‘Opportunities don’t happen. You create them.’— Chris Grosser
The great thing about self-initiated projects is that you can give a chance to something edgy/playful or something you are passionate about.
UK-originated creative agency Airside have worked with some of the biggest names in the business over the last two decades including the likes of Google and Nike. In that time, they have self-initiated countless projects, leading them to global recognition.
‘if it turned us on, made us laugh, made us go wtf, we believed other people would also go wtf.’— Henki Leung, Airside
‘It was a way for the team (...) to pursue their creative needs.’ says Henki Leung, Creative Director at Airside Nippon in Shinjuku. ‘It was about believing in it, if it turned us on, made us laugh, made us go wtf, we believed other people would also go wtf.’
Imagine your sense of humour or passion resonates with potential clients. Your self-initiated project could be a shortcut for your dream job. ‘If it got clients excited and they wanted to get a piece of Airside then it’s a win-win.’ says Henki with a smile on his face.
‘Laughter is the closest distance between two people.’
— Victor Borge
Stylement – a design and branding agency in Ebisu – hosts a comedy event every month. Rakugo is a traditional Japanese live comedy format, similar to stand-up comedy but instead of standing, a rakugo comedian is usually in Kimono and performs while sitting down on a Zabuton cushion. You may think it’s rather unusual for a creative agency to put a comedy night on a regular basis but Taro Nomura, the founder of Stylement, thinks differently.
‘Emotional connection is the key to everything in life, even in business’ he says confidently. “We wanted to create a place outside of work where we can interact with clients in a casual manner.” Sharing humour is a quick way to loosen you up and can defuse tension in business relationship. As a result it creates a sense of bond among individuals and levels playing field for smoother business.
‘Emotional connection is the key to everything in life, even in business’— Taro Nomura, Stylement
In fact, this Rakugo project turned into a TV commercial for a blue chip client who happened to be there to share the laughter. So Taro’s self-initiated project killed two birds with one stone.
‘Nurture your minds with great thoughts. To believe in the heroic makes heroes.’
— Benjamin Disraeli
Tacchi Studios, a boutique digital agency in Shibuya, hosts Canvas – The definitive online/offline community for Tokyo creatives. A few years back, the company director Mark McFarlane sensed that there was a plenty of demand for connecting creatives and businesses in Tokyo but no supply.
‘The core idea of Canvas – helping Tokyo-based creatives connect with their peers or business that want to hire them – was something I thought needed to exist for a few years.’ So Mark decided to create a platform to feed that demand. ‘Since no-one else had created it, I decided that we should give it a shot!’
‘It’s easily one of the most rewarding products I’ve ever worked on’— Mark McFarlane, Tacchi Studio
Now Canvas has 1,000 members and counting. Mark is happy to see the members getting value from the platform that wouldn't have existed unless he initiated it. ‘It’s easily one of the most rewarding products I’ve ever worked on. Meeting Canvas’ members and hearing their stories of getting hired for their skills, making new friends, or discovering cool events is such a joyful thing.’ Tacchi Studios’ ambition is to grow Canvas as a sustainable and profitable platform eventually but meanwhile creating a community of happy people alone ‘makes it a worthwhile investment.’ says Mark contentedly.
‘Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen, and thinking what nobody has thought.’
— Albert Szent-Gyorgyi
For Airside, self-initiated projects have been an essential part of their creative DNA. From calendars, T-shirts, exhibitions to even a temporary tattoo parlor at a music festival, they have always been proactive with their original creations.
‘Self-initiated projects give you the opportunity to assess what you really want to do.’— Hiromi Tsuchiya, Airside
‘With self-initiated projects, you have the opportunity to assess what you are missing, what you are good at and what you really want to do.’ says Hiromi Tsuchiya, Managing Director at Airside Nippon. ‘Those projects let you discover something you wouldn’t encounter in client projects. In order to keep creativity at play, ‘we know they are well worth the time and money.’
Just like working out in the gym and coming out feeling great, you can train your creative muscles with self-initiated projects and come out inspired.
‘Creativity is contagious. Pass it on.’
— Albert Einstein
Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham (Klein Dytham architecture) are both prominent architects but also known as creators of PechaKucha, a creative show and tell format in which presenters show 20 images for 20 seconds each.
The format was originally devised in their architecture firm to share the development of the construction site internally. Soon everyone recognised how versatile the format was, it became a tool for exchanging creative ideas and sharing new experiences.
‘Successful self-initiated projects are born from a necessity’
— Astrid Klein, KDa & PechaKucha
‘PechaKucha Night was meant to be just one-off event. There was no intention in taking it global at all. That was not on the card’ says Astrid looking back their first event in 2003. But it was never an accident that PechaKucha became a favourite format among creatives internationally.
‘Successful self-initiated projects are born from a necessity.’ says Astrid. Although there was no intention of going viral, there certainly was an underlying desire for the format among international creatives. ‘During Tokyo Design Week, our designer friends came from all over the world (...) so we decided to hold another PachaKucha Night while all designers were in town, so that we could all share what we’ve been up to.’ Soon it became apparent that the 20x20 creative show and tell was too good to be kept in just one city. The participated designers loved it so much they ended up doing the same in their own cities.
Now PechaKucha has been adopted in 1,000 global cities, with over 100 events taking place each month. Good ideas are indeed contagious. So if you have a bright idea, get it out there quick!
I have spoken to 5 different types of Tokyo creatives with 5 different reasons for self-initiated projects. Whether you are a pure artistic type or entrepreneurial one, I hope their stories resonate with you and motivate you to start your own project. You might start with personal ambition or frustration – whatever your drive is, I’m sure you’ll feel great when it’s done (I’m certainly feeling great finishing this article!).
‘Actually I find personal projects quite difficult’
— Henki Leung, Airside
Let me finish with Henki Leung’s uplifting quote on the ups and downs in the creative process:
‘Actually I find personal projects quite difficult. It starts off as something fun, relaxing, free from all constraints. But instead, you end up being your own worst client (...) but as soon as the self-initiated project gets a proper file name and it’s not left sitting in a ‘Untitled’ folder somewhere, it means I’m committed and it’s always something I’m selfishly interested in – something I want – something I feel will connect with a diverse crowd of people.’