Dan Wieden, cofounder of Wieden+Kennedy, is sure that John Jay, his agency’s global executive creative director, does work related to advertising. He just can’t quite describe it. Jay commutes–between the shop’s offices in Tokyo, Shanghai, London, and Amsterdam, where he identifies the most creative local people in art, music, and technology. Jay unearths–what’s new, exciting, and bubbling up on the edges of places as unlikely as Delhi and Detroit, so he can feed that culture into the hive mind of the Portland, Oregon–based powerhouse. (No wonder Advertising Age noted W+K’s “sense of current culture” when it named the shop Creative Agency of the Year.) And in his free time, Jay runs his own company, Studio J. Its latest project: “The Grove,” a proposed blockwide “art hostel” for young global creatives–musicians, filmmakers, artists, designers, hackers–that he’s developing near the front gates of Portland’s old Chinatown with Ace Hotel cofounder Alex Calderwood and Goldsmith Blocks LLC. But the veteran ad man, who’s worked on campaigns for Nike, Uniqlo, and Target, is just getting started. “I consistently try to connect to the greater cultural world,” he says, “in order to help make W+K a catalyst for innovation on a global scale in areas outside of what used to be called advertising.”
Information overload was taking a toll on me and it was not fun. I knew I had to find a way to solve that problem.
In this exclusive video produced by Fast Company, Jay talks about his creative process.
Where do you go to be “off the grid”?
Prior to my Wieden+Kennedy life of international assignments, I had the amazing experience of working for Marvin S. Traub, the legendary CEO of Bloomingdale’s. Once on a shoot and product research trip in Manila, Traub somehow found three private helicopters to take us from our day off to the ultimate “day on.” After brunch, he lifted us up above the mountain rice paddies into the villages to meet indigenous tribes who specialized in a special weaving technique… just so that we could experience their artistry first hand. Authenticity was drummed into our heads, trip after trip from the most exotic locations to the yearly trips to the prêt-a-porter in Paris. For over a decade, I was given this kind of learning ‘off the grid’ under his leadership. Off days were too valuable to waste for Traub when we traveled the world with him. He made cultural learning a part of our career growth so that we could be better creative thinkers and doers which ultimately made us better business people. He gave us context.
“Off the grid” is often a mental state. One place where I can go and hide from the mundane of the day to day, a place where you can just lose yourself is a quiet little place called New York City.
Yes, it’s my old hometown and I know it well but New York City continuously offers the new… mixing cultures and social exchange through a diversity of people and ideas that is hard to experience anywhere else in the world. New York has a proactive spirit that unabashedly celebrates success and yet offers you the freedom to create as you wish. You can lose yourself anonymously in Brooklyn, on a sofa at the Ace Hotel with strangers or in the vast catacombs of the Metropolitan Museum.
It is not simply about time but the quality of experience. I have my private bars and cafes in the cities where I work, whether Tokyo or Shanghai… one actually has a secret code at a hidden door that changes nightly. There are public places that I regularly wander through by myself in Portland, New York, or Milan. Being ‘off the grid’ can be momentary… but if it’s also inspiring, the affects can be forever.