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Finding Creativity through Vulnerability

February 21st, 2014 by

This will shock the hell out of you: who would agree to have himself photographed naked with a catheter in his you-know-what, then share
the photo with the world.

An advertising legend, and man on a mission. That’s who.

Jim Riswold is one of the greatest copywriters of our generation. He wrote like God for almost 30 years, carrying brands like Nike on his shoulder with his words that touched the heart, and soul. He indirectly sold lots of products and services along the way, in the hundreds of millions one could argue. Jim was diagnosed with leukemia after an epic run, which began a new chapter of his life, and outlet for his creativity.

In 2011, Jim and Brian Druker spoke at a TEDX conference offering both a scientific report on advances towards a cure for leukemia, and Jim’s insider assessment of what it is like to live for more than a decade with total uncertainty. Jim summed up his talk with a simple black and white photo that spoke volumes, described above. You can see the work on his site, or view the talk on TEDX.  Shocking. Insightful. Memorable.

Jim’s story inspired me to reflect back on my own battle with cancer in 2000. I had just started a new company called Freelance Access, representing creative professionals in the Boston marketplace. All the pistons were firing.  I invented something called the Portfolio Access System that replaced traditional resumes used to help place designers on freelance gigs. But the news of testicular cancer hit hard.

When the future is vulnerable, people react in different ways. My way was to research the options, and map out a plan as well informed as could be. Radiation or chemotherapy, the traditional choices, seemed too traditional for me. I dug deeper and found a special program at Dana Farber forged by Dr. Kantoff, Head of Oncology, that rolled the dice with a less intrusive treatment.

I enjoyed my experience with Dana Farber so much, I decided to start the Lost Ball Golf tournament to help fund more creative cancer research. With the support of so many people, including designers, volunteers, clients, and family, the annual golfing event attracted media attention , sold out after a few years of hard work, and raised more than $100,000 for Dana Farber after a 10 year run.

Dan Wieden summarized Jim’s photo like this:  “Shocking to be sure. But it captured what I believe is his greatest insight; the ability to remain vulnerable is the ability to remain creative.”

Dan and Jim are helping me understand why I might have decided to take a risk and start the Lost Ball Golf tournament.  Putting it all out there is what creative people do. Thanks Jim, for the inspiration and understanding.

 

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