Here’s How These Creatives Cleared Their Biggest Hurdles Of 2016

Hopefully their answers will make your creativity in 2017 run much more smoothly.

Here’s How These Creatives Cleared Their Biggest Hurdles Of 2016

As the last days of 2016 get x’ed off the calendar, we reached out to some of the creatives Co.Create has interviewed this year and asked them: “What was your biggest creative hurdle in 2016 and how did you manage it?”


Sam Bee, host of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee

Having to reset our entire show within 12 hours after the election. And finding a home for the balloon drop we had planned, while everyone retreated into their turtleneck sweaters and wept.

Damian Kulash, lead singer of OK Go

The biggest creative hurdle for me was, as it always is, the blank canvas. We’re writing songs for our next album now, and it always does my head in a bit. When you first sit down to get started, it’s fun–it’s just boundless play: string chords together, discover weird sounds, sit at a piano, and fall into a trance. But within a day or two, the psychological knots start to form–the dance of the explorer and the critic. Basically, creativity is a wrestling match between these two, and the truths they represent, which can feel mutually exclusive. On the one hand, you need to be explorer–the only way you can make something good is to chase ideas down risky paths. You have to let them surprise you, let them suggest things you weren’t expecting and might not know how to judge yet. But on the other hand, you need to be critic–making good things requires dispassionate self-assessment. Your internal QC manager needs to be relentless with, “sorry, not good enough yet.”

When the canvas is truly blank, these two impulses go nuts.

Explorer: What about this?!?
Critic: No! It’s crap!
Explorer: Okay, but just give me a damn second to try something that probably won’t work.
Critic: Fine, but you know I’m going to make you start over.

And they go around in a circle for hours, getting more and more exasperated with each other, and eventually it’s bedtime and you haven’t made anything.

The only solutions I know are discipline and distraction. Show up every day and just put in the hours. But also stop and do the dishes or go for a hike, because your brain is better at solving the problem without you. This year I was great at distraction and less great at discipline. But we got a few things done.

Burnie Burns, cofounder and chief creative officer of production company Rooster Teeth


I am a to-do list fanatic; I make them for every task no matter how small. I have recurring items for daily creative efforts like “Write one page of a script,” knowing that when I sit down to do that, I will bang out 10-20 pages. It’s just to get me started. If I ever have a spare moment, instead of checking Facebook on my phone I just pick the quickest to-do item and get that done.

Rick Singer, creator of Fox’s Pitch

I think our biggest creative hurdle was taking what could have been a fairly self-contained story that we’d told in the pilot of Ginny making it to the major leagues and establishing that as simply the beginning of what has become a very compelling ongoing journey for her. I also think it was a real challenge to dimensionalize all the other characters so that people got invested in their lives and their journeys as well. I think we’ve accomplished that with the help of some extraordinarily talented actors who breathe more and more life into these characters every week.

Ultimately, our goal has been to make Ginny, Mike, and everyone’s else’s lives feel as authentic as possible, to feel like we’ve gotten to know them and like them and root for them as they face heightened pressure and extreme circumstances. Seeing Ginny Baker come to life, overcome everything thrown at her, and come into her own has been incredibly satisfying, and yet, with so many more mountains to climb, once again, it’s only the beginning.

Chloe Gottlieb, executive vice president and executive creative director at R/GA, U.S.

One of the biggest creative hurdles we face is how to build brand love now that brands are experienced across a vast ecosystem of disparate media platforms. If there is no longer a brand “destination,” or even a screen to design for, how can we make consumers feel a brand’s presence? How can we make any one brand stand out amid countless text and voice streams?

What we’ve found is that in this new world of atomic-level interactions, a human brand voice is more essential than ever. While the marketing world in 2016 was buzzing about VR, AR, and 360 content, we were delving into a different technology disruption: the shift to what we are calling the “Intelligent Age,” a time of unprecedented computing power combined with human cognition.

We worked with messaging platforms like Reply.Ai from R/GA Ventures to build a simpler way to register and participate in voting. And collaborated on an award-winning platform to provide 1:1 coaching expertise to athletes at scale. These projects helped get our creatives over the hurdle and excited about the new frontiers of cognitive computing. We found that weaving in a brand voice and human expertise as we designed around the customer helped these intelligent services feel less robotic.

As the way we experience brands changes faster and faster, helping brands feel more human will only become more important.

Margaret Johnson, chief creative officer at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners


At the beginning of last year, I challenged the creative department to produce more firsts that put technology and innovation at the center of our work. And to build it in-house, using the resources of our BETA creative technology group. 

The results were astounding. We produced the “Dreams of Dali” VR experience, SONIC #SquareShakes (the first product designed for and purchasable on Instagram) and the “I Am a Witness” anti-cyber bullying emoji (the first emoji built for a social cause)–all in-house. 

Pulling these off wasn’t always pretty and we learned a lot of lessons along the way, particularly in building Dreams of Dali, an application of VR technology that no one had done before. Not only was it extremely technical, requiring a lot of processing power to make the experience seamless and intuitive, but we had to make sure, for instance, we didn’t make people sick in the museum.   

Along the way, I learned that small failures are the stepping-stones on the path to new creative territory–something you need to embrace. As a leader, building that kind of “fail forward” culture in our department has been key. Seeing the new ideas coming out for 2017 gives me hope that the precedent set in 2016 is here to stay.

Shep Gordon, author and talent manager

My greatest hurdle this year was dealing with the overwhelming outpouring of love I continued to receive from Mike Myers’ documentary, Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, and my first book, They Call Me Supermensch, which came out this year. Learning how to deal with this has always been hard for me. Accepting praise has been my greatest challenge and my personal, greatest opportunity for growth.

David Ford, artist

I’m struggling with making work that is celebratory, embracing the joy of creativity itself and inventiveness in a climate where my energy may be better spent addressing our political, social, and environmental condition. But maybe some whimsical relief ain’t bad at this moment.

About the author

KC covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America," where he was the social media producer.


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