The balance between experience and education is something that has fascinated me throughout my career and something I am often asked by students or people who want advice on starting their own businesses.
We are told by our parents and schools that going to a university and having a higher education in a particular field is imperative. I, for one, was constantly told that this is the only way to get to where I want to be in my career.
But the older I get and the more I work in my filed the less I am convinced that this is actually ‘the only way’. I often think about the role and the relevance of my university experiences and lessons to my career. In fact, I struggle to remember anything from my university days.
Don’t get me wrong, I think higher and university education is imperative in certain fields such as law and medicine – our deeper understanding of the fundamentals of such subjects start at the university and are subsequently carried forward throughout our careers. But I often question myself whether the same holds true in creative fields and business entrepreneurship.
Is it possible to learn to be creative or be an entrepreneur at a university? Can you be taught creativity, taste or entrepreneurship? I wonder! I think being creative, or having visual taste, is a gift that we are naturally blessed with and something that you have to nurture and grow with experiences. I didn’t learn to be a designer or a creative director, it is something that experiences and challenges helped me to grow into.
Many of the great designers started their careers outside of university and developed their vision and creativity by learning from others. Alexander McQueen, for example, started his career as an intern-tailor at Saville Row, London. It was from there that he perfected his skills and nurtured his love of tailoring and applied that to his creative thinking and visions.
Of course, education in a creative field at a great university such as Central Saint Martins or The London College of Fashion serves as a sentiment to your vision and talent, but when I left university, I had a noticeable void in my understanding or knowledge in crystalising my then fragmented vision and translate it to a business. If I had to do it all again, I would probably spend half of my education as an intern and the other half in a business school learning how to translate my creativity into a viable business.
I believe what matters most in kickstarting your own creative cycle by possibly working in the relevant creative field and constantly asking yourself an honest question: do I want to be a creative maker, or do I want to start my own creative business? These two are constantly mixed up and do not necessarily go hand in hand.
Phoebe Philo is probably the most famous/not famous fashion designer of our time. She has headed major fashion brands from Chloe to Celine and all the while did not have her own table (until very recently). She must have enjoyed the process of being creative without the hinderance and pressures of being a business owner. On the other hand, you have the world-famous Tom Ford who not only is a phenomenal designer but an incredible businessman.
Neither is right or wrong, but both are important, and both are reliant on what you truly want as a creative person. Spend time on thinking about what it is that you want to say with your vision, once you have figured that out you may well know whether education or experience is right for you.