4 digital transformation lessons businesses can learn from creatives

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – An acclaimed photojournalist, an up-and-coming fashion designer, a sculptor of elaborately-shaped colourful nets that stretch between buildings, and an iconic U.S. filmmaker might not sound like typical digital transformation advisors, but creating new projects despite the odds stacked against them has given each one more insight than you might think.

Adobe Systems Inc. certainly appeared to believe the 10,000 marketers, designers, software engineers and other professionals who attended this year’s Adobe Max could learn a thing or two from fashion designer Zac Posen, sculptor Janet Echelman, photojournalist Lynsey Addario, and Pulp Fiction director Quentin Tarantino when it invited the quartet to speak at its conference’s day-two keynote on Nov. 3.

One by one, each guest was invited to the stage by Adobe CMO Ann Lewnes, who interviewed Posen and Tarantino about their changing creative processes and the effects technology has had on their work, while ceding control to Echelman and Addario during their respective presentations.

The result: four lessons your company can use whether it’s in the middle of a digital or creative transformation or not.

Recognize what you’re getting into, and why

Before his 1992 breakthrough, Reservoir Dogs, was released, Tarantino famously spent years working in a southern California video store while writing screenplays and shopping them around to studios (two of them, True Romance and Natural Born Killers, were eventually produced).

Less well known is the three years and $3000 he spent shooting a much lower-budget 16-mm film (presumably My Best Friend’s Birthday, though he didn’t specify the title) that today, he admitted, he would be able to shoot without borrowing someone’s camera – and it would look better too.

“Now that technology has become more conducive, a kid in the projects can… make their version of the 400 Blows… if they have the tenacity to take it all the way,” he said. “And that’s available to them in a way that it was never available to me.”

However, just because it’s easier to produce a film doesn’t mean it should necessarily be distributed, Tarantino said. Some ideas need more time to percolate than others.

“I know when something needs to sit in the incubator,” he said, tapping his head. “And I know when it’s time for it to come out.”

Back when novice filmmakers needed to pitch every project producers could act as filters, ensuring that anyone who survived was a reasonably competent director, Tarantino said, a process which has since disappeared.

“Not every movie needs to be made. Not every movie should be made,” he said, to applause. “I made a movie that did not need to be made. It needed to be made to teach me how to make a movie, but no one ever needed to see the [expletive] thing.”

Now think back to your own digital transformation project. Do you really need to implement every facet? Do you know what you’re getting into, and why?

Be open to new ideas

Janet Echelman didn’t set out to become a sculptor. In fact, she’d been painting for a decade when she found herself waiting in India for materials that never arrived, and was forced to cast about for something new.

“It was the most horrible situation I think I have ever faced,” she told the Adobe Max audience. “Feeling like I had to deliver and had nothing to make art with, I started looking at materials and… I thought, ‘okay, I’m going to learn how to make bronze.’”

Ten weeks later, Edelman found herself with a dozen bronze sculptures of children the size of her hands and a wailing wallet. Frustrated, she took a walk to the beach, where she went for a swim and watched the fishermen remove the day’s catch from their nets.

“At that moment I was calculating in my head, ‘If I want to make my bronze this big, how much is this going to cost?’ I didn’t have enough money for the raw materials,” she said. “Then I looked at the nets… and thought, ‘that’s a great way to make volumetric form without having solid material.’

And so she began collaborating with the fishermen on her first soft-material sculpture, which she called Wide Hips.

“What I discovered was that the wind became a kind of choreography, always moving and changing everything,” she said. “I didn’t set out to be a sculptor of wind… I stumbled upon it… It completely mesmerized me.”

Since then Edelman’ sculptures, anchored by woven rope and built from a fibreoptic material that lights up based on a variety of creative algorithms, have found their way into Canada as well, with Vancouver receiving a sculpture of its own in honour of the TED Conference’s 30th anniversary in March 2014.

Sculptor Janet Echelman shows off a picture of her Vancouver sculpture, "Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks," during the Adobe Max conference on Nov. 4.
Sculptor Janet Echelman shows off a picture of her Vancouver sculpture, “Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks,” during the Adobe Max conference on Nov. 4.

In that particular installation’s case, Edelman collaborated with Google to develop an app that allowed passersby to choose new colours using their smartphones.

Make sure creativity and technology are in sync

Born in 1980, fashion designer Zac Posen has never known a world without technology; yet he also told the Adobe Max crowd that he believes “creativity is as important as sleeping and eating.”

“[Creativity and technology] don’t fight each other,” he said. “They need to have that dialogue of synergy.”

Posen’s most recent combination of technology and creativity was a fibreoptic dress worn by actress Claire Danes at this year’s Met Gala in May, which a model showed off to the audience’s delight.

Fashion designer Zac Posen shows off the fibreoptic dress Claire Danes wore at the Met Gala in May during the Adobe Max conference on Nov. 3.
Fashion designer Zac Posen shows off the fibreoptic dress Claire Danes wore at the Met Gala in May during the Adobe Max conference on Nov. 3.

Most importantly, never give up!

The keynote’s biggest emotional wallop, by far, came from veteran photojournalist Lynsey Addario, who since 2000 has photographed conflicts and injustice in locales as far flung as Haiti, the Republic of the Congo, Darfur, Iraq, and Afghanistan (both under the Taliban and without).

Leading the audience through some of her most harrowing stories, each of them accompanied by photos ranging from triumphant to heartbreaking, Addario described a career that has inspired, challenged, and frustrated her – sometimes all at once, as when the former Life Magazine sent her to cover the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004, when it was one of the most dangerous zones in the second Iraq War.

Addario sent back photos of what turned out to be so many wounded U.S. soldiers, army officials had to lay them, tile-like, in the cargo area of a plane.

After holding onto Addario’s photos for four months, her contact at Life sent her an email saying, “I don’t think we can ever run your pictures of wounded soldiers, because my editor thinks they’re too harsh for the American people to see.”

“Of course… I was furious and said, ‘how dare you make that decision on behalf of the American people, and how dare you send me into war if you don’t have the guts to publish my images,” Addario said, to loud applause.

When this photo was taken, photojournalist Lynsey Addario was embedded with a segment of the U.S. army that was considering whether to bomb a strategic area or not.
When this photo was taken, photojournalist Lynsey Addario was embedded with a segment of the U.S. army that was considering whether to bomb a strategic area or not.
They did, and this boy was one of the victims.
They did, and this boy was one of the victims.

In March 2011, Addario and four of her colleagues were kidnapped in Libya by former leader Muammar Gaddafi’s armed forces, and released after five days of horrendous treatment.

“They pulled my laces out of my shoes, tied my feet together, my arms together, and placed us in vehicles tied up on the front line and sort of watched us and laughed as bombs and bullets rained around us,” she said. “They kept us there for hours, they beat us repeatedly over the course of the first three days, threatened us with execution… and after six days we were transferred to Tripoli and released.”

And yet she keeps going back. Don’t let a similarly minor setback deter you.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Eric Emin Wood
Eric Emin Wood
Former editor of ITBusiness.ca turned consultant with public relations firm Porter Novelli. When not writing for the tech industry enjoys photography, movies, travelling, the Oxford comma, and will talk your ear off about animation if you give him an opening.

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