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To be, or not to be … creative? Actually, sorry, let’s start over, because the above question is beyond moot in the business world of 2012. Anyone paying attention (meaning: any business-person still in business) knows that one essential element for a company to survive is that it must always stay on the verge of the Next Big Thing. This has been patently clear at least since the tech/internet boom of the 1990s, and some might say that Henry Ford and Jack Kilby figured it out a couple years before that. Keep in mind: that Next Big Thing doesn’t have to be the next iPhone. It can, of course, be a huge idea, invention or new product that will set the world on fire (and make you megarich). But it can also be a new approach to management or education that unleashes the power of young minds to lead companies, big or small, into the future. And, hopefully, into financial success. But the trick is that creativity takes on many shapes. In the past, upper management at Company XYZ may have confused creativity with hairbrained, unhinged thinking. Or not realized the value of a person being energized and sparked by their own social networks. Or – worse – Mr. or Ms. Mean Boss thinks that his or her “asset” should be crunching-numbers

instead of making it to their kids’ TBall game on time. Rookie mistakes. IdeaPaint™, creators of the awardwinning dry erase paint that transforms places into creative spaces, set out to pick the brains of some very unique creative leaders from all walks of life – CEOs, filmmakers, educators, music producers and even craft-brewers. We found out what makes them tick and what makes them successful – on their own and also as managers and molders of creative minds. In the pages ahead, we share their experiences, stories and thoughts. They are presented for easy digestion, with intros for each chapter and then straight-ahead nuggets of wisdom, in the form of direct quotes. You may relate to and agree with some of the situations you read about, and you may disagree with some of the ideas put forward. Either way, we hope you’ll find plenty to spark new ways of thinking about your own Next Big Thing, whatever that may be.

©Brian Coleman, 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Sam Calagione, Milton, DE: Founder and President of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. Mary Cantwell, Atlanta, GA: Coordinator at the Center for Design Thinking in Georgia, and a teacher at the Mount Vernon Presbyterian School. Brian DeCubellis, New York, NY: MTV Scratch’s Creative Director. Julia Hu, Palo Alto, CA: CEO and Founder of LARK Technologies. Christina Jenkins, New York, NY: Teacher at New York City’s iSchool. Stacy Madison, Boston, MA: Founder of Stacy’s Pita Chips , Operating Partner at Fireman Capital Partners. Richard Nichols, Philadelphia, PA: Manager of music group The Roots, producer, founder of Okayplayer.

Arne van Oosterom, Holland: President of the DesignThinkers Group and the Design Thinking Network. DesignThinkers Groups has offices in the UK, Chile, the Netherlands and strategic partners around the world Doug Pray, Los Angeles, CA: Two-time Emmy award-winning director of feature-length documentaries, including “Art & Copy” and “Scratch,” as well as dozens of television commercials. He is based in Los Angeles. Jake Rivas, Oakland, CA: Design Director of Footwear at The North Face. Michael Schaeffer, Canton, MA: VP of Design and Global Creative Director for Reebok. Stephen Webber, Boston, MA: Professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston, published author, music producer, recording studio designer, and performer.

“I love being creative, but more than anything else, I like to solve problems. A lot of the time that’s what creativity is – trying to look at a problem in a different way.”
- Julia Hu, CEO and Co-Founder of LARK

Creative road-blocks and detours are a problem. Communication breakdowns can also be a problem. And inefficient management has its own junk-pile of broken creative dreams, housed in an empty lot somewhere on the outskirts of town. In the end, truly creative and effective managers and thinkers are brutally efficient at overcoming obstacles in the way to true communication. Here are some thoughts on the matter from our panel, with discussions on innate creativity as well as personal thoughts on how they manage and flex their own creative muscles:

Perhaps the most important thing to establish up-front is this: all people are creative. It’s part of human nature. From the time we dress ourselves in the morning, through potentially hundreds of interactions with humans and machines throughout any given day, we are being creative. We are thinking about problems and how to solve them. We are choosing the ways in which we communicate with people, from a lunch order to the best way to ask your boss for a raise. Stacy Madison, Founder of Stacy’s Pita Chips, says, “I believe that everyone is born with creativity, but it’s how much the person and their environment have nurtured that creative side. It’s also a matter of ‘street smarts’ – sometimes we are forced to be creative.” Michael Schaeffer, VP of Design and the Global Creative Director at Reebok, agrees: “Everyone has creativity in them, it is just triggered in different ways.” So it’s safe to say that being creative isn’t a problem with most people.

Arne van Oosterom

Arne van Oosterom of the DesignThinkers Group: “We might have different skills and training, but all people are born creative. For managers, it’s all about letting people feel safe to be that way and express themselves.”

Stephen Webber of Berklee College of Music: “More than anything, I guess I am an innately curious person, if not an innately creative one. If you have curiosity and you get positive reinforcement in your life when it comes to creating things, that combination can lead to a lot of great things.” Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery: “I’m president and founder of our company, but instead of running all of the day-to-day aspects from a business perspective, I think I contribute best in my role as chief creative person. I am still usually the guy who comes up with new beers or events or ideas, and I have 140 great people who help bring those ideas to life, because they are way better than I am with the day-to-day operations. Surrounding myself with people whose strengths complement mine has been a huge factor in our success.” Michael Schaeffer, VP of Design and Global Creative Director for Reebok: “I’m a designer, so I draw. But drawing is not the same as being creative. For example, I don’t draw much these days at Reebok, but I still consider myself to be a very creative individual, because of the strategy my team puts in place and decisions I make as a manager.” Doug Pray, Filmmaker: “I tend to be a consensus builder, so I like clients who trust me and what I bring to the table creatively. Once you have that trust,

Doug Pray

you can also say difficult truths, which is another crucial part of the creative process.” Richard Nichols, Manager of the Roots and Music Producer: “When it comes to creativity as a [music] producer, I prefer to be involved with projects before the idea even starts. I want to be involved with what the sound will say about the artist, philosophically. How does it make sense in the world, before you even start playing a note? Once we decide it’s time to record another album, with the Roots or someone else, then it’s a Rubic’s Cube at that point. We need to say this, and how can we say it and how creative can we be about it? How far can we push it? And that’s us asking it, not the record company. It’s never about whether it might be too ‘out there’ for fans, it’s more about what makes sense to us.”

“I call myself a designer but I don’t really design a lot. Whether or not you consider yourself ‘creative,’ you can think like a designer, and solve problems.”
- Christina Jenkins, teacher at New York City’s iSchool

As Arne van Oosterom of the DesignThinkers Group states, “Design Thinking is the glue that holds all disciplines together in a company.” He continues, “Basically, it merges creative and business thinking: people who are linear thinkers and those who use – if you will – ‘chaotic’ thinking. Because, most of the time, ideas do start with chaos. But the two lines of thinking strengthen each other tremendously, and in the end combining them can be a very natural process.” Detailed in numerous books, including recent tomes like Jeanne Liedta’s and Tim Ogilvie’s Designing For Growth (Columbia University Press, 2011) and Tim Brown’s Change By Design (HarperCollins, 2009), the concept has taken hold worldwide. Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, aka the “d.School,” is one of the leading lights in the Design Thinking charge. Often cited for its innovative approach, the school is only open to Stanford students, and these students are put to work with real-world problems, advising major corporations. As stated in its web-based manifesto, “The Institute brings students and faculty from radically different backgrounds to develop innovative, human-centered solutions for realworld challenges. It draws on methods from engineering and design, and

During the past two decades (or, some might argue, longer), a revolution has taken hold in the business and education communities that has helped creative people on all rungs of the corporate or societal ladder climb faster and easier. It is called Design Thinking. In briefest possible terms, design thinking asserts that – much like our experts discussed in the previous chapter – anyone at a company can be creative. And perhaps the most important people to involve in the creative process are those who might not be traditionally included. For instance, bringing members of the finance or accounting team in to a design session to bring different thinking and perspectives to the table, or being attentive to the receptionists POV on customer expectations. Listen closely because ideas and creative thinking are everywhere.

combines them with ideas from the arts, tools from the social sciences, and insights from the business world.” From a more pragmatic standpoint, empowering a creative team to work collaboratively across departments not only invites new perspectives, but also ensures a well-rounded view of how creative and business objectives align. Michael Schaeffer: “Seven years ago when I started here, the apparel designers didn’t know the footwear designers and the departments were completely separate. But slowly they got moved together, and people started talking. This happened globally too, with different design centers talking to each other more often. It has helped so much.” Jake Rivas: “The bigger picture is so important. For instance, I wish I had paid more attention to the business and marketing side when I was younger, because it wasn’t really taught. I have had to learn the financial side over the years, by just being thrown into it. But knowing more about other aspects of the company, interfacing with other divisions, is so helpful. Knowing the whole product life-cycle is important, things don’t stop once you hand a project off to the development team.” Stephen Webber: “In my own life I have always tried to combine disparate things in new ways, like how to bring a classical orchestra and hip-hop music

together. The fun and creativity is always at its peak when you are combining things in new ways. So many amazing things have been done in this world because people didn’t know that what they were attempting was impossible. I heard somewhere that 90% of innovation happens when people change fields. They don’t know that things aren’t supposed to be done that way.”

“The best ideas usually happen when you’re not at your desk or brainstorming with other people. It’s always very important to have time to think.”
- Michael Schaeffer, Reebok, VP of Design and Global Creative Director

Michael Schaeffer: “Corporate culture is really important for employee happiness and also creativity. It’s good to step back and not always be limited by work schedules or environments. We give people the freedom here to not have to take a 30 minute lunch at noon. If you want to go mountainbiking at 10 am or go for a trail-run or play baseball, go ahead, as long as you get your work done. I think people cherish that liberty.”

Another important aspect of managing creative people effectively is ensuring that they are not crushed by the weight of their InBoxes and meeting schedules. A healthy work-life balance and an appreciation that creativity needs time and space to bloom, keeps employees fresh and focussed. Stacy Madison explains, “Flexibility in work schedules, paid lunches on Fridays, letting people leave early to pick up their kids at dance recital, etc., definitely goes a long way.” And she is far from the only successful executive who puts this into practice on a daily basis:

Sam Calagione

Sam Calagione: “Things that might seem like they are slowing down our efficiency and output – like building houses for Habitat for Humanity, or our Dogfish Head Book Club and beertastings we have every Friday afternoon – are actually very important in keeping us creatively and culturally inspired. Beyond the duties at hand on any given day, that aspect is critical to who we are.”

Being able to take a long lunch or hit the gym at 2 pm, though, is only part of the equation when it comes to keeping your team’s gears well-oiled. The second piece of the puzzle is all about ensuring that your lines of communication are open, from interns to VPs. Again, great ideas come from every rung of the ladder. To this point, Arne van Oosterom of Holland’s the DesignThinkers Group makes an important observation: “A lot of times the ‘idea people’ at a company don’t feel like they are understood by management, and that they don’t have a strong [communication] link to them. They feel like they need schemes to trick management into liking their ideas. That does nothing but decrease morale and bring about creative road-blocks.” He adds, “If you have a great idea and you work for a large organization, many times it might seem easier to just start your own business rather than convince the company you work for to do it. If you don’t feel that your great idea will ever reach the upper levels of management, that’s what is likely to happen. Managers need to be aware of this.” Lesson learned? Delineate clear lines of communication to invite employees from all levels in the organization to share ideas.

Michael Schaeffer: “What’s really important to me is to create an environment where people are willing to share. Not only, ‘Here’s what I did,’ but also ‘Here’s an idea, take from it and work on it and change it.’ There are companies where designers lock up their drawings at night because they’re afraid that someone is going to steal their ideas. We hire people who are supremely creative but who, from a personality standpoint, aren’t afraid to open up their books. That’s honestly hard to find, but people need to be confident to share because one person rarely does it all.” Julia Hu: “Creative people don’t want to be told how to get from Point A to Point B. They like it when you say, ‘We need you to get to Point B.’ Companies that try to micromanage creative people tend to fall short because they don’t harness creativity to make a better process.”

Julia Hu

“Everyone always says that experience is the best teacher and that you learn from your mistakes. But if you’re really smart, you learn from other peoples’ mistakes. That’s a lot less painful.”
- Stephen Webber, Berklee College of Music

calling them failures, because I hate to fail. I do love to explore all options, though, including the 99% that are not necessarily the best option. All throughout the creative process you have to go south sometimes to find out what north really is.” As a manager, allowing employees the freedom to stumble a bit – at least to a certain point – without retribution can be important in maximizing creativity and worker morale. Here are some examples of this outlook in action: Arne van Oosterom: “Innovation is all about venturing into the unknown, and making mistakes. If you can’t make mistakes, you can’t learn anything new. So it’s all about the culture at any given company, no matter what country it’s in. Are you scared to make a mistake? Can you be fired at any time if you do?” Christina Jenkins: “Last year I taught a 5-day ‘Disaster Class’ to high school students, about solving natural disasters around the world before they actually become disasters. Halfway through, the kids were all extremely frustrated, they were stuck in the creative process. And I was happy, because that’s the reality of the world. You do become stuck and frustrated. I think it’s important for young people to be comfortable with making mistakes. There doesn’t have to be forward movement every second. And a lot of

If at first you don’t succeed, try try again. Very wise words. Because any successful person will tell you that failure is always part of their road to the winner’s circle. Failing in and of itself, although frustrating, shouldn’t keep you from future success. But failing again and again at the same thing might. Mary Cantwell of Atlanta’s Mount Vernon Presbyterian School explains, “With students, starting in elementary school, we try to instill one important idea among others: ‘Fail Up.’ Through Design Thinking, they know that failure is part of the package. Not every idea will work but hopefully through failure, another idea will be sparked and the path to the solution will continue.” Brian DeCubellis of MTV Scratch (the network’s in-house creative agency) puts forth a view that is a bit more business-hardened: “I don’t like

times that’s not allowed in classrooms where correct answers are expected. In the class, some kids never resolved things 100% and that was OK. I value the process more than the end product. The only non-stellar grades I gave in the class were for people who didn’t put in work.” Stephen Webber: “I seem to always put myself into situations where I’m a little bit afraid of what I’m doing. I guess I must thrive on it, because I keep doing it, even though each time I ask myself, ‘What the hell are you thinking?’ [laughs]. But I think it’s an adrenaline rush, when you’re in over your head. I do the same thing with my students – I try and take them out of their comfort zone. Most of the assignments I give them, at least the more ‘experiential’ ones, like putting together a studio session, are pretty much ‘sink-or-swim’ situations. They’re going to have to rise to the occasion or it’ll be pretty painful. When you face adversity and come out the other side, you develop courage and confidence. It’s OK to be afraid, you just have to act anyways.” Richard Nichols: “With The Roots, I honestly don’t think I can say that we have ever made mistakes, things just change over time. I’m a compulsive over-thinker, so pretty much everything is just a calculated risk. I mean, can you call a calculated risk a mistake if it doesn’t work out? Even the downside for anything we do is figured in, so honestly we’d never really attempt

anything that would have a detrimental effect. My job is to make supercalculated sh*t look daring.” Mary Cantwell: “A leader who can be vulnerable along with his or her creative thinkers and who is open to feedback is important. It makes for a more open process to problem solving and helps foster and encourage creativity in their employees or students. I can honestly say that without admitting my vulnerability and turning to others for input, my own creative process would have been short-lived.” Julia Hu: “I have always been inspired by my mother, who was also an entrepreneur. She always has a spirit of optimism and doesn’t over-think things. You have nothing to fear from trying. That type of belief is important, because you have to believe in yourself first.”

“Environment isn’t about furniture, it’s about atmosphere.”
- Arne van Oosterom, President of the DesignThinkers Group

a ‘no touch’ policy. They respond to that freedom and ownership.” The same ideology can, of course, be applied to a corporate setting. In extreme cases, a poorly-designed physical layout can even have detrimental effects. Jake Rivas, years later with a smile, recalls, “When I first got to North Face, the layout in the office was so bad that I almost didn’t want to take the job. I was freaked out. I had the HR department write into my contract that they were moving within a year, as they promised, because I wanted an ‘outclause.’ All of that just because of the physical layout of the office.” And so, physical space should never be underrated, right next to the value of keeping employee InBoxes from growing fangs.

Creativity should exist whether you have a window, a door, a cube, or an assigned parking space. But let’s be honest, it’s not always easy to push towards the future staring at a greige, burlap-like wall two feet in front of your face. Individuals and teams benefit from a well conceived physical space that both fosters and stimulates creativity, and allows for employees to define their own creative footprint, a concept being explored by Alison Williams at the University of East London’s SMARTlab. As such, successful leaders recognize the value of providing a space that not only looks creative, but feels creative. Christina Jenkins of New York City’s iSchool notes that it’s very important to let those who share a physical space have some input in it: “In a classroom setting, it’s important to give kids control over the spaces that we all share. Give them some freedom to decorate it as they want to, instead of

Stacy Madison

Stacy Madison: “With more and more work being done on computers today,

it’s critical to keep corporate atmospheres social, and create ways for people to interact in person. I am anti-cubicle. When we moved into our own bakery years ago, the first thing we did was tear down an entire floor full of cubicles. I also hated when I got my own office. I eventually gave it away to the marketing department, and they all sat in there together.”

industry. Some people on our team will go to museums, or do research on medical devices, or spend time with architects. There are no boundaries, people can be – and are – inspired by so many different things. I mean, I don’t sit around and read footwear and apparel trade magazines on the weekends for fun and inspiration!” Jake Rivas: “I think that, for my design team, doing things like going to a museum is just as important as hiking up a mountain. It gives you a different perspective. Experiential, physicallyactive trips get you into the mind of the end-user, but they can almost be too utilitarian at times. A lot of design is aesthetic and you don’t get inspired in that way from outdoor trips. That comes from looking at architecture, or art. It’s the balance that’s important.” Julia Hu: “I think off-sites are important, you can get really great inspiration by leaving the office. The reason is that when you leave the office the pressure is off for you to be truly productive. When you don’t have that pressure, you can create seedlings for important ideas, which become great next steps.”

And sometimes getting away from the office – whether for an afternoon “offsite,” or a week-long “inspiration trip” – can be just the trick to work through a creative road-block and keep those wheels spinning freely. Michael Schaeffer: “With actual planned off-sites for our management team, we use them more to give us a time and place where a couple of us can get together and not be interrupted. Where we can spend 100% of our time thinking about bigpicture ideas. Bigger groups will give you quantity, but not necessarily the best quality. So with that type of offsite, it’s more about not being interrupted than about specific inspiration. On the other side of the coin, our designers take inspiration trips, which are usually fitness-based. That can be Crossfit, or yoga, or dance. They need exposure and need to be well-versed. But the other part, where a lot of ideas come from, is when people do something that has nothing to do with fitness or our

Creative people, especially those at the top of their field, have taken a lot of lumps to get where they are. Failures and triumphs criss-cross and pollinate any veteran’s resume. But those who survive have a lot to share with younger people. As Richard Nichols of The Roots wisely stated during our chat, “Survival is its own kind of success.”
Michael Schaeffer

Some of our other experts share thoughts about their own creative lives and careers: Brian DeCubellis: “I tell young people to get their hands dirty and make stuff on a small scale, often. It’s much better to practice creative things on your own time and learn all the things that don’t work, than to wait for a big opportunity to come along and then find out. A painter paints every day to get better. And now with your camera phone and laptop, you can create every day, too.” Michael Schaeffer: “It sounds cliché, but you basically need to remain a child in certain ways if you want to stay creative. I’m in my 40s now and sometimes I think I stopped evolving in my teens. My wife would probably confirm that. You always have to have that curiosity and you always have to keep wondering about things, and wanting to do them differently. You can’t be afraid to challenge. If you just

accept things as they are, you’ll never innovate.” Julia Hu: “I always say, dream big, but execute with laser-focus on a supersimple solution. Just because you dream big, your product doesn’t have to do everything under the sun. That can be paralyzing. Don’t suffocate yourself before you give an idea life.” Arne van Oosterom: “When I was younger, I wish I knew sooner that the people I admired, people who I thought knew everything, didn’t know anything either [laughs]. I wish I had known that they were just messing about and feeling insecure, too, just like I was. Because messing about was the way to go, and that will never change. In fact, that’s where almost all of your creative energy comes from. Insecurity keeps you learning, and for better or worse, that will never end [laughs]. The goal should be the road, not the end of the road.”

As we reach the end of this hopefully enlightening journey into creativity, this much should be clear: you are creative, your team is creative, and your company is creative. It’s all about how you harness the raw energy that exists within your mind, your team and the walls of your office. The only wrong answer on this test is to close your mind or your office door to this one possibility: that the best idea you’ll hear today – or this year – may be lurking in the head of your new accounting intern or shipping clerk. Don’t close yourself off, and always give your people the room and time to be, and express, themselves. Now go out there and create the next hybrid engine or iPad, or even pet rock. It might be closer than you think.

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Brian Coleman owns Good Road, a media relations and creative writing agency based in Boston, MA. He has worked as an arts and fashion publicist for the better part of two decades, at companies including Timberland and Braithwaite & Katz Communications. Along the way he has enjoyed a side career as a music journalist, with hundreds of freelance articles and two non-fiction music books to his name: Check the Technique (Villard / Random House, 2007) and Rakim Told Me (Wax Facts, 2005). For more information, visit and