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Tim Brunelle

Useful Lunacy:
Thinking about thinking, creativity and the power of ideas.

EPIC blog post

On Tuesday evening I had the opportunity to participate in the launch of the Minnesota chapter of EPIC (Engaging Philanthropy Inspiring Creatives). Here are my remarks:

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Good evening!

On behalf of the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association — we say welcome to Minnesota, EPIC!

It’s very satisfying to help usher in your necessary organization and its mission to our great state. Personally, I’m drawn to the work you support from both the philanthropic and creative perspectives. I’ve been a writer and creative director for over 20 years. And I’ve been helping lead a nonprofit organization for the past four years. I understand the balance you seek to create and the challenges you’ll face.

Your organization has demonstrated great success in Chicago. The collaboration and output from the past two years is astonishing — and we can only hope to generate equal results here in the same timeline. But I’m quite certain we Minnesotans can do it.

Because Minnesota does not lack for awesome creative talent — in design, writing, film making, music, art direction, creative direction. We are blessed so many skilled creatives call Minnesota their home — such as Jeff Johnson — one of this state’s and frankly, the world’s best designers and creative leaders. It’s an honor to share the stage with you, tonight, Jeff.

And we do not lack for equally awesome philanthropy, either. From the larger, corporate entities to the smaller, community, grassroots organizations — across the arts and environment, to causes serving children, families and education — Minnesota is home to a great wealth of nonprofit innovation, expertise and effort.

Oh, and I would be remiss if I forgot to mention all of our choirs.

Yes, choirs.

Didn’t you know Minnesota has more volunteer choirs than any other state in the nation? Minnesotans readily volunteer for good ideas — in all manner of endeavors. So the spirit and quality of volunteerism here is yet another reason why EPIC was wise to expand westward into Minnesota.

I have no doubt EPIC will find and unite many willing creative professionals and worthy nonprofits — and help make a bigger impact on the world.

But this bigger impact won’t just happen.

The success of EPIC, and of its creative and philanthropic partners, is not guaranteed.

Hard work alone won’t do it.

Solid organization and planning alone won’t do it.

Even money doesn’t have the power to guarantee success.

So, what will?

There’s an ingredient that I think must be in the blueprints and the wiring, an ingredient that must be baked-in, must be present when any of us endeavors in the oftentimes difficult and emotional work that EPIC makes possible.

After all, we’re talking about the wholly business of ideas!

This is the realm of exorbitant yet very fragile egos. Of grand, even ornate plans, and infinitesimal production budgets.

So I think we really need this ingredient to succeed.

If we’re really going to support the business of engaging philanthropy and inspiring creatives — we need faith.

Let’s be clear, I’m not talking about religion.

I’m talking about having faith.

As the writer Anthony De Mello puts it:

“Faith is… an openness to the truth — no matter what the consequences, no matter where it leads you and when you don’t even know where it’s going to lead you. That’s faith. Not belief, but faith. Your beliefs give you a lot of security, but faith is insecurity.”

Yes, insecurity.

We need that!

There are so many beliefs and convictions and certainties in this world. We could be talking about typefaces. We could be talking about social media engagement or search engine optimization — or how philanthropy and nonprofits should operate and how creative solutions should be defined.

We need less of those certainties and un-searching beliefs.

What we need is faith — to be willing, just a little — to listen.

De Mello again:

“…the one thing you need the most is not energy, or strength, or youthfulness, or even great intelligence. The one thing you need most of all is the readiness to learn something new.”

That’s the kind of faith I’m talking about.

Faith is insecurity that welcomes the new.

Robert Grudin wrote perhaps my favorite book. It’s called The Grace of Great Things. In it, he suggests:

“To think creatively is to walk at the edge of chaos. …To be attentive to new messages …(and that) to follow good ideas in spite of their forbidding strangeness all take(s) a kind of courage.”

I would call that courage faith. We need that when we’re out at the edges of creativity.

If we’re going to find inventive, useful, accountable solutions through strategy and design and writing and coding — to the problems that face education, children and families — we had better be open and willing! We had better have faith in the unknown!

The other day, the author Seth Godin had a wonderful observation about hard work and sustained effort and diligence and craftsmanship… but then he notes the work he’s been talking about is not proven or tested or secure or guaranteed. He writes:

“This might not work.

At some level, ‘this might not work’ is at the heart of all important projects, of everything new and worth doing. And it can paralyze us into inaction, into watering down our art and into failing to ship.”

That is what’s at risk here.

That is what’s always at risk when you mix business and art.

And that’s why all of us who choose to engage with EPIC need a kind of faith.

So here are a few suggestions about acting and operating in faith:

If you’re working at a nonprofit:

Faith means recognizing and accepting that Art Changes Everything. Otherwise it wouldn’t be art.

As Grudin puts it,

“We cannot open ourselves to new insights without endangering our prior assumptions.”

Listen! Have faith in new ideas that come your way. You don’t have to accept everything at face value. As De Mello says, “Challenge ideas from openness, not from stubbornness.”

But have faith that the ideas you are receiving can work!

If you’re a creative:

Follow the advice of creative legend Jack Foster, who encourages us to be “idea-prone.” Wake every morning with the purpose to have, cherish and build ideas.

You must have faith you will have ideas — regardless of the budget or circumstances!

Then, as Godin reminds us:

“‘This might not work’ is either a curse, something that you labor under, or it’s a blessing, a chance to fly and do work you never thought possible.”

That is our EPIC goal, isn’t?

To come together — engaging philanthropy and inspiring creatives — and do work together that can not be done alone, work that only our collaborative faith can make possible.

Welcome, EPIC. It’s wonderful to have you here in Minnesota.