Lesson from the trails: 11 ways to be a gnarlier creative

This piece was Published in MARKETING WEEKENDER Issue 350

BY WOEI HERN CHAN
Executive Creative Director, Malaysia & SEA, VMLY& R COMMERCE

I read an awesome post by Marc Randolph about how mountain biking and entrepreneurship have a lot in common. Incidentally I was on a bike. In the middle of Angkor Wat. Riding in the rain. What a moment. 

That night after the ride (it’s the best way to explore Angkor Wat btw, hmu if any of you want hookups to an awesome bike rental and guide), I couldn’t help but think about how much mountain biking and being a creative have a lot in common too. 

So here it is, 11 ways to shift yourself and be gnarlier as a creative:

1. Falling down is part of the fun 

You will sweat. Buckets. You will bruise. Sometimes. You will bleed. Then you’ll laugh. Get up.  Brush it off. And want to do it all over again. Fundamental rule of being a creative. Have a sick sense of humour. And enjoy the journey and lessons, even when you don’t win a pitch. Or a lion. There’ll be plenty more rides ahead of you. And when you do overcome that bump that ate you up the last time, there’s no feeling better. Oh don’t worry, there’ll be bigger ones ahead.

2. Go fast. Go alone. Go far. Go together.

This is where biking, and working as a creative gives a different spin to this phrase. This phrase alludes that team work make the dream work. True. What cycling teaches you is, there are times when you need to spend time on your own. To learn the lines and trails. 

And at work, you’ll need to have those lonely, do-nothing times. To hone your thoughts, to get that random spark, to leave out the noise and just to argue, hangout and be with your multiversal selves to come up with some thought starters. To explore new trails of thoughts. Only then when you’re with your team, you bring something fun, new and valuable to the ride.

3. Technique is more important than technology.

(picture: technique saving me from being stabbed to death by technology)

You see all sorts of gear, gizmos and technology on bikers. One thing I’ve realized is that technology can take you to the next level. Only if you have the right techniques and fundamentals. 

At work, we fall in love with technology. A lot. We get carried away by it. Metaverse. Adtech. NFT. AI. They’re all fantastic technologies. Some argue technically they’re just fantastic terminologies. What is the fun of Dall-E if you don’t know how to craft the instructions to it? Where’s the experience of the metaverse without the world-building of who you are as an avatar (thank you MMO gaming)? We will always be a species of storytellers. And to find a way to put a smile on someone’s face and make her day will always be why we connect. So don’t forget your craft. And stay curious about how tech can take you further.

4. Same trails can teach you new things

The difference between road biking and mountain biking is that there aren’t that many mountains compared to roads. That sounded pretty obvious even as I wrote that sentence, but stay with me. The limitations of trails, do not limit your fun. Because trails are closer to nature, it changes. The main features might stay, but there is always the sense of fear and excitement no matter how many times you’ve been on it. That’s because when you get better and know the trail more, you take more risks and go faster, harder, and find more challenging lines. You go back to maintain your skill level because a sense of safety is a basic human body’s need and it needs to be constantly reminded and railed on by adrenaline! 

So you got another pitch. It’s another festive film. It’s another promo campaign. Find new ways to do it. Take risks, knowing what you already know. Break some rules, if you know the rules so damn well already. Fail. Because you’re familiar and you know what you can fall back on anyway.

5. Never say no to a new trail

Same trails are great for maintaining your skill level. New trails remind you of the thrill of why you signed up for what you love in the first place. They are not mutually exclusive. They are absolutely complementary. Your practice and preparation will give you the courage to jump headlong into the unknown. Again. Because you know how to fail and fall. What’s the worse that can happen, right?

As a creative, always wonder if there’s another way to explore creativity. Always chase the I’ve Never-done-it-before. Don’t be too conscious and self-aware of  the fact that ‘oh but someone’s done it before’. Just remember you’ve never done it before. And ask yourself how might we do it differently?

6. Enjoy being scared

I think this doesn’t need much explanation. Except as a reminder, the fear never goes away. Your impostor syndrome. Your ‘what if people hate it’? Your ‘what if i’m not ready or good enough?’. They will stay. They will grow bigger. Stare them in the face and make them your friends because friends can take a ‘STFU’ in their faces. 

You’ll always be scared. And that’s really part of the fun. I wonder if dentists and accountants ever get scared. 

7. It’s okay to say ‘not today’

Really. We’re not in Red Bull Rampage. We’re just here to have fun. And there are days when you’ll not feel like it. Don’t succumb to peer or industry pressure. Walk away. Mental health is as valid and important as a wrist sprain. You rest. You chill. You find other activities to stay active. There’ll be a drop that scares you, find a mentor and follow in his trail lines. If you’re not ready come back again. It’s okay. Just have fun. And who knows? One day you will be in your career equivalent of a Red Bull Rampage?

8. Data is your friend

(picture: the data supports the swag)

Data warrants a separate point apart from technology. Only because data isn’t technology anymore. It’s information. It’s knowledge. It’s numbers that tell you a story. 

We absolutely love Strava. It’s the facebook for bikers. And there’s just so much fun in knowing if you’re the ‘Local Legend’ or if you had a Personal Record and how many KMs you actually clocked. It’s motivating to have friends’ comment, laugh and be curious about your data. 

Too often we shun this word in our day-to-day. Only because data is presented or used in a way that isn’t engaging or fun. Ask the right questions. Find the right data point. Don’t wait till a case study to be an expert in it (you know you love it for case studies). Data can be your lawyer. Your planner. Your coach. Your friend.

9. There will always be someone better than you

Holy shit he can do a jump! OMG how did he just breeze through that segment? Wow he’s such a strong climber. 

You can do lots of good stuff too. It’s easy to look at who’s ahead of you and wish you were that person. It’s harder to look inside or behind. 

Enjoy the ride. You’re doing alright. We’ll cheer for you. We’ll wait and check if you’re okay. We’ll all get to the destination and have a great laugh and drinks after. And if you don’t? Maybe it’s time to find another group of riders to hang with.

10. There are different types of bikes. Different types of riders. We can all enjoy our rides.

Rivalries always exist. Roadies have this snobby reputation for being competitive and betterthan-you. Mountain bikers pride themselves in broken parts. Gravellers revel in being in both worlds.

It’s the same with the creative industry. In house. Social. Media. Creative. Adtech. Indies. You name it. Everyone seems to be hiring creatives and finding roles for creativity. And that’s a great thing. Why should we be purists about creativity being in the domain of a department. We can all be better if we laugh, cheer and respect the one thing we have in common, we are creatives. Who knows? You might want to try a road bike even if you’re a mountain biker your whole life right?

11. Enjoy the journey.

It’s a long ride. Take breaks. Celebrate the waterfall you found. Share an energy bar with your friend. Laugh at the falls that happened (but check if they’re okay first of course). Don’t worry about being slow, or late. It’s never just about the end point. It’s the little things that happen along the way. It’s the moments and friendships. It’s why I love what I do on the trails and at work every day. And I hope after reading this long-assed article, you will enjoy either one of it a little more too.

Let’s ride! 


The Young Spikes Malaysia awards are for professionals under the age of 30. There are five categories: Digital, Media, PR, Integrated, Young Marketers. Participants race against the clock to generate ideas before presenting them to an accomplished industry panel.

Real work briefs are provided by sponsors Etika, KFC, Telekom Malaysia, Sime Darby Property and GO Communications, and teams of two are then given 24 hours, 48 hours for Integrated, to generate and present their solutions.

The Digital Gold winners at Spikes Malaysia 2019 went on to win Gold, Best in Asia-Pacific, bringing glory to Malaysia’s young talent.  https://marketingmagazine.com.my/ys2022/


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