J. Sakiya Sandifer : Savore Ristorante, SoHo : New York, USA
“To date, everything I’ve been successful at has been self-taught which has its pros and cons. The biggest con in being self-taught is you always doubt the teacher, because you know exactly what you don’t know. Because in a traditional teacher-student dynamic, the student expects the teacher to know more than him. But if you’re self taught… I know exactly when I’m gassing myself, I know exactly what I don’t know, but I’ve always had this insatiable desire to figure things out.”
The way J. Sakiya Sandifer looks at the world is calmly considered; measured. He’s constantly searching for a new perspective on the seemingly mundane of the every-day to the most complex of life’s questions, all as an exploration to challenge his own thinking and the thinking of those around him. His eyes are constantly moving to take in as much stimulation from the world as his senses will allow. To process it, and interpret it. And although the dialogue may be intense and philosophical in content at times, he has a light ease and cleansing playfulness to his style of communication. This is one of the countless reasons he is sought by so many for his counsel and guidance, both professionally and personally, from wide variety of clients including European grocery store chains to world-wide megastars like Kanye West.
This inherent awareness would develop throughout the course of his nomadic childhood as, although his roots are in Chicago, he and his family moved a lot. So often that he’d eventually attend some 13 schools before he would graduate high school, exposing him to new faces on a regularity that most of us wouldn’t be able to understand or appreciate. So as a child it meant navigating the realities of new environments with fresh personalities and altered hierarchies; all the while, simply trying to grow up and find a place in the world.
“…it just became a routine where I was always the new kid in class. My oldest friend is from the 9th grade because I made a decision in the 9th grade that I was going to have a childhood friend. It was a conscious effort for me in 1985 because everybody else did; I’d noticed that was the difference. You had people that had been from 1st through 9th grade together and here I was, once again; and I was like, that’s something I have to do for myself. It was interesting, my Mum moved – twice – between my 9th and 12th grade year, but I made a conscious effort to keep in contact with a couple of individuals I still speak to today.”
In retrospect, the constant changing of his surroundings would be something Sakiya would grow to appreciate as a huge benefit. It allowed him to study people, recognise the various personality types (of which he has now refined to only seven distinctions) and use that knowledge with a craft he wouldn’t discover until further down the line. And do around 20 years ago he would begin his career as a self-taught graphic designer, with his own design and marketing company, S.T. Grafics. But even in the name (S.T. being an acronym for Sakiya’s Touch) there was a clear understanding that he himself was the brand and the core of his business; his ideas and concepts were what drew his clients in and it was a natural evolution to the next stage of his career.
“Design is nothing more than finding aesthetic solutions; that how I look at it, it’s all just lines. The thickness of a line communicates something, the colour of a line says something, the texture of a line says something; you put all of those variables together to communicate a specific thought. So that’s how I approach design. Through that, about 8 years ago, I realised that my clients started taking more value in my counsel than my actual designs.”
He also noticed a change in the wind with Adobe’s decision to ship a version of their groundbreaking Photoshop software with purchases of new computers, spawning the new generation of backyard-designers. The world’s appreciation of graphic designers and commercial creativity was beginning to alter forever and, compounded by the shift in his clients’ needs, everything was pointing to an adjusted focus. But it was while performing an everyday task that he would encounter a brief but profound moment that would assure him of this inevitable change.
“It was so mundane, I was literally throwing trash out – I remember I had just released the bag into the air to go into the dumpster – and the voice in me said “you’re gonna be in front of people; get ready”. And for whatever reason, I chose to listen to it. And the entrepreneur in me said, if I’m gonna be in front of people I have to have something to sell on the back table, and that’s what inspired me to write my first book: Think, Think, Think, and Think Again: The Power of Ideas Designed to Spark Change. It’s a book of my personal philosophies on how to live a fulfilled life. And me doing it shaped the rest of my life…it had a domino effect, to the point that I’m sitting here right now.”
And since then, he hasn’t looked back. Now a four time author (including “Thank you & you’re welcome” cowritten with Kanye West) and a Grammy nominee (as a cowriter of five tracks on Kanye West’s Yeezus LP), his energy is focussed on his company – We Think LLC – serving to put clever ideas into successful business models and promote broad philosophies across various aspects of their vision. He still provides visual solutions when required, but has extended into idea development through his personal consultancy.
Personally, he’s about to realise his enviable long term goal to live on an island; to free himself both physically and mentally from the chaos of the city and see what comes from it. And this is achieved with small steps every day, refocussing and recalibrating to move with the adjustments that inevitably come with time. It requires a tremendous amount of focus and energy, but he has adopted very simple process with which achieve it.
“Every day is very simple. I ask myself what I need to stop, start, and continue doing to get what I want. It’s just that simple. And if I’m a growing person, ever-evolving person, those answers should change every day. It’s all about doing mental pushups, that’s all it is. I train myself to do that; there is no downtime for me.”
Sakiya wants to use his mind for the greater good and solve problems affecting people from all parts of the globe; from basic infrastructure and broader political thinking at home, to finding solutions to international issues (like solving the ongoing garbage issue in Haiti). He’s thinking big and wants to create change for the positive, both on the ground and philosophically. And with his future focus on change, influence, and overall positivity to benefit others, here’s hoping We Think LLC continues to generate the traction it needs to see Sakiya’s philosophies broaden the thinking and agenda of those who traditionally make the decisions on behalf of us all.
“I just think that it’d be a better world if were united by our uniqueness versus condemning each other. When you think of stuff like this whole drawing of prophet Mohammed, it’s offending people so much to the point where they’re willing to kill over it versus being united by our uniqueness; (if we were,) we’d respect that and we wouldn’t try to impose our views on others. I have this funny philosophy that ideas are like biking shorts; they don’t look good on everybody. But that’s somebody’s idea… War and destruction…it’s not necessary. It’s an action that’s bred out of insecurity.”