Q&A with Target Chief Creative Officer, Todd Waterbury

It takes a special kind of person to head up creativity for a Fortune 500 company. Besides the credentials-on-paper required to land a role like this, it requires a healthy dose of courage and confidence to make decisions which cause ripple effects from coast to coast. Todd Waterbury is that special person. He’s Chief Creative Officer of Target, a role in which he is constantly reinventing what self-expression looks like for both the retailer and its customers by way of marketing.

Todd is a proponent of trying new ideas in order to learn, far from adhering to the butt-in-seat policy so many organizations have in place. His fearless exploration has landed him innovative partnerships with brands like The Grammys and Vogue, and he even has some creative work in permanent collections at the Guggenheim and Museum of Modern Art.

Todd thinks as most of us strive to write, which is to say with one choice word after another until a string of intricate sounds weaves into a beautiful tapestry. On Thursday, January 17, 2019, Todd’s eloquence and wit will be on show as he and three other panelists discuss how they explore to survive in their respective industries. Todd will be joined by CEO of CaringBridge, Liwanag Ojala; polar explorer Tyler Fish; and rapper and spoken word artist, Dessa at Third Thursday: Exploration with Studio/E.

We caught up with Todd in anticipation of the panel to give readers a small taste of his creative pursuits.

How do you know when an idea is worth pursuing?

The three most important qualities are: First, can it easily be described on a Post-it note? Second, does it feel both inevitable and unexpected? Third, does it immediately, and easily, inspire other ideas?

What is creativity?

The best definition is one I found in a 2006 New York Times Op-Ed piece written by Thomas Friedman, in which he quoted Marc Tucker, who heads the National Center on Education and the Economy: “One thing we know about creativity is that it typically occurs when people who have mastered two or more quite different fields use the framework in one to think afresh about the other.” I love the clarity of Marc’s perspective, and how it underscores the value of transposing and dreaming.

Target is skilled at speaking to the heart. What drives this fluency?

The importance of empathy, inclusivity, and generosity, and what it means to our guests.

Why do you explore?

As a creative leader, one of the most important parts of my job is to help teams identify and craft powerful questions. Exploring is synonymous with questions, as one only needs to look at what the first five letters of the word spell:

Q U E S T.

What fuels your curiosity?

The fundamental, innate desire to understand origin. Asking ‘Why?’ and ‘How did this come to be?’ Through this inquiry, through this journey, the unexpected connections that emerge — they are the threads that begin to reveal our drive to explore and expand the limits of our potential as humans.

Water is to survival as exploration is to:


What are you reading?

How Emotions are Madeby Lisa Feldman Barrett, followed by a constant backlog of The New Yorker issues.

When you’re feeling stifled, how do you tap into your creativity?

Lawrence Weschler wrote a book about the California artist Robert Irwin, entitled Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees. This title reveals a powerful wisdom, which is that only when we cast off our biases, our assumptions, even our ‘mastery’ are we able to see the subject (or approach the problem) in a useful and human way.

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Come see Todd’s eloquence and creativity in action as he engages in a dialogue about exploration with Tyler Fish, Liwanag Ojala, and Dessa on Thursday, January 17, 2019. Mia’s Third Thursday: Exploration with Studio/E is free and open to everyone.

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