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Ji Lee: Fun and Games

"Everyone talks about ideas but few actually do them. I believe in action. It's the most important part to creativity."

Ji Lee is a polymath of all sorts of creative pursuits. Lee spends his working hours as the Creative Director of Google’s Creative Lab. For Google, he has developed and executed plans to promote products like Google Maps, Chrome, and “The Ten to the One Hundred”, an initiative to celebrate Google’s birthday: an open call for ideas that help as many people as possible.  The initiative received over 150,000 ideas, and soon the final ideas will receive up to ten million dollars in funding.

Outside of work, Lee’s other creative projects span the world of guerilla marketing, advertising campaigns across industries, and contagious design that engages consumers and passer-bys alike. He has conceived and completed dozens of projects. Just to give you a sense; Lee has created 3D chess boards, conceptual art pieces shedding light on the looting of art for museums and the financial crisis at The Red Cross, and he conceived the popular “Bubble Project” that consisted of over 50,000 bubble stickers placed on top of ads on the streets of New York. As Lee explains, “The bubbles are left blank, inviting passersby to fill them in. I photograph and archive the results. This project instantly transforms the intrusive and dull corporate monologues into a public dialogue.” Since its launch in 2002, the Bubble Project has gone global, thanks to the hundreds of “Bubblers” all around the world.

In a quest to retain the memory of the twin towers lost on September 11th, Lee conceived of the “WTC Logos Preservation Project” – an attempt to capture photos of all the NY businesses that incorporated the city’s skyline pre-9/11. The project has become an open collaboration – a game – for many others – all of whom navigate the New York City streets with an ongoing challenge to find and capture an undiscovered logo from a previous era.

Suffice to say, Ji Lee is an especially prolific idea generator that consistently executes ideas in remarkable ways. Like most creative minds, Lee has tons of ideas. However, when it comes to actualization, Lee actually makes ideas happen.

Keep things simple and keep people engaged.

Lee’s fundamental secret, as he describes it, is “an element of fun.”  For the WTC Logo Preservation Project, the ongoing game to find at least one logo every day kept the project alive. People would hear about the project and take part in the personal challenge as a sort of ongoing game. “Games,” Lee explains, “keep things simple and keep people engaged.” It turns out that games and some element of fun have fueled Lee’s loyalty in projects in and out of the office.

Lee uses games to foster learning and motivation. Throughout the day there is an ongoing exchange of links – little findings that stretch the mind in some way – that Lee’s team and students send him. From these, Lee culls certain links that are especially interesting and blasts them out to the whole group.

Lee’s portfolio website is called “Please Enjoy” and the name alone adequately sums up his creative process. Lee’s quest to find the element of play in every project provides a high-voltage shock to the reward system that governs his focus and follow-through.

And it is no surprise that Lee also values the importance of taking action. In Lee’s words, “Everyone talks about ideas but few actually do them.  I believe in action.  It’s the most important part to creativity.”


More Posts by Scott Belsky

Scott Belsky is the Chief Product Officer at Adobe and is the co-founder of 99U and Behance. He has been called one of the “100 Most Creative People in Business” by Fast Company, and is the author of The Messy Middle and the bestselling book, Making Ideas Happen.

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