Interview: Casey Caplowe

Casey Caplowe is the Co-Founder and Creative Director of GOOD, a magazine for the global citizen. He believes discouragement is fleeting, likes big ideas, and is a chicken owner.

How do you describe yourself? Your work?

I am a curious person. I am an adventurous person. That wouldn’t necessarily come across right out of the gates when you meet me, but I will quickly and willingly jump on an adventure bandwagon when it is presented to me. I’d say I’m a very thoughtful person. I think about things a lot—for better and worse. I am often quite quiet, but not shy.

For some reason, I never embraced the term ‘designer,’ but I think that is the most accurate assessment of myself, or what I do and what I do well and what I love to do. Approaching things with a visual, problem-solving, curious lens on how to make things beautiful and meaningful and functional is something that connects a lot of how I navigate the world.

What does creativity mean to you?

Creativity is a wonderful soup of trust and fear and blank pages and leaps of faith and just putting work in, all towards the end of making something that didn’t exist before. You can’t possibly know what it will be; you have an idea and you have enough optimism to think it’s worth trying and confidence that you can pull something off. [But you] inevitably jump in without knowing for sure.

Is that hard for you?

I like it for the most part. I find every big creative project always [has] the fear moment of, ‘Oh God, is this the time it’s not going to work? Is this the time when we won’t get there? When it won’t come together, will fall apart, will stay undone?’

But in some ways that’s my favorite part and I thrive in that moment. I have an interesting relationship with decision-making. I think that comes with liking a lot of openness, options, and some ambiguity. These elements can be really great, but I also recognize there are times when you need to close that down, make decisions, put things on paper to be final.

I’ve made a lot of things and will see all these flaws along the way and [have] all of the feelings of not getting exactly what I wanted. But I find over time those little glitches often fade away and you can be quite happy with the result, even if in the midst of the process, I was freaking out because I couldn’t quite line it all up exactly the way I wanted.

I do think details are incredibly important and [are] where a lot of the strength and beauty of creativity comes from. But at the same time, the little things that didn’t exactly line up that you wanted to line up often don’t crumble the whole thing. You can still have something very successful that [doesn’t have] every single ‘i’ dotted.

How would you say your work has changed you? Or has it?

I started GOOD with two friends when I was 24. It launched in 2006. So, I’ve worked on this for more than 10 years. When people talk about the feeling of identifying [themselves] by what they do, I suppose that is true for me.

I’m so in it, in the way a fish doesn’t recognize it’s in water. The lines between me and GOOD are really interesting and unknown to me. I have hunches, but I don’t totally know.

There are all kinds of ways I’ve changed. There’re things I’ve gotten better at. I won’t say I’m more confident. If anything, I think at times I’m less confident with age. I know more things. I’ve met a lot of really interesting people. I’ve learned little lessons about how to get things done better. But I can’t quite see how my work has changed me. It sort of is me.

When you feel discouraged, how do you move through it?

It’s all in scales. There are times when you can feel discouraged and the best move is to pick up a different project, move on to something that is not discouraging you.

In my world, there’re so many different things going on and it’s rare that it’s the entirety that is discouraging. It’s more [often] one project or relationship. I think if it’s causing duress, move into other stuff that you have a good angle and path on, but know that you do need to address those [discouraging] things. Some of it is just waiting for that clear headspace and motivation to really tackle it.

Discouragement - just like feelings of pride and success - is fleeting. It too will pass.

What’s your learning process like?

I read into that a couple different things. There is the, ‘How am I learning from what I’m doing?’ I’m not very rigorous about that. At work, [we] do postmortems of big projects: How did it go? What went well? Poorly? What did we learn? You gain insights from that and start to make some changes. I don’t do that with myself very often— though come to think of it, it seems like a worthy thing to try.

On the other hand, I try to have a decent amount of inputs into my life. I’m always looking at things and reading bits and pieces here and there, looking for opportunities to go find my way to new experiences or places in the city or see art or restaurants. I think that type of learning–inspiration learning–I’m always doing. I’d love to read more. I love to tackle a new hobby....

Can you give an example of a new hobby?

I’m a new chicken owner. I have a garden in my backyard and the chickens are alive, which is great. The garden is okay. That’s something where there’s a little bit of reading to be done to make it all work, [but] I have not yet quite gotten into that.

I’m not a big manual reader. I’m much more of a learning by doing and hearing. Finding people to work with and learn from is more exciting to me than finding that book on gardening and following it.

How do you handle uncertainty?

Connected with what we were talking about before with decision-making and discouragement, I think there’s an element of uncertainty that I actually quite enjoy and thrive in. I’m a fairly open person and I like the position of openness. I like when one can be in the midst of a bunch of different options and imagine possibilities.

I think uncertainty can be viewed as a negative word. To me, what somebody might view as a situation of uncertainty, I might enjoy as a situation of openness and exploration.

But I do confront my own moments of the negative version of uncertainty, of ‘I don’t know what I want to do with my life.’ Which [is] not the most positive feeling.

There are times [when] it’s right to just tackle uncertainty head on and come up with an answer that addresses it. And there are times when you can move away from it and into things where you are certain.

What kinds of ideas do you like to spend time with?

I like big ideas, ideas of scale. I’m really interested in big questions. I find myself consuming and always loving discussions of science or the cosmos or questions that get at time and history. Not in a Civil War history kind of way, but in a grander scheme. I do have a love of systems thinking, how things work on a really large scale. Those are always ideas that I’ll lose myself in.

Do you get to do that often?

If I have a good podcast to listen to on my drive into work, or usually more often on my way home from work. Every so often I will find a book that taps that for me. It’s rare that I have people who I get into that conversation with. But it’s those little things that you find, or a documentary that can be fun to watch.

What’s something you’d like to make more room for in your life?

I would love to make more room for art making in my life.

What do you want your impact to be?

With people that I’m close to, I want the relationship-level impact of being a positive part of people’s lives. Of being present, of injecting joy into my relationships and a sense of fun and playfulness. [That’s] something I try to connect with people on and bring to the world.

Some of these things certainly do extend to the impact in the work that I do and the way that reaches people on a larger scale. [My work] is about presenting and providing new ways of thinking about things. [That’s] something I’m very interested in as an impact. Helping people see things in new ways and feel things in new ways and even be motivated to act and behave in new ways, and with a sense of connection to the world and each other.

What’s the best kept secret of being an adult?

You can still act like a little kid. I aim for that. It doesn’t mean you don’t have responsibilities and things like that. But on top of that—or despite that—one does not need to be serious and boring and pushed down upon by the burden of adulthood.

I think there are ways and times – even often times – you can embrace that childlike quality that’s in everybody and be goofy and play and not take things so seriously.

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