Creative Connections: Patrick Dempsey

Patrick Dempsey metacool

Here’s the first in a new series here on metacool titled Creative Connections. This series will explore how creative leaders do what they do, looking at both their own creative process, as well as how they lead creative endeavors.

I can’t think of a better way to kick off Creative Connections than a chat with Patrick Dempsey. He exemplifies creative leadership and expression across multiple domains. Many of you are familiar with Patrick as a leading man in film and television. In recent years, paralleling the careers of Steve McQueen and Paul Newman, Patrick has also been learning the art of race driving. With great grit, determination, and perseverance, he’s vaulted himself to the highest ranks of motorsports. On Saturday he will take on the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans along with teammates Joe Foster and Patrick Long. This all-American crew will pilot a Porsche 911 GT3 RSR fielded by Dempsey Del Piero Racing.

Earlier this year I spent a day in the pits watching Dempsey and team race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. I witnessed the team recover from mechanical difficulties to come within seconds of victory, a truly epic effort. Racing is a team sport and a creative endeavor, and highlights many of the challenges experienced by groups striving to reach innovative outcomes. To win, you must find a way to balance the tension between the intentional planning, training, and practice needed to be competitive, and the emergent serendipity, improvisation, and chutzpah required to make the most of the hand you’re dealt. Racing is all of that, triple-distilled.

Patrick and I caught up after his race at Laguna Seca to talk about creativity and creative leadership. His thoughts and insights reveal some intriguing creative connections.

Patrick, how would you describe your own creative process?

Very hard to answer simply. To start anything creatively you have to be moved emotionally. And then you allow the emotion to carry you in the direction you need to go.

In order to create you have to have passion.

When it comes to the arts of acting or racing, how much of it is about having a plan, and how much of it is being open to what emerges?

You want to have a plan but there is always something that happens in a race where you need to adjust. The calmer you are in those moments, the better you are at the end of the race.

Artists and athletes often describe reaching a state of flow when they’re totally focused and immersed in a situation. Everything slows down, and you feel energized, even in rapture. You’re in the groove and you do incredible work. Does that ring true to you?

Yes, there is a rapture to it, there is a spiritual feeling when you sort of just stay completely 100% present in the moment.

It’s what you hope to have in every race and every stint you’re in the car, you try to get to that place emotionally.

A team like Dempsey Del Piero Racing represents a unique combination of creativity and execution—both really matter if you’re going to win. Similarly, in an award-winning show like Grey’s Anatomy, you’re working with an ensemble of talented artists. Over the years, what have you learned about helping others reach their creative potential?

Everybody has to have ownership like an ensemble team. Everybody has a role. The more empowered each individual is, the stronger the team.There is no room for unhealthy ego. It disrupts the entire flow and chemistry of the team. There is a beautiful fellowship and camaraderie when it’s working correctly, which is why I love it.

When people live up to their potential, they push you past what your own limitations to a much higher level of performance. With a strong group you can transcend to new levels.

With your busy life on and off the racetrack, how do you stay inspired?

I try to keep my heart open.

When it comes to living a creative life, what big lessons have you learned behind the wheel of a Porsche at Le Mans?

I think I’m in the process of learning that right now. And it doesn’t stop after Le Mans.


(a version of this post appeared on my LinkedIn Influencers page)