Our Q&A with August speaker, Tim Allen, who will be talking on the topic of Genius.

🎟 You can get tickets for his upcoming CreativeMornings talk here. 🎟

Tim Allen was named one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business for 2017. He brings his roots in product, service design, and strategy to his current role leading teams of designers across Microsoft’s new Fluent Design System and Inclusive Design group envisioning the next shift in computing. His focus on fueling human potential is key to building products and cultures that inspire people to do their best work.

 Prior to Microsoft, Tim combined design, storytelling, and technology to innovate on behalf of global brands such as Google, Hyatt, and GE as President, Wolff Olins North America. At Amazon, he helped lead experience design for Amazon Echo, Fire TV, and Kindle products as Executive Creative Director. Tim also shaped the vision for one of the largest Experience Design teams in the United States at R/GA, whose Nike+ work established the future of connected experiences for brands. Through innovative work with Adobe, Red Hat, and IBM, Tim holds seven patents related to software design, ranging from chat interface modeling to mobile device synchronization.

 As an additional outlet for his passion around design strategy and practice, Tim instructs at schools and events around the world.

[CreativeMornings (CM)] How do you define creativity and apply it in your career?
[Tim Allen (TA)] Similar to the notion from an athletic apparel company that if you have a body, you’re an athlete, if you have a mind, you are creative. Creativity is innate to humans. It allows us to adapt to physical, cognitive and social challenges as a survival skill. Things start to get interesting when that gift for survival is used for something beyond the preservation of our existence. Creativity can also make our lives and the lives of others more meaningful, more delightful, and sometimes more magical. I think pursuing that level of creativity is a privilege. Whether it is your vocation, hobby or passing interest. I’m passionate about the intersection of logical problem solving and imaginative personal expression. Playing/Creating in the space between observed insights that are universally human and forms of expression and adaptation that are uniquely individual is a fascinating pursuit. In my experience, that is where the rare occurrence of genius lies. 

[CM] Where do you find your best creative inspiration?  
[TA] For me, it’s when and not where. It’s the 60min transition between sleeping and waking. For some reason, my mind is able to process all of the various inputs (articles, books, podcasts, conversations, observations, etc) from the previous days/weeks and organize them in unexpected, creative ways. It’s when my imagination is at its peak so I just try to write down or draw as much as possible during that time without trying to rationalize, doubt or analyze the connections. The moment I start thinking about anything mundane for the upcoming day is the exact moment when the flood of creativity stops. 

[CM] What’s the one creative advice or tip you wish you’d known as a young person?
[TA] I was advised by a mentor that “People will not truly care how much you know until they know how much you care." 

It’s advice that speaks to being aware and considerate about your relationship to an audience and any related subject matter. The audience, in this case, could be anyone or any group - a manager, a customer, a teacher, a spouse, etc. There is no shortage of people that crave being seen as the smartest person in the room, in the meeting, in the relationship, or on the team. But it’s been proven many times in my experience that communicating subject matter expertise isn’t nearly as effective as being vulnerable/humble enough to convey how much a subject matter means to you and why. I’ve found that success can lie more in establishing a common purpose than in establishing your individual credentials. 

[CM] Who would you like to hear speak at CreativeMornings?
[TA] It would be a toss up between Eddie Opara (Pentagram) and Steve Johnson (Netflix). Actually, I’d love to hear them both speak at CreativeMornings. Their stories are amazing, they’re masterful at their craft and they are both hilarious. Moreover, they are also people of color that have reached a rare level of executive seniority in the design industry. I would love to hear more stories from people like them. 

[CM] What did you learn from your most memorable creative failure?
[TA] For me, it was freshman year in design school. My first crit was an abomination. I didn’t know if I was cut out for all of this design business - the other students didn’t act like me, they certainly didn’t look like me, and I had the nagging thought of "What was I doing in this studio with all of these ‘real designers’?”

That’s when I received one of the greatest pieces of advice I’ve ever had when my professor spoke to me after class and said, “…you know the anxiety that you’re experiencing is natural. Fear and uncertainty can ruin you or be your best ally. Embrace your fear. Seek out ways to step into the unknown. It is the single best way to grow as a designer.”

After that, the thought that what I felt was not only natural but HEALTHY was pivotal for me. I soon learned to befriend and channel fear and uncertainty and it led to huge leaps in my evolution as a designer.


[CM] When you get stuck creatively, what is the first thing you do to get unstuck?
[TA] I take a run whenever the creative juices aren’t flowing. It never fails to help me make new connections and spark new ideas. It’s a great burst of energy and the since of accomplishment gives me some needed confidence when I’m feeling like a creative challenge is getting the best of me. I also try to run in a beautiful setting as well, preferably near water. It just feels good! :)