As editor of Stanford Magazine, Kevin Cool gets to learn about some pretty amazing subjects and talk with some very talented people. But he says the most profound learning experience in his life was spending a semester in Carmarthen, Wales, during his junior year at Central. The Centerville, Iowa, native had never been on an airplane before, and when he awoke the first morning in Carmarthen, “I might as well have been on a different planet,” he says.
Cool learned much during that semester abroad. He also credits another college learning experience as essential to his career path. As a senior, he interned with Senator Charles Grassley in Washington, D.C., and sent dispatches back to The Ray about his experience. Cool had originally planned to become a teacher, but classes in communications, as well as his experiences abroad and in Washington, led him to broaden his career options. “It began to solidify for me that what I really wanted to do was be a writer or an editor,” he says. “I had wonderful professors who inspired me and validated my career choice.”
Cool has edited Stanford Magazine for 17 years, following stints as an editor at Colby College and Central. He says, “Publishing anything is an act of audacity. Essentially you are saying to a potential reader ‘here is something that we think you will value.’ So if that’s the case, you had better deliver.”
This is where creativity is essential. As an editor, he asks how a story can be told in a way that engages people, as well as what type of writing will present the proper style, tone and mood. “Part of what an editor does is harvest the creativity of his or her team,” Cool says, “which in itself requires a certain amount of creative thinking — how can I get the best work out of these people and produce something that is better than any one of us could do on our own?”
What do you consider creativity?
Creativity is not something that is only expressed artistically. Creativity to me has much more to do with how you approach a task: whether you’re trying to solve a problem or develop a new way of making something. There’s no plan you can make that is going to run perfectly smoothly. Creativity comes in when trying to navigate all of the rocky parts along the way.
What do people misunderstand about creativity?
The major thing people get wrong about creativity is thinking they aren’t creative. I think that’s baloney. I think creativity is innate in all of us. Over time we are a little bit worn down, and we become blocked because we start to learn that to satisfy certain expectations, there are rules and maps. Over time you become conditioned to be less creative than you naturally were at six years old. Creativity requires practice, being intentional and applying it in your life on a regular basis.
What would you be if not an editor?
I would be a broadcaster for a major league baseball team. I always wanted to play baseball when I was younger. I thought it would be fun to be a broadcaster since I enjoy audio storytelling as well.