Excerpted from In-Person Interview, Portland, Oregon
Start with play
The necessity of play and arts education are not extra—they're vital. As adults we have to remember to play, because that's where creativity comes from.
I grew up in an Air Force family. My dad enlisted when I was less than a year old. We traveled around quite a bit, and I would spend my allowance money at the base Stars and Stripes on comic books. I figured out at some point that I could either pay 45 cents for brand new comics (“brand new”—they were weeks old) at the Stars and Stripes, or I could go to the swap meet on Saturdays. GIs who were shipping home would be unloading their collections and I could get a stack for a dollar. I was like, “Oh okay, I’ve got this figured out.”
Embrace fear and discomfort
You have to be afraid. I mean, I think that's what we are as artists. It's our job to be uncomfortable; our job is to go where we're afraid. I don't think good art comes from being safe and comfortable. I don't think growth comes from being safe and comfortable. I don't think good questions come from being safe and comfortable. Whether you are a creative professional or not—whatever it is that you do—learning to go to that place where you feel like you're lost, and understanding that this will not kill you, and that on the other side of discomfort is growth—it's the thing I hope my children learn.
Find creativity everywhere
If your job is to work in front of a spreadsheet plugging in numbers and you are happy working in front of your spreadsheet plugging in numbers, and you want to go home and watch TV and hang out with your kids, and you are happy, you do not need to do otherwise. But if your job is sitting in front of a spreadsheet putting in numbers, and you wonder, “Is there something I'm missing from these numbers or something I'm missing from the way that the spreadsheet is constructed? Is there more information I could pull out of this or are there new ideas dancing in front of me in the form of numbers that I can't see because I'm so used to looking at it the same way?” You can work with numbers and still have the urge to create, right? That's what that is. How do you approach that spreadsheet in a way that's new?
I had a guy at a talk who came up afterward and told me, “I am an accountant, but I keep talking to my team about how we shouldn't do things the way we've always done them, because we're just gonna get the same answers we've always gotten. There are stories in numbers and there are stories in all of this data.”
Let connection lead to innovation
We're all artists. Creativity matters. It's okay to be lost and it's okay to be scared. In fact, it's good to be lost and scared; it means you're evolving, it means you're trying. We get to embrace that and get excited about it. You’ll know afterward that that's what that moment is: “I have a connection. I don't know exactly what I want to say to you, but I have a connection.”
How do you create? How do you innovate? There are a lot of ways, and one of the first things I always talk about with my students is to think with your body. Break the monotony of the same patterns, or try to do something, try to construct something physically. I will make mind maps. I will make mind maps on a computer if I have to, but I prefer to make mind maps on a whiteboard so I can physically draw connections between ideas when I'm looking for the way to see this story that I haven't found before. I hope at the end of our time together people feel excited and inspired to take some risk, and I hope that they have a kind of warm feeling in their chests of being scared—knowing that they need to do something and maybe not knowing exactly what it is—and I hope that they want to come up to me afterward and say, “I have a connection.”
Find out more about Kelly Sue DeConnick’s work and speaking topics.
“The power of seeing someone who’s just a little more like you [on screen] is really incredible.”— Kelly Sue DeConnick