Creative Rebellion Essays: designing a new story

“Now” — photo by JC Caldwell

Last Sunday morning I participated in a webinar that Tea Leaves presented, a conversation between Albert Shum (CVP, Design at Microsoft) and myself, entitled “Creative Rituals.” The wonderful Lana Sutherland, CEO of Tea Leaves moderated.

The premise was:

“As we collectively experience a global pandemic, our systems, structures, and social mores are being put to the test. In this time of shelter and reflection, it has become imperative that we cannot simply go back to the way things were. What, then, are the new norms?”

We covered a lot of ground ranging from how to maintain creative health during these times to working virtually during a pandemic as well as personal stories of cultural perspective and diversity.

You can see the full webinar here.

During these times of incredible economic uncertainty, social upheaval and adjustment, global pandemic, fires in California (climate change is real, folks) and the most politically divisive period I’ve ever experienced in my life, there is a power that designers, writers and creative people can engage in: the power of pre-visualization.

The designer brings form to the unrealized.

We do this through the process of design thinking (divergent and convergent thinking, prototyping, user testing, etc)

The writer can tell a story of the future.

The writer can also give form to the unrealized. To the ideal.

And the combination of pre-visualization and story is incredibly powerful.

As an example, when I first started my role at Hulu in 2016, we made a short film that demonstrated through storytelling a pre-visualization of how the product would work and how customers would interact with it. This gave us all a north star to align to. And it worked. We all knew the “what” we were going towards. We could always figure out the “how” later. Most companies and people get stuck because they are focused on the tactical immediacy of the “how” rather than the what.

On May 25th, 1961, JFK gave his famous moonshot speech to Congress.

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish…”

— -JFK

And then publicly he went on to give the below speech on Sept 12, 1962 at Rice University.

JFK wasn’t focused on how we were going to get to the moon by 1969 but he was clear in his storytelling about what we were going to do. He told an inclusive story and if he had access to the designers we have now, he could have demonstrated with high fidelity prototypes what a mission may have looked like.

In this time of toxic news cycles, fear-based rhetoric and anxiety about what’s happening with our ecology and mental state, we need a new story of positivity, light, possibility and love.


You are creative. You were born creative. That’s how you learned the language you speak. That’s how you learned the skills you possess.

It’s time for us to pull our creative resources together towards a common goal of helping each other during this short time we have on this rock that’s hurtling through an infinite amount of space. We can turn the tide away from fear-based totalitarian thinking and divisiveness.


So think about your story. The story that you would like to look back on. We are all the heroes of our own stories but when you look back at your life, did you rise to the occasion to help others and be kind (to yourself as well)?

As creative people, we can use this time of global reset to design a new story.


All stories require change and risk-taking. That’s what drama is. We are beset by some of the greatest challenges of all time.

Get involved in social causes you believe in. Check out Nick Bridwell’s article “10 Activists You’ve Never Heard of That You Should Follow in 2020

At the very least, make sure you vote this year. This may be the most important election of our lifetimes.

Let’s change the story for the better. Together.


What I’m listening to:

Something in the Air (Live Paris 99) — This live album was just released and David Bowie sounds incredible (he usually did). As most people know, I’m a fan for life.

“SOMETHING IN THE AIR (LIVE PARIS 99) is a 15-track live album, featuring 12 previously unreleased recordings and three tracks used as B-sides for singles from the ‘hours…’ album. The day of the show was a momentous one for Bowie, as that afternoon he was awarded the Commandeurs of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the highest artistic honour that France can bestow.”

Al Jamilat Yasmin Hamdan is a singer we came across while my wife and I were watching Only Lovers Left Alive (mentioned below) and were blown away by her.

SQÜRL — This band is comprised of Jim Jarmusch and Carter Logan. During my Jarmusch binge (below), I noticed that this band’s name came up in the credits on multiple films so I looked them up as I was loving the sonic soundscapes of the soundtracks.

What I’m watching:

Paterson — I’ve been a Jim Jarmusch fan since I first saw his brilliant Stranger Than Paradise. I’d never seen a director allow long, almost awkward, pauses in his dialog like him; supposedly he was influenced by the pauses used by the brilliant filmmaker Yasujirō Ozu. In any case, I watched most of his filmography from Down by Law to Mystery Train to Dead Man to Ghost Dog and on and on. But in the past few years, I hadn’t checked out his work. Paterson is sweet and poignant in a way that is soothing during these chaotic times. It follows a week in the life of a bus driver named Paterson (Adam Driver) who lives in Paterson, NJ, with his artist wife, played by Golshifteh Farahani. Paterson is actually a wonderful poet and the days are languorous. Jarmusch has an incredible ability to keep your attention when very little is going on. It seems like he’s thrown out the classic three-act structure completely, And it works. Check it out and Only Lovers Left Alive, which stars Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as a beautiful couple in an existential crisis. Oh, and they are vampires.

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery — celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: ‘It’s not where you take things from — it’s where you take them to.’”

— -Jim Jarmusch

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