I’ve spent the last couple of years talking to founders, CEOs, and creatives who are doing original work in their space, and I try to get inside their heads. This practice has accelerated my desire to understand what sets them apart. Though they come from different disciplines, backgrounds, and perspectives, they all share a common denominator—beautiful thinking.
Beautiful thinking is when a process, a moment, or an action arises that changes how we perceive the world in the biggest, or smallest, of ways. It happens when possibilities are nurtured, not stifled.
In this spirit, I asked a few past Beautiful Thinkers for advice on how to carve out a path to accomplish a professional dream with one simple question: “Where should you spend time and energy developing a career?” Here is what they told me.
“Start with the end. Whether it’s a new business pitch, a campaign, or the writing of a novel, know what the final objective is. Then work backward. I spent a lot of years on many a magnificent start only to end up somewhere in the middle and ultimately fizzling out.” —Rob Schwartz, CEO of TBWA\Chiat\Day New York
“Don’t try to do everything as a company. Know where your strengths are and hone in on those. Focus on what each team member does well. This allows you to use your resources and expertise to scale and do your best work for your customers.” —Jeni Britton Bauer, founder and CCO of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
“If you focus on progress, rather than insist on immediate perfection, you’ll not only be a stronger leader, you’ll also grow closer to perfection faster.” —Lisa Ingram, fourth-generation president and CEO of White Castle
“In the very early days of Impossible Foods, we spent about a year and a half of time and our initial seed funding in research and manufacturing only to find out our approach wasn’t scalable. We could have saved at least a year of time had we known this. However, the time we spent on it was not a waste. Had we gone straight to the right solution, it might have saved a lot of time but as an early team we would have missed a major culture building experience.” —Pat Brown, founder and CEO of Impossible Foods
“The best ideas are clearly brilliant when described in a single sentence or visualized in a single image. If you need more than a couple of sentences or, god forbid, a whole presentation filled with YouTube links and reference images to sell your idea, then it’s probably not worth the keyboard clicks. I’m sure a lot of people did tell me this fact when I was starting out, from ad school to my first creative directors, but I guess I chose not to listen. I think most people choose not to listen to that rule because, although it’s inarguable, it’s also incredibly difficult to adhere to. So now I repeat it to our creative teams and enjoy watching their faces screw up in terror.” —Eoin McLaughlin, creative director of Channel 4
“Implementing and embedding a social purpose-oriented business strategy, architected by an inspiring and future-thinking CEO, will inevitably be acknowledged as a strategy of the world’s most successful companies. As a senior leader in one such company, it won’t always be this hard to convince stakeholders that doing well comes by doing good. Even so, I may get more traction making this the new normal as an investor, rather than as a manager.” —Brad Jakeman, former president of PepsiCo Global Beverages and cofounder of Rethink Food Ventures
These answers are very different from one another because they’re from six different perspectives, genders, ages, geographies, industries, and disciplines, but they share one thing: elegance in their simplicity. They aren’t lofty missives but hard-won lessons that we can incorporate into our professional journey to help put us on a path to become the next generation of beautiful thinkers.
Carolyn Hadlock is an ECD/principal at Young & Laramore Advertising. She writes the blog Eunoia (which means beautiful thinking in Greek and is the shortest word in the English language that uses all 5 vowels), where she interviews CEOs, founders, and creatives for her Beautiful Thinkers series. You can follow Eunoia on Medium and on Instagram @eunoiaquarterly.