Everything I remember from school I learned on field trips.
Growing up south of Detroit, there was always an annual class trip to Greenfield Village. Henry Ford, distraught about the destruction of historical buildings (especially the homes and laboratories of America’s great writers and inventors), created a place in Dearborn, Michigan where he collected, lovingly restored, and put them on display for all to visit. I still take my family there every couple of years when we travel north.
To little me, visiting Edison’s lab and riding a Model T was fun, but I most looked forward to visiting the operating blacksmith shop. Our class would pile in from the cold and you could smell the soot and feel the heat from the forge. The blacksmith would then take several minutes to show us what he was working on and explain his process as well as share the history behind the career and life of a blacksmith in the early 1800s. Little me got impatient and really wanted to see him start banging on glowing red metal and watching the sparks fly!
I often hear the saying “strike while the iron is hot” when referring to making an immediate decision. Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines this saying as “to do something immediately while there is still a good chance to do it.” There is a notion of impatience to the context we typically use it in, and I think we have missed the message completely.
Eight-year-old Jeremy wanted to see sparks fly. But, looking back, I now realize that our blacksmith friend was buying time while the irons in the fire were heating to the correct temperature. He would check them and carefully turn them as he talked and only when they were glowing the perfect shade of bright orangy-red, did he pull them from the fire with confidence and start working the soft metal to our amazement.
Striking while the iron’s hot is not about acting quickly or impulsively. It’s about having the patience to begin the creative process when have the information needed to do it right. Any sooner and the metal is not malleable and won’t bend or twist the way it should. As a designer this means asking the right questions and really taking time to check the project and turn things over until you know that the glowing red creative opportunity is the perfect color.
As a young designer, I often found myself jumping to early conclusions and doing a lot of busywork sketching ideas and working on concepts. Nowadays, I often get asked if I have any ideas after having a brief introduction to the project. Honestly, I don’t. I have learned to wait for the right time to strike. This is also why we don’t work on projects that haven’t been put through the fire. I get this email a lot: “I have an idea for a logo for my company and I’m looking for someone to design it for me.” My answer is always “no, but I’m happy to go through the creative process and create something that’s right for you.”
Recently, I broke my own rule. At a new client’s request, I accepted a project where I knew that some of the key stakeholders would not be available for me to meet with. They were “too busy.” I still knowingly took the job and I lived to regret that decision. Projects like these remind me that cold metal doesn’t bend. It breaks. Another lesson learned the hard way.
Speaking with another recent client, I asked why they chose to work with us given the other agencies he reached out to. His response, “You were the only one who insisted on flying across the country to visit with us in person. You demonstrated a desire to really get to know us.”
The name Slagle literally means “hammer.” At our studio, the sparks don’t fly until the iron is glowing just right.