When you hear about all the stuff Shawn Gold's accomplished, you can't help but think... ok, damn. He's been the CMO of Lowell Herb, an advisor at MedMen and Charlottes Web, and the CMO at MySpace. He's also developed advertising campaigns for some of the country's best-known brands (SavageXFendy, ahem) and written relationship advice columns for magazines. And that's just the abridged list. Now he's set his sights on his own project, Pilgrim Soul, a company focused on helping people optimize their creativity through content and products. Among the goodies: a Creative Thinking Journal to be used while high, and a set of High-deas Scratch Notes, which feature a cool silver holographic coating that's revealed as you doodle away. "We started Pilgrim Soul to help people tap into their innate creativity and have fun doing it," he explains. Here, Gold shares how he uses cannabis as an inspiration-hack, plus a few tips on how we can all boost our own creativity.
"We are all born creative; it just gets repressed as we are raised to conform and fit into society."
Why did you start Pilgrim Soul and how did you come up with the Creative Thinking Journal?
Creativity is an essential skill that is becoming more and more important in our society, not only for personal fulfillment but—in this emerging world of artificial intelligence and outsourcing—creativity also means job security. In business, creativity and empathy have been a critical part of my success. To that end, I've often used cannabis as a sort of hack to expand my creativity and conceive new ideas. I created the journals to be used while high because I wanted to help people expedite the creative process and benefit from a process that I use.
To create the journals, I read almost every creativity, brainstorming, and innovation book available. The mechanisms for the exercises in the journal are borrowed from proven brainstorming, ideation, and innovation techniques across art, design, business, and science. The principal learning mechanism is a series of "think differents,"where you are challenged to identify and change your own cultural, habitual, and normal patterns of thinking. It is all about challenging people to rethink how they see themselves and the world around them and uncover new possibilities and ideas.
"I had always been an introspective thinker, but it was then that the doors of perception started opening up for me in new ways."
How did you discover cannabis? When did you notice it helped with creative thinking? Was it personal for you?
I was one of the first amongst my teenage friends to try cannabis. I "acquired" some from an older brother and snuck off into the woods with another friend to find out what all the fuss was about. A couple of hits later, nothing was happening, no one was high, we just didn't get it... until about ten minutes into it when we were very, very high and we laughed harder than I could ever remember laughing. I could not wait to share the news of our discovery with my other friends at school. I felt like Marco Polo returning from China with the inventions of gunpowder and paper.
I had always been an introspective thinker, but it was then that the doors of perception started opening up for me in new ways. I went on the experiment with other psychedelics (all while retaining a respectable grade point average at school). Throughout my life and career, cannabis has always served as an accessible and convenient way to access new pathways to creativity to detach from default thinking and get another opinion from myself.
What do you think blocks most of us from being our most creative selves, and why do you think cannabis helps?
We are all born creative; it just gets repressed as we are raised to conform and fit into society. Think about yourself as a kindergartener. When the teacher asked you to draw a horse, you had no issues drawing a purple horse with wings. As adults, we limit our scope on what a horse can be or do. A famous study by George Land, a NASA researcher in the 1960s, showed that 95% of kindergartners are expert level creatives, but by the time they reach the sixth grade, only 30% of kids are expert creatives, and that number drops to 2% by the time they are 30 years old. The sad truth is that we become educated out of our natural creativity.
"Cannabis helps me look at something from another perspective or in another context and allows me to make nonlinear connections I might never have considered."
From a scientific perspective, cannabis does two critical things to enhance creativity. The first is that it stimulates blood flow to the brain's frontal lobe and allows neurons to fire in a more uninhibited way. The frontal lobe is the base for creative, divergent thinking or thinking of multiple solutions to open-ended questions. Cannabis is also a creative maximizer in how it deactivates a specific aspect of the brain called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex connected to planning, inhibition, self-censorship, and cognitive control over emotions. Slowing it down or deactivating that area of the brain plays a role in altered states of consciousness such as daydreaming, meditation, and REM sleep. When you use cannabis and suppress these functions and light up the frontal lobe, your mind is free to focus on imagination, and ideas tend to flow more openly.
What's your personal consumption ritual for creativity or otherwise?
I love to smoke flower or a Live resin vape and hang with friends, mostly consuming cannabis in the evening. My favorite thing in the world is to smoke with friends and just laugh and riff on ideas. Truthfully, a good portion of these ideas end up being silly and inane, but that is not the point. The point is to create and have fun, and usually, there are one or two gems that emerge. Cannabis helps me look at something from another perspective or in another context and allows me to make nonlinear connections I might never have considered.
I am not great at working while high, I just can not multi-task, but for many years I have had a process of getting high and getting on the elliptical machine at the gym with a deck, to work on creative strategy. With a bit of ADD, the simple task of moving up and down on the elliptical helps me focus, and the cannabis allows me to factually meditate, ideate, and empathize with the target audiences I am trying to reach. I’ve come up with many ideas stoned at the gym that multinational companies have spent millions of dollars on in marketing campaigns.
What feedback have you received about the journal? Any fun/surprising stories to share?
We get so many messages from people who use our journals—I mean thousands of messages a week. And as a business, the impact we make on people and the stories they share is how we keep score (other than money). Many well-known creative people have purchased the journal, and that is cool because they are at the top of their game and they still appreciate what we are doing. We designed this curriculum to help the average person unlock their creativity, but I didn't realize how much designers, writers, comedians, songwriters, and other creative professions would connect with it.
"Creative ideas exist in a balance between the familiar and the new."
What's an easy way someone can instantly improve their creativity, high or not?
There are a couple of ground rules for creative thinking that I've used throughout my career. One rule is that you need to limit judgment in the creative process and separate the ideation phase from the evaluation phase. It is essential to focus on output and let ideas flow. The enemy of creativity is evaluating your ideas as they come out.
Another big one for me is to challenge default thinking. We become so accustomed to doing things in a certain way that we lose the ability to break away and think differently. Creative ideas exist in a balance between the familiar and the new.
Another piece of advice I would give is to minimize negative thinking. From an early age, we've learned to analyze and criticize anything new. As an adult, it becomes second nature. Don't let this hold you back.
And lastly, creativity is entirely about taking more risks. Creative thinking requires a willingness to fail and make mistakes and go with your gut. Very often, the mistake is the creativity.
"If you are going to experiment with your thoughts and ideas or with cannabis, it is essential to laugh at yourself, be vulnerable and be comfortable with your quirks and foibles."
Book you've read that changed your perspective?
That is an excellent question because there are so many—from history to business to psychology—I am constantly and consciously challenging my perspective. I recently re-read a book by Richard Bach called Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah. I read it as a teenager, and when I looked at it again last year, I had no idea what a profound impact it had on me. There are things I have been thinking and quoting or paraphrasing for 40 years, and I recently realized they came from this book. There are so many favorite quotes from the book, like: "Remember where you came from, where you're going, and why you created this mess you got yourself into in the first place," and "There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands. You seek problems because you need their gifts."
If you had a billboard, what would you want it to say?
"Where there's an open mind, there will always be a frontier."
I'd put that up on highways across America to remind people to open their minds and challenge their own default thinking.
Then as you traveled down the road a couple of hundred yards, you'd see another billboard that reads, "Only the insane take themselves seriously."
If you are going to experiment with your thoughts and ideas or with cannabis, it is essential to laugh at yourself, be vulnerable and be comfortable with your quirks and foibles. Laughter is a necessary part of this; it serves as a pressure valve for stress and anxiety.
"I'm at a point in my life where I'm using the phrase 'I'm at a point in my life' just a little too much."
An organization you support or are involved in?
I really love the California Prison Arts Project. There are programs like this across the country, and I think they are an excellent means of storytelling, focus, and expression for incarcerated people. Some of the art, writing, and poetry are just incredible. For Pilgrim Soul, we tend to seek out emerging, marginalized or young artists and give them a leg up with mini endowments. We don't have a tremendous amount of money to donate, and helping out individuals allows us to feel the impact of our donations in a much more connected way.
High thought you often have or have had recently?
I'm at a point in my life where I'm using the phrase "I'm at a point in my life" just a little too much.