. Be a master of your craft so you can do it better and faster

I know. Agency life can make us feel like we are running in a hamster wheel, with barely an opportunity to hit pause and level up on what we do. Nevertheless, it is important to keep your skills sharp and elevated. If your job requires you to, say, work with planners and developers on designing a website, you’ll want to think about what kind of knowledge you can plug into that’ll make that collaboration faster and easier—not just for yourself but for others. You’ll want to be thinking during this time about how else you can contribute to the thinking and solutioning, how you can lubricate the workflow, and how to position yourself as that MVP everyone wants to work with.

Not sure what is user experience? Find out! It can make your next web design project smoother and more successful. Heard about this thing called designing thinking process but not sure how it can improve your work? Well, learn! Curious about the art of brand storytelling? It can definitely elevate your creative solutioning and help you be more effective at selling in those world-class ideas later on. Always wanted to try chatbot writing, but never had the time? Now’s that time.

Hacks are part of mastering your craft too. Learn shortcuts and tools. And pick up apps that can make your life easier, and the workflow faster. All it takes is a bit of poking around the web, perhaps watch a few of those online tutorials, sit in on some Adobe webinars (they have evangelists whose job is just to work on and then show you shortcuts and hacks). Watch a few during lockdown, change your life forever. And that’s the real impact you should be making during this global pandemic. Because when the market picks up, you’ll want to be the first one out the gate.

3. Reflect on yourself to unleash your inner Kraken

Have a few moments more to spare? Why not spend it to reflect on what else is holding your creativity back? In other words, explore what may be preventing you from unleashing your inner Kraken. Might you have artistic or psychological biases that are putting you on repeat mode? Check them! Do you consider yourself a good designer but yearn to be more badass? Now’s a good time to find out how to be that great designer everyone wants to work with, and recalibrate. There are also tons of TED talks that are perfect for this occasion.

Not sure what those biases are, or feel you’re too close to get an accurate assessment? Simple. Ask a colleague, or your mentor, or your CD. Your house door may be closed, but your mind needs to be open. Invite others in. You’ll be surprised how much others are willing to help.

4. Contribute your gift to feel good about your gifts

Interestingly, COVID-19 has also brought out a different side of Creatives everywhere; if there’s an uptick to this global pandemic, it is the impact it has had on brands and designers. (Well, besides loss of income.) More than ever, we’re seeing designers, artists and brands showing solidarity, creating ads and posters that inform, educate and entertain. They are showing their human side. Besides PSAs, they are also creating things of cultural value, designing free swag and distributing them for free (looking at you, &walsh and that handsome new set of emojis). Everyone’s helping everyone express themselves during this time of crisis, and contributing their talents to mitigate our collective miseries as well as to elevate the human experience.

Such pursuits are not paid. Not financially anyway. But it will pay off in other meaningful ways. You earn goodwill, you get to feel great about adding to society in a time when everyone only knew subtractions, and it’s a great chance to practise what you do while waiting for other jobs to roll in. And when else can you create with complete freedom away from the remits of a client brief and budget?

So what will be your legacy from COVID-19? What will you create?

5. Play…play like there is a tomorrow

Another way to keep your creativity high is to simply play. Play opens up neural networks and stimulates creativity. Studies show that when we fully immerse ourselves in just doing what we enjoy—in other words, getting out of our own heads—it stimulates outside-the-box thinking and silences our inner critic.

So how do you play during lockdown? How about trying a new exercise routine? Or build something? Maybe start a new dance challenge online? I know of some designers who are doing virtual karaoke sessions together. Others are playing virtual mad libs. Perhaps pick up guitar. Or try your hand at baking. So go on, be a beginner in life all over again. Act like a kid! Approach your daily life with new eyes and curiosity. It’s one way to maintain our sanity, and rebalance our scales of creativity.

Come back swinging

Because that’s what you want to do when all this ends. Remember: The next time you’re thinking of making like a slug, don’t. Creativity, like your brain, is a muscle. The more your flex it, the more it will grow. Keep the engines greased. The time will come when you’ll be swinging back into action. And you’ll want to be swinging in full force, for the fences.

The global pandemic may have negative affect and impact on businesses and lifestyles, but let’s do what we can to make sure it doesn’t also impact our creativity, the industry and our collective ability to dream. That’s what makes us resilient. And we will just all have to be, well, creative about it.