Tracking Wonder, Serendipity, & Creative Virtuosity on the Web

William Copperwaithe's tool set
William Copperwaithe’s tool set

The Cost of Creative Excellence

Take an experiment with me. First, consider this.

When it comes to production value, I’ve noticed we creatives can get trapped between extremes. By production value, I mean how well we execute and produce our final products, stories, designs, jewelry, services, presentations, or offerings – or even marketing.

On one extreme, we can get trapped in expecting perfection. On the other extreme, we can compromise and claim “authenticity” for producing mediocre results.

We deserve better.

Aiming for creative excellence does not mean perfection. Aiming for creative excellence is not about showing off your stuff. On the contrary, it often means working your tail off behind the scenes so you create something so seamless that it transports your peeps, even for a few minutes or an hour, to another place. You give them, in other words, what only you sensitive creative people can offer – a taste of transcendence.

Sometimes it means you obsessively follow your own creative breadcrumbs into the woods of your own making – and bring us along with you for the adventure.

Creative virtuosity is about honing craft and crafting an immersive experience for your patch of the planet. Tinged with delight, surprise, and wonder, the memories and feelings a creation elicits will outlast, with any luck, the creator’s personality. 

Creative virtuosity does not have to be expensive to be excellent. But it likely will demand hours of care that go unseen. From such care and giving, meaning arises.

An Experiment: Set Your Wonder Bar High

Watch an exceptional animated film or dance performance, or observe a design whose intricacy and wit surprises you. If you’re a creator, you might feel a wee bit of envy, but if you harness envy into admiration, then you feel a trace of awe at someone else’s or a team’s talent.

Be open. Observing examples of creative virtuosity with an open mindset can instill the desire to excel at what you do and how. You bring out your best potential. And we’re the better for it.

Let’s try an experiment.

I’ve included below five sources where wonder reins in different ways – three corporate ads and two solo creatives’ work (a Google Lab geek’s experiments in tech & music and a dandy punk’s experiments in mime & digital light).

May they induce your admiration and trigger serendipity. SERENDIPITY is not only the chance fortunate encounter or connection itself. It’s also the disposition itself to be open to such accidental good luck.

My Tracking Wonder invitations to you. Try one or more.

#1 – Prime your mind on an existing creative problem. Watch and absorb these five videos. Then, watch what happens with your mind in the next 48 hours. See if watching one of them gives you an idea. I’m not responsible for crazy dreams. Share results below.

#2 – See how many connections you make among these five. Bonus: Find a theme that holds together all five. Share entries below.

#3 – Which one of these inspires your admiration and desire to excel? Imagine what you could do differently to promote your next offering. How could story, surprise, and creative virtuosity in digital technology or video truly captivate and elevate your patch of the planet? If you lack the technical virtuosity, how could you collaborate with someone who possesses it?

May they send you down the serendipity slide, through the wonder portal, and out again on this side of creative excellence.

1. Chipolte’s “The Scarecrow”
Watch this 3-minute animated short called “The Scarecrow,” released by the Mexican-food chain Chipolte. Its ingredients: A storyline with an overt message about factory farming + stellar animation + a nostalgic hearkening of Willy Wonka + covered by the delicious Fiona Apple. (Yes, I have a crush on her voice now.) At over 6.3 million Youtube views, it’s struck a few nerves, good and bad.

By the way, are you a little cynical and suspicious that a corporation with 1,400 branches globally could have this much talent, sensibility, and integrity? Funny or Die is. But in The New Yorker today food journalist Michael Pollan says, after speaking with people who work with and buy from Chipolte, that he’s “generally encouraged” by their efforts.


2. True’s commercial “Giving”
Our second example of corporate advertising, this three-minute film might even yank a tear. It comes from True, a Thai telecommunications corporation. A bit predictable in its karmic arc, it nonetheless convincingly dramatizes an elevating point that any creative or solo-preneur or blogger could remember: Give without expecting a return.


3. Touch Wood – Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring in the Forest
This time the commercial comes from a Japanese smartphone maker. For the sleek Touch Wood SH-08C handset, the company took four days for a team to shoot this elaborate act of creative virtuosity. The ingredients: smart choice of a mathematically awe-inspiring composition related to desire + an astounding xylophone experiment constructed in wood + a stunning forest back drop = a memorable zag to Apple’s neon set.


4. Alexander Chen – Baroque.me
Alex Chen spoke at STORYChicago last week. The Google Labs geek took us on his tracks of constant curiosity related to music, drawing, and programming. He wondered if you could make a pitched line drawn on a computer make a sound. That curiosity led him to collaborate with more advanced programmers to prototype and then create a series of programming experiments designed to delight and surprise in their mathematical elegance. Ingredients: geometrical simplicity + Bach Cello Suite #1 + computer design + geeky obsession. (By the way, here’s another favorite: Mta.me, a way to illustrate the music of the MTA’s subway schedule.)

5. A Dandy Punk – The Alchemy of Light
Gillian Ferrabee, Cirque de Soleil Creative Director, turned me onto this Cirque performer’s experiment – a video experience of movement, whim, and melancholy.


#4 and 5 above might encourage you to pursue your own quirky obsessions and talents. If not you, who? #s 1-3 might inspire a whole new approach to how you tell the story of what you do and create.

By the way, Tracking Wonder Handbook Two is called THE SERENDIPITY SLIDE: 20-Plus Resources to TRACK WONDER For Your Creative Profession & Life. You can get it by entering your e-address in one or both of the boxes to the right. Delight guaranteed.


What serendipitous connections or feelings of admiration did these videos inspire? Your questions, challenges, and additions to the Wonder Cabinet here are welcome.

Thanks for running with me,


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