Creativity Squared: Dave Weist’s Safe Place
Dave Weist leads the creative department at MullenLowe, along with his 20+ year creative partner Tim Vaccarino, doing attention-getting work for Burger King, E*TRADE and JetBlue, among many others. Throughout his career, he’s landed awards from Grand Effies to Grand Prix Lions. Prior to MullenLowe, he worked at Modernista! on Cadillac, Hummer, Product (RED), and at Arnold on its legendary Volkswagen work.
When I was just leaving art school, I asked myself the same thing [what type of creative person I am]. I figured that I would need a good answer, if I ever wanted to pay off my student loan. And it came to me when I was in Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport. I was just kind of waiting for my flight, eavesdropping on people and listening to the way real people talk in broken sentences. I was watching these perfect strangers pass each other, never knowing what great stories the others had to tell. And I thought that’s kind of what I do. I’m here to capture the human condition accurately and turn it into something that lets people see themselves in a new light. I’m a writer/observer.
I like to look at the work without the creator in the room. And the work should tell me something about the person who made it. The work should have something in there that feels personal, even though it’s ultimately appealing to many. So, it’s those little rough edges that someone chooses to keep that make the difference. For me, that’s the intersection of art and commerce.
I need to talk about the work a lot before I sit down and write. I need to fill up my head and sort of let the fish tank get cloudy and then in the morning or maybe late at night the tank settles and I begin to see things. That’s a process that I love to do with a partner or with a big team and sometimes with the client. For me, I need to really look at the problem from all angles and then just start to work and adjust as I go. You get as much out as you can, then find the best pieces and refine and refine and refine.
That was such a revelation for me when I first started as a writer. No one, except maybe a lucky few, can spit out the answer. The beauty of what we do is that no one sees the thousands of stupid ideas it took to get the one great one. So, you just keep going until you find one.
The people around you shape the outcome more than any other factor. So, choose wisely. A place where you are encouraged to take big swings and where nobody holds it against you when you miss is critical. Make no mistake, you are exposed. And so you need a safe place where you are being made better by those around you. It really doesn’t matter what level you are. You can be a triple black belt creative genius and you still need to be in and around people that let you fail before you succeed. Otherwise, you’re just going to play it safe.
I’ve been very lucky to be in places like that my whole career. I started as part of the creative team on Volkswagen where we were basically talking about what we were doing in our own lives. That was part creative and part confessional. Then my years at Modernista were huge in my development because you had to use all the tools to get your work out there. We were small, so you had to be creative in how you got things done and sometimes those were the coolest outcomes. And now at MullenLowe, it’s a really nice hybrid of both. It’s a global agency with an amazing client roster but we’re also scrappy and entrepreneurial and I feel like I’m always looking for new ways to solve the problem as opposed to just going to the same old answers. All in all, I feel fortunate to be around these beautiful minds every day.