John Besmer confirms our meeting with “Word,” and signs off with, “Yup!” like he’s in the middle of a Jay-Z video. At the corner of corporate and hipster, I arrive to his office to discover him in a plaid button-down shirt, designer-rimmed glasses and a whole lot of Midwestern charm.
I first saw Besmer in a similar uniform on stage. Ten designers shared twenty inspiration slides for twenty seconds each, but Besmer’s stood out; he was the only person to play electric guitar, read from a book and live-tweet during his – he later told me – “horribly lashed-together” presentation.
Besmer, Principal and Creative Director of Planet Propaganda, is one of the creatives that has been paving the way for design to take a front-seat in how we approach everything, from education to careers to business. His client list includes long-standing relationships with big-timers like Jimmy John’s sandwiches and MTV to the young and hip Trek bikes and Red Wing shoes.
“Design is becoming more relevant because things are becoming more complicated” Besmer tells me. And with that, a relative army of people are now claiming the term designer of one sort or another.
Should you need a speedy determination as to whether you’re business or creative-minded, take my test. Ask yourself, what time do I rise and fall? Scoring: Businessmen get up early. Creatives stay up late.
What links designers today “is their belief that everything today is ripe for reinvention and ‘smart recombination’” Warren Berger reports in Glimmer. And such foundational values are the backbone of innovation and business. Here’s how to take advantage:
1. Reframe your job, your tasks, your day-to-day. The concept of job titles are horribly outdated. Accept whatever title you’re given, but expand and burst the borders into far-away corners. Do as designers do and switch up “a familiar problem or challenge [like your job] in an unconventional way…. often the way a problem is framed will determine the solution,” Berger suggests.
Most successful people do this automatically. I know a young lawyer that was just recruited as partner at a prestigious law firm – this, at a time when lawyers are hurting badly – and it’s because he never saw himself as just a lawyer. He was always a leader first, the contracts and depositions came second.
So reframe your career in a new way. Ask stupid questions: Where should I really be living? Could I work from home? If I ate tuna for lunch every day, would that increase my productivity? What makes me happy?
2. Problem-solve to success. “I’m here to help my clients sell stuff,” Besmer tells me, but later admits that problem-solving is what really drives him. When you solve a problem, you get more responsibility, more challenge, new problems to solve. And that is what’s so exciting about successful careers. You solve lots of problems one after the other. It’s the difference between working hard and working smart, between an empty job and a fulfilling one.
Designers are extra good at this since it’s their explicit job description, but problem-solving is really the function of every job, of un-sticking yourself, of true creativity, regardless of the field you’re in – administrative to professional to creative.
3. Gain momentum by doing more and more. Berger reports this is the “’upward spiral’ of solving problems, wherein the more you do it, the more you can do it.” Solving problems, after all, is actually quite daunting and it can be paralyzing to jump in to such high pressure and stress. But once you’re guaranteed the win, it’s just as assuredly guaranteed that you’ll want another one.
“Through constant acts of creative [problem-solving], you also re-create yourself,” Berger continues. “You help propel your own growth spiral, feeding off the energy of creation. That’s not just a feeling, it’s a fact: Being in that state of “design flow’ raises the levels of neurotransmitters in you brain, such as endorphins and dopamine and that keeps you focused and energized.”
My friend Besmer is a testament to such endorphins and energy, and as we wrap up our conversation, he tells me the story of how he moved to a new house a few years ago. He relates that on each moving box, he would write what that box contained. “I’d write ‘old photos, clothes,’ and whatever was actually in the box… then I’d add ‘glass eyes’ just to keep it interesting for the movers. I thought, why not make it interesting for those guys?”
Why not, indeed.
So, how do you make it interesting? Do you work only within the confines of your job title? Are you creative or business-minded?