Creative Rebellion Essays: ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

An excerpt from the massive and beautiful “goodbye book” from the Hulu Product Design Team.

My last day as VP, Product Design for Hulu was Monday, February 8th. I worked at that remarkable company for five years and one month. It’s a strange, exciting and liberating feeling to move on to new things. It’s scary and filled with unseen potential.

During my time at Hulu I was privileged to build up the product design team from an initial handful to over 60 brilliant designers and researchers. Within just over a year, we launched a new experience in 2017 (which I codenamed “Bowie” as there would be ch-ch-ch-ch-changes as tech evolved and user behavior adapted) and then we shipped another major UX update in 2020, during the pandemic, with all the teams working virtually.

When I’m asked what I feel most proud of from my time at Hulu, it’s always the culture that we built. Yeah, it sounds a little schmaltzy but really it’s the humanity, kindness, and creativity of the folks you build anything with that’s important.

What’s next? Well, I’m taking some of my own advice and taking an exhale before launching my next venture (more on this in a bit). I wanted to step off the highway for a moment and drive down some country roads.

I’ve been taking some downtime for the past month. But in the midst of this change, my father lost his six-week, harrowing battle with COVID-19 on February 19th.

The immediate sensation for me was vertiginous as what was once solid dissipates and you’re not sure if you’re flying or falling or both. I’m still not sure it has sunk in. Grief has its own timing, its own ways.

It’s because of the seismic changes of the past couple of months, both professionally and personally, that I’ve been remiss in writing this weekly essay.

But it’s brought to the fore once again, a reminder to focus on what’s important in life. Family, friends and, if you have to work, make sure you are working on something that’s truly resonant for you.

I recently listened to Tim Ferris’ interview with Steven Pressfield (author of The War of Art). Pressfield said many things that resonated with me, but one that really stuck was the idea of a “shadow career.”

“…It’s adjacent to what they really want to do. They really want to direct or they really want to write, but for whatever reasons, they were afraid to do it.”

Ferris went on to quote from Pressfield from Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work:

“Sometimes, when we’re terrified of embracing our true calling, we’ll pursue a shadow calling instead. The shadow career is a metaphor for our real career. Its shape is similar, its contours feel tantalizingly the same. But a shadow career entails no real risk. If we fail at a shadow career, the consequences are meaningless to us.

“Are you pursuing a shadow career?

“Are you getting your Ph.D. in Elizabethan studies because you’re afraid to write the tragedies and comedies you know you have inside you? Are you living the drugs-and-booze half of the musician’s life, without actually writing the music? Are you working in a support capacity for an innovator because you’re afraid to risk being an innovator yourself?”

Perhaps in some ways I’ve been working in a similar manner. In my career, I’ve worked at Wired Magazine but my true desire was to be one of the individuals we covered. I’ve worked at MOCA (the Museum of Contemporary Art) but my true desire was (and is) to be an artist. I’ve worked at CBS and Hulu but my true desire is to write and create amazing stories.

It’s clear to me that it’s time for me to pivot towards creating the thing that I truly want to do. To embrace the uncertainty and thrill of engaging myself and those around me in work that combines creativity, design, art and storytelling.

This has led me to build my own consultancy, which I’m happy to announce: Galvanize Studios. This is not a traditional agency. The spirit of the endeavor is more in line with Warhol’s The Factory meets the Bauhaus meets Bad Robot but for our time. Design and storytelling are the bedrock of how brands build lifelong relationships with the communities that they serve. All existing and emerging technology, design and media will be used to reach an audience. More on this as it evolves as I don’t want to turn this essay into a pitch.

As part of moving away from a “shadow career,” I’m also working with Echoverse to adapt my science fiction novel LUMINAL into an audio dramatization. I’ve also finished LUMINAL 2 (it’s with my excellent editor) and hope to have that published later this year.

The point being that life is in a constant state of flux and there are times of great upheaval that can appear disastrous but in reality can rip away all that is not truly important to you. I’ve just gone through such a state and have come out the other side. I’m a little tired but I’m also lighter. And clearer.

The entirety of 2020 has been trying and exhausting but there is finally light in 2021 for all of us. Beyond the fear, there is the reality that anything is possible, in this moment. If you want to start learning Mandarin Chinese, you can right now. If you want to draw a tree, you can right now. If you want to outline a business plan for a new startup, you can right now. Literally right now. The only thing that is stopping you or me is inertia and fear.

My advice is to consider the changes in your life a blessing. If you’re uncomfortable, that’s a good thing. It’s like working out — your sore muscles will calm down with repetition. Think about whether you are in a shadow career or pursuing your calling. And if you are in a shadow career, that’s fine. Do the job but make time to devote to the things you love but you’ve neglected.

WHEN YOU HAVE NO OTHER OPTION, BE BRAVE. GET OUT OF THE SHADOWS AND INTO YOUR OWN LIGHT.

John

What I’m reading:

The Pirate Who Loved Flip Flops — by Dana Macc Fikes. Dana is a family friend and we’ve watched her pursue her true calling with the release of this book. She was brave enough to leave her “shadow career” (referenced above) and create the thing she passionately cares about. This children’s book is a delightful story about being yourself and inclusivity. Highly recommended.

What I’m watching:

In & Of Itself — A few years ago, my wife, daughter and I went to see the off-Broadway performance of “In & Of Itself.” A good friend, Greg Bresnitz, who at the time was at the Ace Hotel, told me about the show and arranged for us to attend it. Wow, what an incredible experience. After the show we went backstage and met Derek DelGaudio and learned that they had been making a documentary about the show, which was directed by Frank Oz. I came back to LA and told the folks at Hulu about the show as well as the documentary and to their credit they followed up. Now you can see this touching, poetic magical performance about what it means to be human.

What I’m listening to:

Punisher — great new album by singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers. I loved her performance on Saturday Night Live on the second set, when she performed “I Know the End” and destroyed her guitar. Very unexpected and very punk rock.

Please visit my website to sign up for my blog/newsletter as well as downloading the first chapter from my book, The Art of Creative Rebellion.

If you like what you are reading, please order The Art of Creative Rebellion, in stores. On Audiobook and Kindle.

Follow me:

Twitter: @titaniumsky

Instagram: @theartofcreativerebellion

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John S. Couch is Vice President, Product Design at Hulu.

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John S. Couch

John S. Couch

John S. Couch is Vice President, Product Design at Hulu.

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