BGBS 063: Douglas Davis | The Davis Group | Decide to Learn Something New

BGBS 063: Douglas Davis | The Davis Group | Decide to Learn Something New
July 26, 2021

BGBS 063 | Douglas Davis | The Davis Group | Decide To Learn Something New

Brooklyn-based Douglas Davis enjoys being one of the variety of voices needed in front of and behind the concept. His approach to creativity combines right-brained creative problem solving with left-brained strategic thinking. Douglas’ integrated point of view has enabled his natural evolution from designer to strategist, author, and professor.

His expertise spans advertising, design, and business education and has found an international audience through presenting his tools on combining the three to produce more effective creative business solutions. Douglas enjoys interacting with creative people and regularly presents at industry conferences including HOW Design Live, RGD Design Thinkers, The One Club Educators Summit, Midwest Digital Marketing Conference, Revolve, and The Art & Branding Conference.

In 2016, Douglas wrote his first book Creative Strategy and the Business of Design, a title currently being translated into Chinese by Beijing Normal University. He is a former co-chair of AIGA’s National Diversity and Inclusion Taskforce and regularly contributes to the business of design discourse in, Applied Arts, and The European Business Review.

In 2011 Douglas founded The Davis Group LLC and continues to offer strategic solutions to client branding, digital, and design problems. In addition to client work, Douglas leverages his professional experience to inspire high school, undergraduate, and graduate students. As the longest-serving member on the 4As High School Advisory Board, his experience was translated into the four-year curriculum at New York City’s High School for Innovation in Advertising and Media. Following the launch, Douglas contributed as an education consultant for the launch of the Manhattan Early College School for Advertising (MECA).

Currently, he is Chair of the Emmy-Award winning B.F.A. in Communication Design program at New York City College of Technology in Brooklyn and serves on the advisory boards of the University of Oregon’s Masters in Advertising and Brand Responsibility and City College’s Masters in Branding and Integrated Communications. Douglas holds a B.A. in Graphic Design from Hampton University, an  M.S. in Communications Design from Pratt Institute and an M.S. in Integrated Marketing from New York University.

In this episode, you’ll learn…

  • The importance of diversifying the minds and perspectives to address the world’s issues and industry changes.
  • Try something new. Master something you’re not good at. Find the fear and reinvent yourself.



Case Study: Imported From Brooklyn

Youtube: Imported From Brooklyn Film

Win Without Pitching Article: Red, White, Black and Blue: The Land of Mixed Signals


LinkedIn: Douglas Davis


[15:49] I like to say our job is to take the rational language of business and turn it into the emotional language of design…I also like to say that creative people really are the spoonful of sugar that make business and marketing objectives palatable to the public.

[42:52] We have to keep changing, we have to keep growing, we have to keep learning, to even keep up, to even remain relevant. Why would you not want as many different minds or perspectives on a problem that you can grab?

[48:12] I’m going to turn my weaknesses into strengths. And that is the evolution. It’s a mindset. Leading is a verb and a posture.

[53:55] We can’t measure everybody by the same yardstick…creative people like me and you can grow up comparing themselves to other people based on those measures and conclude that something’s wrong with them, when they’re the ones with the superpowers.

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Podcast Transcript

Douglas Davis 0:00
I think when you look at what’s going on in society, when you look at design needing to become more diverse when you look at the demographics in America, when you look at how some people will describe what’s going on in the southern border as an, you know, an infestation. terrible word, other people describe it as well. It’s what humans do when they’re fleeing or in a situation where they have to flee. It’s what happens on every border, because if we’re having a crisis, here you go, and seek a better place to be.

Marc Gutman 0:41
podcasting from Boulder, Colorado. This is the Baby Got Back story Podcast, where we dive into the story behind the story of today’s most inspiring storytellers, creators and entrepreneurs. I like being backstories and I cannot lie. I am your host, Marc Gutman, Marc Gutman, and on today’s episode of Baby got backstory, we’re talking about strategy and changing the world. I’m not kidding. This episode goes deep and calls out those with the creative spirit to stand up and be the change. Before we get into today’s show. Can I level with you? This podcast ain’t cheap. But we continue to produce it as a service to you, the audience. And if today’s episode isn’t worth the price of admission, your time, then no episode is I need you. If you like enjoy the show, please take a minute or two to rate and review us over Apple podcasts or Spotify, Apple and Spotify. Use these ratings as part of the algorithm that determines rating on their charts. If you haven’t reviewed, you know who you are. And by the way, I do see who is reviewed and who hasn’t. What are you waiting for? review service. That’s it guilt trip over. Let’s get on with the show.

Today’s guest is Douglas Davis. I really don’t know where to start with Douglas. I first learned of Douglas when I read his book, creative strategy and the business of design. And it’s one of those books that literally changed my perspective and worldview on strategy and business. So I had to meet the person who wrote such an influential piece of work. And Boy, was I in for a surprise. Douglas Davis takes great pride in being Brooklyn based and in his words, enjoys being one of the variety of voices needed in front of and behind the concept. His approach to creativity combines right brained, creative problem solving, with left brained, strategic thinking. Douglass’s integrated point of view has enabled his natural evolution from designer to strategist, author, and professor, and his expertise spans advertising, design and business education, and is found in international audience through presenting his tools and combining the three to produce more effective creative business solutions.

Douglas enjoys interacting with creative people and regularly presents IT industry conferences, including how design live RGD design thinkers, the one club educators summit, Midwest digital marketing conference revolve and the art and branding conference. In 2016, Douglas wrote his first book, creative strategy in the business of design, a title currently being translated into Chinese by Beijing Normal University. He is a former co chair of AI je A’s national diversity and inclusion Task Force and regularly contributes to the business of design discourse in print mag comm Applied Arts in the European Business Review, Douglas founded The Davis Group, and he continues to offer strategic solutions to client branding, digital and design problems.

In addition to client work, Douglas leverages his professional experience to inspire High School, undergraduate and graduate students as the longest serving member on the four A’s High School advisory board. His experience was translated into the four year curriculum at New York City’s High School for innovation in advertising and media.

Following the launch, Douglas contributed as an education consultant for the launch of the Manhattan Early College School for advertising. Currently, he is the chair of the Emmy Award winning BFA and communication program at New York City College of Technology in Brooklyn, and serves on the advisory boards of the University of Oregon’s masters in advertising. And brand responsibility, and City College’s master and branding and integrated communications. Douglas holds a BA in graphic design from Hampton University, an MS and Communication Design from Pratt Institute, and an MS in integrated marketing from New York University. Wow, that was a big, big bio, we really don’t touch any of it, except for the book in this episode. And that’s why I wanted to share that with you. Now. I’m going to stop talking and turn it over to Douglas because well, this is his story.

I am here with Douglas Davis. And I couldn’t be more excited. Douglas.

Douglas Davis 5:47
I’m excited to be here to thank you so much.

Marc Gutman 5:49
We were just having a little conversation before recording. And I wish we were recording it. And I know this is going to be a great conversation and in a great episode. And Douglas is a strategist and author and a professor. He’s also the author of a book that I think is just gold called Creative Strategy and the Business of Design.

Here’s my copy Douglas. It is less it has dog years. It’s got notes, it’s got. It’s got post it notes, I mean, this thank you for your support. Yeah, this is like a resource for me, and I can’t wait to talk to you about it. It’s definitely one of my top, you know, 10 books on branding. Absolutely. But thank you for having me. Yeah. And in addition to being the strategist, author and professor, what are you doing right now? I mean, I see some Emmys in the background. I’m super impressed. When they tell us once you tell us a little bit about what else you’re doing cuz you wear a lot of hats.

Douglas Davis 6:43
I do. And first of all, Marc, I want to just say thank you, to all your listeners. Thank you all for spending time with us. My name is Douglas Davis, as Marc said, strategist, author, and professor. And right now my current role is that I’m also the chair of the BFA in Communication Design that New York City College of technologies, you know, Department of Communication Design, it’s sort of a big mouthful, but we’re part of the City University of New York, and over my shoulder, or the Emmys that we were able to when we were nominated for two of them for this story, imported from Brooklyn. And overall, it’s about, you know, what, what, how you find the path the possible when you have more ambition and resources. And so overall, we offer graphic design, illustration, we offer web design, we’ve got advertising, we’ve got graphic design, so you can come to our program for a fraction of the resources for a fraction of the cost is, you know, going to the design schools. But it’s a wonderful, wonderful opportunity to be here. And that’s what I do in my day job.

Marc Gutman 7:55
Oh, that’s so awesome. And I saw that you had put a Vimeo link in the chat is that to the piece that you just described,

Douglas Davis 8:02
That’s actually, we just recently entered the one show. And, you know, please Wish us luck, we’re in three different categories. But this is to the case study of what the impact of that piece imported from Brooklyn was. And so I just wanted to sort of throw that into the mix. Maybe I can go into the show notes, but I’ll also send a link to to import it from Brooklyn. It’s about 22 minutes documentary on Tony de spinia, who was my professor of prep, and I didn’t realize this until years later. But the program that I’m the chair of right now, Tony, when he emigrated to America, he wanted to go to Providence to didn’t have enough money. So he went to the communication design department. And just, you know, how wonderful, certain serendipitous, you know, that sort of connection is that I’m now the chair of this program that’s offering, you know, private school education and public school prices. So his story is the same story as our Asian, black and Hispanic, Eastern European students today. So it’s, it’s pretty wonderful in that way, you’ll check it out.

Marc Gutman 9:19
Yeah, absolutely. We’ll link to that in the show notes. We’ll make sure everyone knows about it. And I’m going to be watching that. Absolutely. After the after the interview. Thank you very much. So Douglas, what is Creative Strategy and the Business of Design? You know, I was thought design was just a bunch of like, you know, pretty colors and logos and, and some maybe some posters,

Douglas Davis 9:39
To a lot of us it is and I was really fortunate enough to have my skills polished in places that I couldn’t afford, like Pratt Institute for my first Master’s, but uh, just to back up a little bit. I went to Hampton University is historically black college, and I went to study graphic design and photography. Even before that in K through 12, I’m from I was born and raised in Lexington, South Carolina, a very small town, right outside of Columbia, South Carolina, the Capitol there. And surprisingly, we had really wonderful art program really wonderful. And wonderful in a way that I had, you know, in K through 12, murals, rock carvings, ceramic sculpture, the wheel, had exposure to printmaking, drawing, painting, all those different things, right, you know, going through K through 12.

Marc Gutman 10:35
So that, was that your primary interest then was that, like, were you? Or was it like a side thing? Or were you you were kind of an art art kid?

Douglas Davis 10:43
I was an art kid only because I was really bored, I didn’t have a place to channel that energy. And it was just a really great place to to focus my F, my just effort and attention on, I literally applied myself, you know, really didn’t apply myself Truthfully, I could go to class and listen, you know, be the class clown. And then the teachers like, what did I just say, and I could verbatim spit back every single thing, because I could do two things at once I wasn’t being engaged mentally. So when I found art, it was a place for me to focus and channel that energy and my behavior changed. And so maybe some of your listeners would be able to relate in that way that just having an outlet really did change my life in that way.

But in terms of what Creative Strategy and the Business of Design is, it’s what I was able to write down as, just as I fumble through my career, I realized that I had gone as far as I could go with my aesthetic training, and again, going to undergraduate going to graduate school, bouncing around from agency to agency design, firm, publishing digital. I also went to NYU and got another Master’s. But I realized that design school doesn’t teach you business, it teaches you to focus on what are the tactical parts of what should be strategic decisions, largest strategic decisions, without even explain to you what those decisions are, then.

So the challenge there is that when you are working somewhere, and you get promoted for doing your job really well for answering those client briefs in ways that are not only creative, but effective. I think there’s some assumptions sometimes that you must know strategy, because you’re able to knock it out of the park on, you know, all these different points. And so eventually, what I started to notice is that clients were not just coming to me for creative content, they were coming to me for strategic context. And I was uncomfortable with that, because I didn’t know strategy. And so I realized that over time, I started losing battles, even though I could write the proposal, build the team, you know, pitch the business, do whatever I needed to do. And I was able to get positions of responsibility relatively quickly as a result of that. But eventually, I started losing battles, because I couldn’t justify by the creative decisions within the context of the business and marketing objectives that we should have been trying to hit. And so I lost those battles. Because I fell back on my aesthetic, you know, I was arguing typefaces, well, we should have been talking about marketing objectives or metrics that we needed to hit within the business, you know, objectives. And so one day I stumbled into a strategy session, I realized, Oh, this is that thing that keeps beating me This is that that language that I don’t know how to speak. And so let me learn this. That’s why I went to NYU, to add the strategy to the creative side, so that I could, my rationale was that I could, you know, become a better creative because I could think, how they think to do what we do like to speak their language, in order to justify what was there. And I’ll give you one more piece of that, because this was, you know, you know, you’ve been in the business for a while.

This is back when you could learn ActionScript flash, this is back when you could choose to just double down on the execution part of things. And so even then, I realized, you know, what, I don’t want to sit outside the meeting, and wait for these people who are making decisions inside the conference room to come out and tell me what to do and when to have it and, and whatever. So how about I inject creativity into the beginning of solving a business problem, versus being a better executer? And I’m so glad I did that, obviously, because flashes no more. And I think that that’s, that’s a really important lesson. And a lot of those lessons are what, what I wrote down and Creative Strategy and the Business of Design, in addition to the tools, the frameworks, and the things that allowed me to get to where I needed to go when I added strategy to my creative skill set. So hopefully It’ll be useful to somebody to listeners.

Marc Gutman 15:03
Yeah, well, you know, I think so I mean, the concept of strategy has completely changed my life. I mean, when I started my career, like, I was exactly the the executer I was like, someone wanted something. And yeah, you know, I started in the movie business, and it was like, you want a story? Great. I’ll write that right guys. I didn’t even like ask why do you want the story? Right? Like, I was, like, so excited. And, and actually, I, I had a limiting belief that if I asked why that if I questioned it, I would either lose the job, or they would think I was, I was less intelligent or unintelligent, because I was asking questions, you know?

Douglas Davis 15:36
Well, that’s part of our that’s part of our superpower, right? In terms of those emotions, that you need to find a way to channel you need to find an outlet for It’s why we are I like to say our job is to take the rational Language of Business and turn it into the emotional language of design, that’s our job, we translate that for people. I also like to say that, you know, designers are the spoon. creative people really, are the spoonful of sugar that make business and marketing objectives palatable to the public. And so I can absolutely agree that that insecurity and even navigating those rooms where you don’t even know why they want something, and you’re a little afraid to ask questions, because you don’t want to seem as if you shouldn’t have been in that room in the first place.

All of those things, I think, are really, really important. And I dress dealing with your emotions, and just how to navigate different rooms. Because if you as you know, if when you’re walking into that room, after pouring your heart and soul into whatever you’re going to show, and you walk into that room full of people who you don’t know, and your emotions, that thing that got you into the room, because of your creativity are now your worst enemy, because you can’t even formulate the words, to articulate what it is that you’ve done. And I think, you know, all these things were things that I had to learn from failing.

And so the other piece, too, you know, design schools don’t teach business is that business schools don’t teach how to get the best out of designers how to inspire creative people. And I realized that because after going there, there was still this gap. And, you know, I had to learn that when you walk into that room as a creative person, they’re not going to learn creativity, you have to learn their language. And you have to then put the recommendation up front, instead of walking into the creative side of things where you’re going to tell the story. And you’re going to talk about the insight and we’re going to arrive at the end here it is, you have to completely flop how you even tell the stories in these rooms.

But all of those things were things that I had to learn through failing through having outcomes completely opposite of what I wanted to happen. So I can absolutely agree with some of those insecurities. And, and some part of what I teach now is really about organizing the chaos, questioning the answers that clients will come to you with, because they think that they know, or they’re still trying to get the same solution that worked six months ago, or in this case, now that we’re in Coronavirus times, you know, a year ago, but the environment shifted, and none of that still none of that’s even applicable anymore, in order to then turn insights in execution. So we have to retrain the way we listen as creative people. And some part of that is exactly what you’re talking about.

Marc Gutman 18:34
I mean, thank you so much for sharing that. And I couldn’t agree more. And, and and that in itself is a tremendous insight. I mean, what do you do when, you know, let’s just hop right to it, like, what do you do when a client has skipped that step? So, you know, hypothetically, you come in, and they’ve either, you know, started down a campaign road, or they say, look, we’ve chosen, you know, an identity, but, and you’re and then you know, you start to ask your questions, and you’re like, Well, wait a second, you haven’t gone to step one, like how do you handle that? Like, what do you do when that happens?

Douglas Davis 19:06
Yeah, well, overall, one good thing about having been in the business for a while and just being really, really specific about what it is that I do and what I don’t do. I haven’t been brought in, in a in a situation where there’s miscommunication like that in quite a while. But when I was in a situation where people thought that they needed me, but didn’t know how much the value of what I would be bringing with cost in asking those questions and and realizing, oh, okay, you’re not clear that the way that you’re going about this is what you want, but it’s not what you need.

And I think for me, I’ve always just walked into the room and been very Matter of fact, and either you hire me or you don’t, but I’m going to tell you what you need because I’m the expert and I’ll make The recommendations, but as the client, you will make the decisions. And so it’s become really easy to to really listen and to know really quickly, whether I’m going to refer you to other sites or other people, because either a, you don’t have the budget or B, you’re not clear, you need a little bit more information, in order to shift away from being price sensitive, or you need a little bit more information to shift away from that thing that you saw that you liked, that you want the exact copy of that you’re not saying. But that you, you’re basically going to critique all the work and through a series of meetings, you know, we’re going to come out with the exact copy of something else.

And so I think, being willing to walk away, being willing to refer other people and being willing to say, you know, if you go to this website, you can be up and running in an hour. Or if you go to this mix of websites, you can have what you need to and under five grand, and then I add the last piece, and so can your competitors. And after that, I think there’s a little bit of a pause, been, you know, we can have a conversation where we back up a little bit, and then we can start talking about the value of the services that they need, whether they hired me or not. But I think it’s important to just take control of the conversation in a way that you are offering things that makes the client think and it may not even be in that current conversation, it may take a couple of weeks, but giving them something to think about. And then sort of being willing to let it go, has been the way that I’ve been able to navigate situations where I’m really not the right person. It’s best for everybody, if you just you know, shut it down.

Marc Gutman 21:54
Absolutely, I’ve had to walk away from my share. And that I also learned that the very hard way, I mean, I look back at all the things that went bad and all the mistakes I made. And I wouldn’t know that without doing it. But it was typically like, there were a lot most of the time, I’d say there were like misalignment issues. Right now. And, and you just learn that the hard way. And I think that’s sometimes the only way to learn. So when we look at your book, and we look at it, a lot of the work you’ve done here, if there was like one thing that we were to know about this book and take away, what would that be? And then what framework is like, you know, I know there’s no silver bullet, but which one is the one that’s like, if I had to only kind of do one, i i’d lean into that.

Douglas Davis 22:37
What chapter six and seven? That was the last question first chapter six and seventh deal with the creative strategy framework, which is literally an alignment exercise. You know, it’s, it’s something I developed when I was at NYU, when one day, my competitive strategy professor, you know, sort of looked out at the class and held the the whiteboard, pen out, and looked out and says, you know, who’s going to step to the board, and I stepped to the board, I was the first one grabbed that pencil. And I started working out this column that, you know, was was four columns and three steps that would help me to organize the chaos, because when I first started learning the language of business, it was new. And so I could be on brand, but off strategy or message on message, but off strategy. And so it takes a little time to speak and understand the language of business.

But this tool helps to organize all the information by going through a series of steps where you qualify what the information is that you’re dealing with, to create and build your creative work or concepts or just coming up with thought starters, you could use it as a brainstorming tool. I’ve actually sat in meetings with clients and literally started to write the notes from the briefing into the framework so that I could take what wasn’t given to me back to the creative team, stick it up on the whiteboard, and we could just literally hit the ground running where the client left off. But that’s really what I would say that that tool and any tool, any framework, you know it we’re not talking about something that’s a recipe, right? We’re not talking about something that is, you know, fill in the blanks, and you’ll voila, you’ll have this any strategy, any any design even, that’s worth its salt is going to be a custom solution. And so the framework, I always like to say is only as good as the information that you put into it, the thinking that goes into it. So yeah, that’s that’s the one tool that if you didn’t go anywhere else,

Marc Gutman 24:49
This is the one we’re talking about. Right. Great. And so I’ll just kind of hold it up there so people can see and get a sense about it. But that’s, that’s it.

Douglas Davis 24:56
That’s the one tool that would be that now, the one thing That I would tell people about the book would be that this book is for someone who understands that our careers are a series of transitions, right? You go to you go to college, and you transition from being a student, to breaking into the industry, then you break, you’ve broken into the industry, you transition from being a junior, to someone who’s seen a little battle. And then you transition from someone who’s seen a little battle to someone who gets a little bit more responsibility.

Now, there are people who report to me, I’m sort of client facing now. And then you move from that person to someone who, at different points might even be a little bit intimidated that the people who are coming in might be a little faster, might have a little edge, because they’re the last people and even though they’re going to get paid the least, you know, you start to wonder whether you can hold your own as things shift so fast.

So the one thing that I would tell people about Creative Strategy and the Business of Design is that it’s built for a person who understands that what we do evolves, it shifts. And we all know that, whether it’s learning flash, or ActionScript, or whether it’s learning about new typefaces, or learning about Slack, or and how to use Basecamp. And all these different things are like a timeline that sort of bring us from the very beginning, and to where we, where we are, and then it keeps going because now we have Tick Tock and we got clubhouse, and you know, everything is going to continue to change. And as creative people, we’ve always understood that we’ve always done that in a way that would allow us to, you know, survive, because we’re continuing to change.

But I think when I think about 1999, when I entered the industry, you know, recession, and all the websites that were there, people didn’t know how to make money on the web, I wish that people would have known that, you know, direct marketing was the father of digital because it’s, you know, accountable, you can track it, right. But nobody knew that. So they’re throwing all this money into this new medium, that my professors at the time I was at Pratt, my professors at the time and not worked in. And so I’m applying my skills, these traditional skills to this medium that no one’s worked in who’s taught me and you realize that, you know, in 99, no one had a web design degree, because it didn’t exist, you couldn’t study it. Everybody who was there participating in that industry was there because they decided to learn something new.

And I think that that’s a really important insight, because I think we’re back there right now. If you think about the ways that the Coronavirus has made everyone have to pivot, we have to figure out ways to do the same thing, the exact same thing and complete different ways. Or we have to figure out ways to take what we’ve already what we have on hand skills or equipment or whatever, and do something completely different. And so I think, when you look at where things were back, then and 99, where you can go to school to learn web design, but there’s this industry, you realize that your skills, your willingness to be agile, to change, to morph, that’s what actually allows you to survive.

And when you add on top of it, the trend, you know, Apple, Microsoft, Google, they’re saying the you know, since actually since 2017, that you don’t have to have a college degree to enter their ranks, we’re back to a point where skills, what you can do, the value that you bring as a person, regardless of what your degree says.

That’s what matters. And so I think that the book is about those transitions. And, and I wrote it obviously, before we were in this point, because the principles are what we’re really talking about here, when you’re really understanding that what we do will always evolve, and it’s going to evolve at the speed of business, it’s going to evolve at the speed of the next thing that marketers are going to create that we’re going to have to figure out ourselves to engage and build the relationships that our clients want us to build with our customers who are going to join that platform, and who are going to adopt it in mass in ways that we’re gonna have to figure out how to show up and you know, entertain them in a way that they’re not shutting us off or blocking us. And I think that that evolution and change that constant change is something that I’m encouraged that as creative people that we’re dealing with this pandemic right now. Because who better?

Who better to deal with something to change the whole world in an instant? If they no snapped his fingers? We literally were in a situation Where how you enter the industry was different. How you work when you’re in the industry is completely different. And we’re literally back where we, as the people with experience, we’re in the exact same position, as I was saying about in 1999, where my world class practice, the two professors had no experience in this thing that I was going to apply my skills to, were literally back to that point where none of us with experience has more experience than any student.

And any, like, we’re back, it’s leveled the playing field, but who better to to navigate that, who better to lead that then creative people who have to do that to save their lives, every single time anyway, you have to reinvent yourself. So that’s the one thing that I would say that the book will help you to do. And you know, I always tell people, it’s very similar to like a Harvard Business Case Study, if you’re, if you’re familiar with that, where your objective is to read it, and then figure out who the decision maker is, and then play that person’s role, you step into their role. And everything that you’re reading for is to find your, your recommendation, the risk and rewards are what you would do in that situation.

So it’s about role playing, and sort of stepping into those shoes. The book gives you the stories of why these things are important that I’m going to talk to you about. The book tells you the stories of how I got here, it gives you my story and the way I do it, but it’s asking you to bring yourself to it. It’s asking you to take the thought process the principles, and then apply it to your own situation, and figure out how to save your own life. That’s what this is about the transitions.

So that’s the one thing that I would tell you, if you’re interested in the book, if you want to keep reinventing yourself, this is this is going to help you do that, because it’s going to teach you the language of how things change. And that one tool that, you know, if I said, you know, all the other ones have to fall away, would be the creative strategy framework, because it helps you to organize that chaos. And it’ll help you to only focus on what’s relevant, and solving the problems and those four columns and three steps in order to question the answers that the client comes to you with, so that you can you know, organize that chaos, question those answers and turn insights into executions. And those executions can be the actual work themselves, it could be the brainstorming session, it could be the brief because sometimes, going back to what I was saying about business school doesn’t teach how to inspire designers, we’ve all had a brief that’s the size of a novel that’s completely worthless, that was given to you by somebody who has a strategist title, and who came from sort of the business side of things, but who has no idea how to talk to a creative person.

And that’s what’s so ironic that the very things that make us professionals to be on the same team to service that client don’t even teach us to talk to each other. So sometimes to have a sound strategy, you got to write to yourself as a creative person, to even have one. And so this framework will help you either get started on the creativity part of things, thought starters, it’ll help you write the briefs. It can help you with strategy itself. But it’s a very, very elastic tool that I’m asking you to bring yourself to.

Marc Gutman 33:39
A common question I get all the time is Marc, can you help me with our brand? Yes, we help companies solve branding problems. And the first step would be to schedule a no obligation brand clarity call, we’ll link to that in the show notes, or head over to wild story, comm and send us an email, we’ll get you booked right away. So whether you’re just getting started with a new business, or whether you’ve done some work and need a refresh, or whether you’re a brand that’s high performing and wants to stay there, we can help. After you book your brand clarity call, you’ll learn about our brand audit and strategy process will identify if you need a new logo or just a refresh, will determine if your business has a branding problem. And you’ll see examples of our work and get relevant case studies. We’ll also see if branding is holding your business back and can help you get to the next level. So what are you waiting for, build the brand you’ve always dreamed of. Again, we’ll link to that in the show notes or head over to wildstorm comm and send us an email. Now back to the show.

I just feel like I got a master class in a few minutes. There. are on strategy and you’ve really changed actually my perspective and worldview I’m, I’m kind of caught up in obsessed with relevance and this idea of staying relevant being relevant, am I relevant? How do I stay relevant? I recently had a post where I was music, I have never felt the right age, you know, when I was younger, I always wanted more, and to be in someone else’s seat. Now, as I’m further my career, I’m looking back and be like, oh, there’s all these tick trackers, like, as you’re mentioning, all these things happening, that I don’t know, but, but the way you just describe that, and what I heard was that reinventing yourself and always learning something new as a gift and an opportunity. And, you know, I haven’t always looked at it that way. And so I just want to take a moment and pause. And thank you for that. Because that’s changed really how I am seeing this, this concept of relevance. And I want me to ask you, like, on this topic of relevance, is that one of the reasons you teach?

Douglas Davis 35:55
It is, and yet, I, you know, if you were to ask me, if I was going to teach one day, this is, you know, back when I’m bouncing around from agency to agency, I’d say the guy you know, and I thought, the farthest age that I could think I was, like, yeah, I teach when I’m, like, 35, or something, this is me like 22 or 23.

And it ended up that I started teaching at 25. And, you know, the model was always there that my teachers, I pride, they worked in the day, and they taught at night. And so I saw that. And so I realized that, you know, ended up being what I saw. And yet in some ways, the relevance part, I’m going to sort of unpack this as well, because I think that this word and the change, and what’s going on in our industry is something that is a larger issue that’s also going on in our society that I think we have to deal with. But I remember, as I mentioned earlier, I went to Hampton University, historically black college to study graphic design and photography.

After leaving there, as I mentioned, I went to private Institute to get my masters. And then after maybe about seven or eight years of losing, like I said, while winning but losing different battles, because I didn’t know how to speak that language. I then went to get my second Master’s in integrated marketing, I didn’t want you. And what I realized lately is that not only did my high school guidance counselor not have a one, even one conversation with me about college, but in those three institutions, there was no one black teaching design or, or strategy. And then I became a design professor, then I became a strategy professor.

I think, when you look at what’s going on in society, when you look at design needing to become more diverse, when you look at the demographics in America, when you look at how some people will describe what’s going on the southern border as an, you know, an infestation. terrible word. Other people describe it as will, it’s what humans do, when they’re fleeing, or in a situation where they have to flee. It’s what happens on every border, because if if we’re having a crisis, here you go, and seek a better place to be. I think when we’re talking about relevance, when we’re talking about representation, when we’re talking about being able to see yourself, I can’t say that I teach because I, I didn’t see someone like me. But I can say that, if we’re talking about design changing, if we’re talking about the issues that are in our profession, also being a part of what’s in our society. I think that when we talk about relevance, I think we have to really have the conversation that is on the base of the Statue of Liberty.

It’s calling out to immigrants. But our policy has been so different in the past, you know, very different in the past four years, if equal justice under law is on the top of the Supreme Court, and yet, we’re watching the George Floyd trial right now in front of us. And there is witness after witness up there telling you that the sequence of events that happened were completely unique and different than what would have normally happened. Then, I think when we talk about relevance, and when we talk about America living up to its melting pot, you know, equals and, you know, liberty and justice under our equal justice under law.

I think we have to really talk about belonging. We have to really talk about the fact that people are coming to us because they believe what we say If we were a company, these would be our mission statement documents, these will be our vision documents, but there’s so many mixed signals that are built into what they say, and what the actual experiences. And a lot of times, as you mentioned earlier, alignment is what we’re being asked to do as creative people we’re being asked to come in and align some problem. And I always start with, well, where’s the gap between what we say? And what the people’s experience is, whenever they trust us? I close that. And I think relevance and belonging are why people are coming to us. But I think that we have to start asking ourselves, as institutions as an industry, are we relevant? Because there’s a call and response here? various people come to various institutions or employers or countries, they’re basically asking, do I belong? And based in their interactions with the country or with the employer, or with the client, good or bad? They’re going to conclude yes or no. And I think that if we can, as an industry, but also as individuals continue to ask ourselves a question that you asked, am I relevant? Are we relevant? If your metric on yes or no, I am relevant or not, I’m not relevant.

It’s tied to how many groups of people feel comfortable in the space that you’ve created, how wide your arms are open, then that is a call and response because it’s connected. And if you do care about being relevant, but you do see that some people have decided that they don’t belong, based on whatever environment you influence or which is created, or what you’re a part of, the next step is to go get those people to understand why, right? And so I’m mixing culture, I’m mixing, you know, what’s going on in America.

But you can’t separate it from the problems that are in our industry, you can’t, it’s not possible to separate the two. And when you look at it like that, it explains what’s going on in our industry, whether we’re talking about relevance, or belonging. And I think that if we don’t become really serious about this, we’re there will be threats to creativity, because of diversity being hindered. And I’ll go back to just on this point, I’ll go back to again, we got clubhouse. Before that it was you know, tick tock. And before that it was Snapchat before that was Twitter, right? And before that Facebook, and I can keep going because it’s gonna keep going. So why in the world, would you not want as many different types of minds on the problems when the industry moves at the speed of business, and we’ve already covered that we have to keep changing, we have to keep growing, we have to keep learning, to even keep up to even remain relevant. Why would you not want as many different minds or perspectives on a problem that you can grab?

And so I say this, in hopes of some of your listeners who I know are creative professionals who have influence over their studios, who could determine how exactly to staff, I’m saying this to your listeners, because I’m hoping that they can really think about the new barriers that COVID-19 has posed, since we’re all in our houses. You know, right now, going to school depends on your own bandwidth, your own internet speed, your own Mac, your own whatever, right.

But if you think about it, we’re asking people who don’t have a lot to buy the equivalent of a computer that cost as much as the car just to go to school. And, you know, if you don’t control what your internet speed is, because if you live in public housing, you know, again, people are going to college in order to get out of this the circumstances that they were born into in many cases, and all they need is a chance. And so, the Coronavirus has put us in a situation where, you know, there are a lot more barriers that are different. And some of the barriers that were there before are not there anymore. So some of it is leveled the playing field. But I think that belonging and relevance like these, these words that we we often talk about as people who are tasked with solving brands problems, you know, do our customers feel like they belong? are we creating a culture where we’re solving their problems, like what are their pain points that we discussed that stuff all the time, we talk about relationship management, we’re a field built on targeting, we craft messaging, you know, there are all these different words that we talked about.

And yet, when we exclude groups of people from sitting around the table, then not only can we not hear their perspective of what creativity is, and how we can solve this problem that it’s, it should be different than ours. But we also put ourselves in a situation where we’re not helping ourselves in in the demographics that are shifting, you know, because either what’s either your client base is going to become more black and brown, or either the people sitting at the table, this should be it should be, shouldn’t be really an ad or should be both. But overall, on order to serve that client basis, becoming more black and brown with the demographics of the nation, you got to make sure that they’re people behind the concept, who actually understand how to talk to these groups, so that you’re being authentic, and you can build that trust. And that you can actually build the customer base because that takes, you know, making promises, and then actually delivering on them. So, again, I know I expanded that into way more, but it’s bigger. And again, the strategist in me won’t allow me to sort of just look at those two words, as just those two words. The strategist in me says, You know what, this is much bigger. And there are a lot of pieces to this, if we’re going to continue to evolve to remain relevant, if we’re going to continue to, you know, now I think apply our skills to new systems design, operations, forecasting, decentralized decision making, all those things are the things that I believe are the new creative skills as a result of the Coronavirus.

All of that is what’s coming out of how you got to pivot because your clients are asking how we’re going to pivot, then it’s going to be your job to also have an opinion on some of those things. This is the next evolution of all the things that creative people have to learn. In order to stay relevant. I’ll give you this one last piece. I literally just days ago finished a class on finance, from Harvard Business School online. I hate Numbers, chapter one in the book, first paragraph, I take you back to NYU when I’m sitting in my statistics class, and I want to somebody shoot me in the face, because it was too much. However, what is my point? I understand that at my altitude, and at my point, like where I’m at in my career, if I don’t understand how to talk to other people who do get it. If I don’t understand how to ask the right questions, if I don’t understand which levers I can pull on my level, then I’m not going to get the business, I’m not going to be chosen, somebody else is going to be chosen. So me taking a finance class 15 $100. Okay, I hate numbers. But I’m going to find the fear.

Gonna find the fear just like I did when I was bad at typography. And I said, I’m only going to use type on this particular solution, because I’m going to turn my weaknesses into strengths. And that is the evolution. It’s a mindset leading is a verb, and a posture. And as creative people, I believe that we will lead us out of this crazy mess that we’re in right now. Whether it’s climate change, whether it’s our social ills that we’re going through right now, this just horrible Asian hate, or just you know, what happened in your area with, you know, people not having access to mental health and just having so many guns, I don’t even know why people do what they do, but that the systems need to be redesigned. And relevance and belonging are the questions that we will be judged by. It’s bigger than just words, this is how we are going to survive. And I’m hoping that in talking about it in a way that I’m scaling it up, unpacking all the different pieces, connecting these dots on something that’s much bigger than just your job, the problems your client has, and you being able to like navigate that stuff. It’s much bigger than that. And if we can see it as creative people, as bigger than that, I believe that they’re the opportunities there for us to lead. That’s what I believe. That’s what I believe. Wow.

Marc Gutman 49:36
I mean, I believe the same and taking that leadership role. And you know, what I’ve always loved about this idea of design. So when we take it in a very literal sense, you know, I think of it in terms of graphic design of aesthetics of type and I’m like, I wish I was a designer. I’m not a designer. I love designers. I love being around them. I love being in their spaces. There’s every there’s something magical about it. But when I really think about what design means to me, it’s exactly what you just articulated. It’s it’s seeing the problems, both the ones in front of us and the ones that that expand out of Yeah, of the the the first maybe insight or initial problem, and then coming up with creative, innovative solutions to solve those problems. And I agree, I think creatives are our only hope right now. And they’re going to lead us to, to the new world. And yeah, no dog was on that topic of diversity. I mean, what is the step that creative leaders can take? Besides the the obvious of like, Hey, we need more representation at the table, because I hear that a lot. And I hear people putting energy into it, but I’m not seeing it in the way that you just articulated. And I think that’s where we want to get to, you know, no doubt.

Douglas Davis 50:56
So I’m gonna be I’m gonna be blunt, like we are in Brooklyn. I think a lot of times when I hear, again, our industry that’s built on targeting and messaging and, and like, we get that stuff, but yet there are a lot of people are excluded. Right? as a percentage of the population, you can’t understand that stuff. Like that can’t be your job, your industry, and yet, we’re leaving people out. Right, like, and that’s what targeting is right? You not you, you, not you, right. So we’re deciding to leave people out. And I like to tell people who asked this question, I think it would come from a really good place who really do want to do something different. Now school, you know, what do we find people can’t really find, you know, qualified candidates of color and x y&z. I, my answer to that is that I’m not a black white person. Don’t look for me in the same places, and in the same way that you would if you’re looking for white person, of course, you can’t find me.

Of course you can’t. I’m not there. You’re looking for me as if I was not me. And then when you say, Well, I looked, and I can’t No, you didn’t look, and you didn’t even understand that you’re not looking for me. And I think that that’s the part that has to be corrected. I also think that we have to rethink the measures of what we’ve used to determine someone’s aptitude or potential, whether it be for leadership or, or carrying a gun, frankly, as a policeman. I think we’ve got to rethink what we’ve used to judge someone’s worthiness or potential. I took the LSAT probably about three times.

And again, I mentioned earlier that my guidance counselor in high school, we never had one conversation about college, not 1/11 grade summer, I said to myself, you know, what, if I don’t go to college, I wanted to be because I didn’t choose to go versus I couldn’t go. So I chose to go to summer school, I chose to finish my foreign language requirements, I chose to take extra math, like get it right, I chose to take the LSAT three times. And in those three times, I got to like a 720, or 780, I can’t even remember. But on that measure, Marc, I’m stupid. If I were to let that number, tell me dictate to me what I was and was not capable of in the future, then I’m stupid. And I’m so thankful that that’s not how I didn’t listen to that, like, What do you know about me? None of these questions were even crafted with me in mind. So of course, I didn’t do well. And I’m not just saying that, like, Everything about it is wrong.

I am saying though, that we can’t measure everybody by the same yardstick. And that doesn’t mean that one is better than the other. It just means that there are other ways. And and people learn differently as creative people, you know that we all know that. And yet, we don’t apply that to the standard measures that we’ve always used to gauge someone’s potential. And I think that there’s something wrong with that. Because, you know, creative people like me, and you can grow up comparing themselves to other people based on those measures, and conclude that something’s wrong with them, when they’re the ones with the superpowers. You know, and I think that that is something that’s really important. We have superpowers and I’m not saying that being able to crunch numbers is not a superpower. It definitely is. But I am also saying that being bad at numbers is an indicator that you might be a creative. Think Overall, we really have to rethink our measures. We’ve got it and again, this is back to new systems design. This is back to us thinking through what’s wrong? And if you if you really look at this right,

I love this example. You know, there are more design decisions than there are visually literate people to make them. How do I know this? Well, if on live TV, the best picture is announced lala land and not moonlight because of the card, then that tells me that there was a problem that needed to be solved. There were people around who who had the title and the tools, but who are not visually literate. What is another example, if the wrong Mr. Universe gets crowned on national TV? What is another example if the Supreme Court has to determine who the President is because of the ballot design? What is another, I can keep going all day? Right? So there are more visually, there are more design problems than there are visually literate people to make them. And so again, like I’m back to this place, that we’ve got to redesign our systems, there’s so much broken, and there’s so many sort of problems to solve. And, you know, if you’re like me, as a creative person, you can’t unsee all the work around us. Because there’s so many things to redesign.

There’s so many things to rethink, but I think we can do it. And I think, you know, I was thinking about Okay, so what are the new measures, I would argue that we should have a grid metric, you know, if you don’t come from money, the money’s not the first thing that you think about to solve a problem. I want that person on my team, because that person had everything but money, that person has creativity, that person is thinking creatively, that person is not just like, yeah, we’ll throw XYZ in the budget at the problem. Yeah, we’re gonna need money at some point. But if you don’t have money, you still got a problem that you got to solve. And, you know, I would much rather have a grip metric, somebody who had to fight through some stuff. In order to get here. I want to know your story. How’d you get here? What do you do when you have more ambition and resources? You know, how did that work? And how, you know, what is your origin story? How did you get here, I can only see you now. You know, and oftentimes, I’m always really, really clear that, yes, I have three Emmys, you know, over my shoulder, and yet, it was not always like that.

And so I’m making a point to tell young creators, that it was a struggle, it was a struggle, because I don’t want anybody to get the wrong idea. It wasn’t always easy. And it’s not easy now. And so I think there’s so much work to do. There’s so many systems that we have to redesign and rethink. And the right people to do that, are you and I want to put another link in the chat that sort of deals with all of this, this sort of social, creative sort of mix that I’m putting together, because I’m looking at this as our competitive advantage as a nation, just like Michel Porter’s book, you know, competitive ventures of nations, this is a big problem that if we’re not careful, we are going to lose out because there’s so much human potential that we don’t allow, because of the color of somebody’s skin, or because of their gender, or because we’re worried about which bathroom, you’re going to use stupid stuff that if we could just focus on, you know, how someone’s mind would process dealing with this issue.

We can be so much farther ahead than we are right now. But we’re caught up on stupid things that divide us. And I think that, you know, I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful, especially in this generation, because they grew up in a time where, you know, the only president that they knew was black. But it wasn’t even a hurdle that like a black person could be president, right? They grew up in a time where now the vice president as a black woman, who also is, you know, has Asian descent as well, like these MCs, these these barriers that we had, like, you can have same sex unions, like all the stuff that took forever, right? It was just it was here, we had made the progress by the time that they were born. And so I hope that they can do something about the climate. I hope that because of their energy, and because they don’t have the same limitations that we had. I hope that their creative problem solving skills that we we get out of the way that we let them apply themselves to these big problems.

Because if we, if we’re not talking about if we keep talking about logos, we keep talking about like the job, then we’re part of the problem because we’re not even addressing all the other things that we better start to like attention to. And it you know, it would be embarrassing if I didn’t speak out, based on all the things that I had to navigate to even get here. And I think that, that that’s just always a really important thing that, you know, I have to touch on those things, things that, you know, may seem, you know, like third rail, but I, you know, I think we have to be more deliberate about closing the gap, the mixed signals that are there between what we say and what the experience is in America, you know, none of us as professionals would advise our client to do the complete opposite of everything hit the brandy, mission statement, and just the who would do that? Who would do that? No, but none of us. And so why do we tolerate it? Why do we tolerate it in society?

And I think that again, because that’s what we do, we should be the ones leading the conversation about how to make change. And I know that, you know, some people might be listening to like, well, this is outside of the lane of what I do. You know, I’m here to learn about tips and tricks about how to, like, you know, do better my job. And yes, I hear you, you know, I hope that there was something there that you could also listen to, but I also hope that you’ll take your superpowers and think about our systems that are broken, they need your skills. That’s why I’m talking to you about this, because you’re a part of who can fix it, because of your creativity. And so I’m calling out, because, you know, we need a different type of person to go into these other professions, you know, or else we’re lost. We’re lost. But I’m hopeful.

Marc Gutman 1:01:52
In that is Douglas Davis. I’ve goosebumps as I sit here, goosebumps and a bit like I was just shaken into my senses, that we need to stop talking and start doing that I me, because it starts here must work to close the gap, to open my arms and bring more of the world into the conversation. I hear you, Douglas. There was so much gold in this episode. And I can’t wait to get Douglas back on the show. So we can hear his story. As he shared it hasn’t been easy. And he’s worked his tail off to find success in this industry. I hope you’re as excited as I am to hear all about that in the future as well. Inspired by Douglas, I challenge you.

What new thing are you going to decide to learn? make a commitment to learning something new, put a flag in the sand. Email us if you’re so bold with what it is. I want to know that I’ll share it with Douglas as well. We are living in such an exciting time as the story is being written as we live it. We have an incredible opportunity to reinvent ourselves, learn new things and change the world. really change the world. It’s our job to reinstate that American mission statement on the Statue of Liberty. I’m up for the challenge. Are you a big thank you to Douglas Davis. You inspire me professionally, personally, and culturally. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, my friend.

We will link to all things Douglas Davis, his book Creative Strategy and the Business of Design, imported from Brooklyn, and much more in the show notes. If you know of a guest who should appear on our show, please drop me a line at podcast at wild story calm. Our best guests like Douglas come from referrals from past guests and our listeners. Well that’s the show. Until next time, make sure to visit our website where you can subscribe to the show in iTunes, Stitcher or via RSS so you’ll never miss an episode. I like big stories and I cannot lie. You other storytellers can’t deny.

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