That’s one bit of wisdom you’ll hear from the bold leaders who make up Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business community. The 2019 list, which recently debuted, marks the 10th anniversary of this unique and timely project, and to celebrate, we reached out to some of the folks we’ve featured over the years, from founders and VCs to showrunners and chefs. Here’s their advice for succeeding in any creative pursuit:
“Never stop chasing the dream–what seems impossible, or feels just out of reach,” says Marcus Samuelsson, the chef who started the Red Rooster chain of soul food restaurants. “That striving is where creativity lives.”
Nora Zimmett, chief content officer at The Weather Channel, agrees that it’s vital to think big, and to dare to challenge stagnant ideas. “Just because something has always been done this way, that doesn’t mean it is the right way,” she says. She counsels new grads to pursue the “what if” mentality: to believe in achieving the impossible rather than humbly lowering their expectations of themselves. “It is always easier to reel in an outrageous hypothesis than to augment a simplistic one.”
Alex Rappaport, cofounder of Flocabulary, a Brooklyn-based company that creates educational hip-hop content for kids, also approves the “what if” mind-set. “People rarely regret daring boldly,” he says. “More often, they regret playing it too safe.”
Those elevated expectations may lead to snags along the way, especially at first, but: “Rejection is part of the process,” says Sylvia Acevedo, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA. “Never lose your persistence, resilience, and determination. Always be looking at how to get from a ‘no’ to a ‘yes.'”
Many of our creative alumni suggest that wide-eyed graduates should embrace their uniqueness and not shy away from being different. Candice Morgan, head of inclusion and diversity at Pinterest, is particularly vocal about this, stressing that there’s a need for creatives to be noncompliant mavericks. “We learn processes we are supposed to follow–we may even be shamed for thinking outside of these boxes,” she says. “Remember: Your creativity and unique perspective is a gift and should be explored and shared.”
Zainab Selbi, the founder of Women for Women International, a humanitarian organization that supports women affected by war and conflict, is on the same page about individualism, and adds to not worry about what people think about your free-spiritedness. “It’s better to feel odd as you speak your mind and live your truth, than to fit in and suppress your heart’s desire,” she says.
Selbi also touches on a gem offered by several of the innovators: Don’t just think. Do. “Ensure that you understand how an idea moves from imagination to creation to implementation,” she says.
Put simply, it’s not enough to merely conjure up ideas. Creatives must put those concepts to paper, plate, canvas, or whatever their desired media. “Put equal emphasis on your thinking and your doing skills,” says Katie Dill, VP of design at Lyft (who was featured on our 2017 list for her work at Airbnb). Dill says that companies are looking to hire people who can think analytically, but also those who can bring ideas to life through craft. “A great strategy on its own falls flat without proper execution,” she says.
Graham Yost, showrunner of such television hits as Justified and The Americans, agrees. He recommends honing your craft–repeatedly. “If you want to be a writer, then write,” he says. “A lot. If you want to direct, make a movie on your phone. Make many movies on your phone.”
For young people, finding a mentor can be helpful for developing creative skills, and for forging their career paths. “Seek out people you think are brilliant and who are 10, 20, 30 years older than you–and beg them to give you a job,” says Audrey Gelman, CEO and cofounder of The Wing, a women’s coworking space and social club.
Prominent makeup artist Pat McGrath, also the founder of Pat McGrath Labs, made a similar point. “Find someone you trust and admire and become their apprentice,” she says. “There is no better education than learning from someone who truly inspires you.”
Youth itself may be an elixir for creativity–so grads should savor it while they can. “When you are young, creativity comes easier, and you have fewer assumptions about the world,” says Ben Horowitz, founding partner at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.
“And your brain works better.”