What is world-class about Pharrell's creativity & how does he do it?
Being Pharrell Williams means seeing the world from the eyes of Peter Pan, or someone that successfully managed to get his childlike and flourish imagination into the dangerous harbor of adulthood. There are many aspects of his creativity that we could look into in more detail but let's break down one key area of his creativity that defines Pharrell's creativity DNA the most and that could help you navigate an uncertain future better:
>> Creative Collaboration <<
Pharrell is a master of creative collaborations. It's no wonder that he is incredibly successful in so many areas. He is a singer, rapper, songwriter, record producer, movie producer, fashion designer, real estate investor and entrepreneur, among many other things. But he is not an expert in all areas. But definitely, an expert on how to collaborate with world-class experts from various fields, and talents whose potential he can actualize better than most other people. But how does his creative collaboration works?
1. Trust Your Curiosity
Before any form of collaborations is possible, it's important to know the following about Pharrell: He has a very vivid imagination that is driven by his curiosity, a level of curiosity most of us have unlearned to follow due to school, rules & social expectations. But it was his curiosity and hunger for knowledge that led him where he is now. As Pharrell says: "As long as you love it and you are curious about it, the job and the way to get on will show you how to get there." Or as Craig Shapiro, founder of Collaborative Fund, an investment fund which Pharrell has partnered with says: “Pharrell has an unquenchable thirst to learn. His thirst for knowledge is unparalleled. He truly enjoys learning new things and meeting new people - something most people are overwhelmed by." >< Therefore trust your curiosity and follow it. What are you truly curious about? Let's see where it will take you.
2. Be a mentor & a mentee - Life-long learning is key.
In order to do proper creative collaborations, Pharrell is not only a mentor but also a mentee. When Pharrell was asked to write a film score for the movie Despicable Me (#Minions), which he has never done before, he just got some guidance. The production company got him Hans Zimmer. Who better than one of the most influential film score writers in the world as a mentor? Pharrell practices his craft in-depth but also keeps learning from experts from other fields, which is a key aspect of Pharrell's Creativity DNA. At the same time, Pharrell mentors young artists and guides them in a way that suits their goals. “What do you want?” and “What haven’t you done?" are the first two questions Pharrell asks when mentoring or collaborating with young artists. He focuses on "actualizing potential,” which is about recognizing talent and helping it develop. By being a mentor and a mentee Pharrell increases his chances of staying on top of his game. He gets the "fresh vibes" of the young folks and the "priceless life and work experiences" from the top ones. >< By connecting these different influences consciously and subconsciously as we have learned in our first video about long-term creativity, it gives you the opportunity to create something new. What are you learning from whom and who do you teach?
3. Focus 100% on your strengths & be highly selective
When you are interested in so many different things, multi-tasking in form of collaborations can easily become counterproductive than a recipe for creative success. But not with Pharrell. How come? Well, for three reasons. a) By now he has quite the team with his creative collective "I am OTHER" supporting him. With every collaboration he makes, if it's with G-Star on designing new clothes, or with Reserve Properties and Westdale Properties on designing a new building, Pharrell can focus on the big picture and thought-provoking ideas while his team makes sure to get the work done. b) as Tyson Toussant, CEO at Bionic Yarn told Fast Company: "Pharrell is interested in so many things, and whatever he's working on at the time, he brings inspiration from that". c) Pharrell is highly selective on his collaborations. Not only should a collaboration be a highly educational experience but also one that 1. connects with his DNA, that agrees with him as a person and is parallel to his purpose. And 2. makes it easy to find common ground. Before his first meeting with Chris Meledandri, the founder of Illumination, and producer of the movie Despicable Me, Chris said: "Despite our age difference, we had a lot of things in common that was interesting for both of us, like this fascination for Japanese artist, Takashi Murakami that we had met before individually. But more than anything else, we had this shared sense of values. >< For any successful creative collaboration, focus 100% on your strengths, outsource your weaknesses, use other collaborations or projects as inspiration for the next project, be highly aware if the potential collaboration fits your DNA and if you can find common ground easily.
4. Creative Belief
"Don't wait for the stars to align, reach up, and realign them the way you want to & create your own constellation," says Pharrell Williams. On one hand, you need to have creative belief in yourself but equally important you need to have "creative belief" in your collaboration partner. But what does it mean? a) It creates a space of trust and safety. This way even if you criticize your partner on a creative level, your partner will not be hurt emotionally. But it's important that you express this to your partner before the collaboration begins. When Chris Meledandri & Pharrell worked on Pharrell's most successful song ever "Happy" for the Minions movie, Chris wasn't happy with 9 song ideas for the song "happy". You need to have a lot of "creative belief" within the collaboration in order for yourself to not lose your "creative drive". And Pharrell delivered that 10th song that finally became "Happy" because he focused even more on the feeling of what it actually means to be happy with one of the answers being "Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof." b) Creative belief also means to get proactive encouragement from the other side that they believe and see something in you that you might not see in yourself yet. For example, Chris encouraged Pharrell to keep working on the song Happy because he could see things Pharrell couldn't see yet or the same way the folks from Reserve Properties and Westdale Properties in Toronto encouraged Pharrell to design the architecture of a building with them, and not just giving his name to the building, even though he had never done something like this before. And Pharrell incorporated his song "Gust of Wind" into the design of the building. >< Do you have creative belief in yourself & your collaboration partner? If yes, communicate it in the beginning. And proactively encourage people whenever you see something inside them, they don't see for themselves yet. That's when creative talent really grows.
5. Energy & Emotions
a) "When starting a collaboration, it's not so important what people say but rather how their energy makes you feel," Pharrell says. With musicians, for example, he focuses on the energy rather than boxing himself into a specific sound or genre. He lets the energy take over his creativity. He believes that energy is a crucial part of every collaboration and one that we sadly often just ignore. And b) When Pharrell makes music, he asks himself how does this song make him feel. He believes that every song is connected to a memory and that the ones that truly stick, are the ones that resonate emotionally. Just chase that feeling. >< When you are collaborating, be aware of the energy in the room. Follow the energy, rather the words the people say. And chase that feeling that you are experiencing at that moment and connect it with the product/service you are trying to build together.
6. Just Pure Gratitude
Whenever Pharrell talks about a new collaboration or a new project, he shows the deepest form of humility. He praises his collaborations partners, his team, every single person that helped him on making this collaboration a success. He barely talks about himself but rather about the experience, skills, and talents of his partners and colleagues. And he does that genuinely and authentically because he was raised like that. And by praising others, shining on their talents, he makes it very easy for others to collaborate with him. Not only on an operational level but also reputation-wise. Nobody wants to work with ***holes. Showing gratitude makes you therefore sadly stick out in a fast-paced world like ours. Create your value system, and stick to your truth. When Pharrell talks about his staff at his media company "I am OTHER", he says: “When you envisage success, you should see all the people you work with, in addition to yourself. When I look at that picture, I see giant angels who are much smarter than me, who can oversee the things that I don’t know shit about." >< How do you show gratitude? How do you praise your team and your collaborations partners?
In fact, by 2003 The Neptunes (production duo composed of Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo) had produced 43% of songs played on US radio. What a number! Songs with Pharrell's name on in 2003 included the collaboration with Jay-Z's 'Change Clothes,' Timberlake's 'I'm Lovin It,' Kelis' 'Milkshake' and Snoop Dogg's 'Beautiful.' Pharrell had certainly made it. Pharrell's collaborations made the songs fresh and new sounding by brining in the inspiration from one collaboration to the next. This way he kept the ink always was fresh. Pharrell is chasing this feeling of creating something "new". As he said it: "You create these moments of discovery for people." In a world of information overload, keeping the ink fresh is key. And collaborations and new people, styles, cultures can bring in a certain amount of "new" to the table which then can be mixed with what you already know. This way you are at the forefront. More details regarding this in one of our next weekly practice mails. >< What is something new that you're chasing for? What do you want your collaborations partners and then, in the end, your clients to discover?