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Fueling the Creative Economy Part II: Call to Graphic Designers, ‘Get Involved’

January 30, 2012 in Blog Post | Comments (0)

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Posted By: Graphic Design

In my January 3rd article, Fueling the Creative Economy I wrote about the appointment of Joe Bookchin to the position of director of the Office of the Creative Economy in Vermont, as well as creative economy initiatives in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, and their importance to our industry’s continued health and development.

Subsequently, I was pleasantly surprised to be contacted by Jean Maginnis, Founder & Executive Director,Maine Center for Creativity and Christine Harris, CEO Christine Harris Connections and Executive AdvisorCreative Alliance Milwaukee who informed me of their respective creative alliances as well as others, and the newly formed National Creativity Network, an organization that believes in fostering creativity as being key to innovation and economic success in America right now.

They, along with Margaret Collins, Executive Director, Center for Creative Economy Piedmont Triad, North Carolina Susan McCalmont, President, Creative Oklahoma, Elizabeth Murphy, Consulting Director, Creative New Jersey, Dave Baldwin, President, Aquarian Technology Systems, Ltd, Creative Ohio and George Tzougros, National Creativity Network Chairperson and Executive Director, Wisconsin Arts Board were gracious enough to grant me an interview where they responded to four questions about their ongoing initiatives:

1. What are your top/high priority initiatives for stimulating creative economy in your region?

2. What would you say are the biggest challenges regionally or otherwise for creative industries right now? Across the board the answer to this question was current economic conditions and education.

3. How can graphic designers be more involved in supporting industry growth and health?

4. There seems to be a commoditization and devaluing trend in creative services. Part of this can probably be attributed to economic pressures. What advice would you give graphic designers to counter this?

Jean Maginnis, Maine Center for Creativity: Definitely Art All Around®, a major public art project that pairedSprague Energy corporation with the arts community “to transform 16 oil storage tanks on Portland harbor into an integrated ‘canvas’ of color and design…” with the added dimension of being visible from a Google Earth perspective. Part of the project was a blind International Design Competition, with a panel of nine jurors from Maine and countries including Spain, Germany and Canada, which received 560 proposals from 80 countries. Five semi-finalists received a $10,000 cash prize and the finalist; Jaime Gili received an additional $20,000. Maginnis described experiencing an “aha moment” when biking with her husband in Bug Light park in South Portland thinking about the concept of “think tanks” and wondering how to “capture the public imagination with a large arts & industry collaboration” and suddenly seeing the oil tanks as potential canvasses.

So far they have raised $950,000 towards their 1.3 million dollar goal and are in the final phase of painting eight oil tanks and tops. There is an additional $350,000 to raise in order to paint the additional tanks. Maginnis also spoke about the importance of building infrastructure programs and their well-attended “Creative Toolbox” series of presentations in partnership with the University of Southern Maine designed to provide creatives with skills, resources and information to succeed economically and Pecha Kucha nights where designers and creative people can meet, network and share their work.

Margaret Collins, Center for Creative Economy, North Carolina: For Collins, what started as a Piedmont Triad workforce development grant, after four years has evolved into the Center for Creative Economy. Based in North Carolina’s Piedmont Triad encompassing Winston-Salem, Greensboro, and High Point, in the middle of the state, the Center for Creative Economy’s focus is on creating a “catalyst for innovation” by getting business and creatives working together, connecting creatives to business networks and vice versa. Collins’ defines her role as “being an advocate for creatives here [North Carolina].”

To that end, some of the Center’s high priority projects are their Innovation Summits, designed to bring creative and business people together, Triad Design Leadershop, customized creative workshops exploring design thinking, “Creatini” themed networking events that aggregate creative community, feature guest speakers and create a space for idea sharing and the Idea Index “a fully interactive online creative directory featuring artists, designers, and other creative professionals in the Piedmont Triad who want to showcase their portfolios, videos, and creative work.” One of the more unique features of the Idea Index differentiating it from other creative directories is the ability to submit and respond to RFPs online as well as Panels, the community component encouraging dialogue and exchange between business and creative users. The Idea Index actualizes Collins’ intention to provide “robust infrastructure” and “bridge communities by putting them in dialogue so that people can understand the value creatives can bring.”

Elizabeth Murphy, Creative New Jersey: Murphy, representing the youngest organization of the group, related how last June the founding members of Creative New Jersey held a statewide open-space Call To Collaboration where 150 leaders from a wide range of sectors assembled to answer the central question: “How can creativity and innovation revitalize New Jersey?” The success of this event has set in motion the development of a statewide series of Community Creativity Convenings.

These self-directed conferences include a broad multi-generational and sector demographic of “arts leaders, educators, business leaders, mayors, philanthropists, sustainability folks, students, and tech” and are designed to stimulate a “ground up” movement to “…foster creativity, innovation and sustainability and to exploit how the creative industries can have a transformative effect on the economy and people’s lives.” As well as encourage connections between nonprofits, governments, businesses and philanthropic organizations. “When we meet at the intersection of seemingly disparate disciplines, we have the opportunity for our own ideas to clash and combine with others, thereby encouraging an explosion of potentially groundbreaking, new ideas.”

Christine Harris, Creative Alliance Milwaukee:
 Harris articulated Creative Milwaukee’s high priority asconnecting on a government level to address recognition that this [creative economy] is a cluster and to promote self-identification [within the creative community] as a cluster. As well as, working closely with state economic development corporation to get recognition as a cluster worthy of investment. George Tzougros further underscored Harris’ point by stating that “since government had been built for the industrial age [the value of creative economy] tended to appear less substantial. David Baldwin commented at this point as well, referencing the World Future Society, the Center for Communities of the Future and describing the overall shift away from the industrial economy toward a “transformation of all systems and the emergence of a new Creative Molecular Economy.”

Susan McCalmont, Creative Oklahoma: Echoing Baldwin’s sentiments, McCalmont cited education, commerce and culture and how to build a pipeline to creative economy in Oklahoma as being among Creative Oklahoma’s top priorities. Some of the guiding questions for her were “What are barriers to economic growth?, What are the barriers to quality of life?, What are our strengths in Oklahoma?” She described her work with marketers, graphic designers and public television to establish Oklahoma as a creative center in the minds of local businesses, who traditionally may have looked outside the state for their creative resources through major events such as the Oklahoma Creativity Forum.

She also talked about initiatives to retain talent in film and music, areas of particular strength in Oklahoma by creating jobs around those industries. She described a creativity ambassador initiative, a group of prominent creative professionals who through “public service announcements, performances, speaking engagements, and sharing of their knowledge in their respective fields” help change perceptions of Oklahoma both within and outside the state. On the workforce development side McCalmont talked about modular learning units offered to businesses and job fairs connecting university students with businesses as well as grants and awards programs.

David Baldwin, Creative Ohio: Creative Ohio is just forming as a result of Baldwin’s attendance at theCreativity World Forum in Oklahoma City in 2010. Baldwin describes Creative Ohio as self-organizing and not honing in on any one aspect of the arts or focusing solely on the economic benefit, but the transformational benefit of building a [creative] network and celebrating [creative] activity.

Whereas responses regarding individual organizational goals and initiatives varied, responses to the other three questions of challenges for the creative industries, how designers can be more involved in supporting industry growth and health, and how designers can counter the trend toward the commoditization of their services were relatively similar.

Poor economic conditions causing companies to tighten their belts on creative spending, sluggish investment growth and lack of organizational structure were among the main challenges to creative industries cited, along with a lack of understanding of design and innovation having organizational value as opposed to being merely technical products, and the importance of client education regarding this added value.

Response to the question “How can graphic designers be more involved in supporting industry growth and health?” was practically unilateral—get involved in the creative community, advocate for creative services,speak or write on creativity and an often overlooked but equally important part of the equation—communicatetraining and education needs back to academic institutions.

Lastly, in response to the question of how to counter the commoditization of the creative industry the answer was overwhelmingly “build your brand,” “build relationships,” and be able to present the business case tosupport your value. Dave Baldwin, in particular, suggested that the transformation being felt in graphic design might be an opportunity for those designers who are willing to “cross silos” and take an entrepreneurial approach.

If you’re interested in getting involved or learning more here is a list of organizations working to support and encourage creative economy. By no means is it exhaustive so please feel free to post any I may have left out.

Berkshire Creative
Center for Creative Economy Winston-Salem/Greensboro, North Carolina
Creative Albuquerque
Creative Alliance Milwaukee
Creative New Jersey
Creative Oklahoma
Maine Center for Creativity
Mt. Auburn Associates has been profiling the creative economy since 2000. Reports from all of their work is on their website,
RTS, Inc, has been doing creative economy research since 2000. Reports are on their website,

Oklahoma Creativity Forum 2011 & NCN Meeting

October 12, 2011 in Blog Post | Comments (0)

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Dear Friends of the National Creativity Network,

Creative Oklahoma would like to invite you to join us for an exciting event on November 1st in Norman, Oklahoma — the Oklahoma Creativity Forum 2011!   Please find more information on the line up of speakers at

We have several NCN partners speaking on a variety of subjects including:  Peter Gamwell, Jean Hendrickson, and Dan Hunter. Additionally, on Monday, October 31st, we will have an informal afternoon gathering of any National Creativity Network interested parties to discuss assessment and tracking the growth of creative industries in the US.  This afternoon session, “Navigating the Creative Economy: Is There Value in a National Definition?” will be from 2 – 5 pm and facilitated by Christine Harris of Creative Milwaukee Alliance. The purpose of the NCN event will be to understand the scope of how the creative industries are being defined across the country.

Both events will be held at the Embassy Suites Norman-Hotel & Conference Center in Norman, Oklahoma, a short 15-minute cab ride from the Oklahoma City Will Rogers airport.
We will also have a special a informal social gathering for out of town guests and speakers the evening of the 31st.

Please sign up for the Forum at:

Click here to book hotel rooms at the Embassy up until next Friday, October 18th.  

Hope to see you there!

How 3M Gave Everyone Days Off and Created an Innovation Dynamo

February 2, 2011 in Blog Post | Comments (0)

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Before Google and Hewlett-Packard, 3M was offering employees time off to explore their own projects — netting 3M’s most famous products to date.

In 1974, 3M scientist Art Fry came up with a clever invention. He thought if he could apply an adhesive (dreamed up by colleague Spencer Silver several years earlier) to the back of a piece of paper, he could create the perfect bookmark, one that kept place in his church hymnal. He called it the Post-It Note.

What you might not know is that Fry came up with the now iconic product (he talks to the Smithsonian about it here) during his “15 percent time,” a program at 3M that allows employees to use a portion of their paid time to chase rainbows and hatch their own ideas. It might seem like a squishy employee benefit. But the time has actually produced many of the company’s best-selling products and has set a precedent for some of the top technology companies of the day, like Google and Hewlett-Packard.

Today, 3M is a multinational powerhouse, with more than $20 billion in annual sales across a product line 50,000 deep, from adhesives to optical film. It boasts 22,800 patents, many derived from its 15 percent program. The program has been key to 3M’s business strategy and could be a model for other companies eager to innovate. Says Kurt Beinlich, a technical director for 3M: “It’s really shaped what and who 3M is.”

Founded in 1902 in a little town on the shores of Lake Superior, 3M started out in the mining business as the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company. The company thought it had found corundum, a mineral ideal for making sandpaper. But instead, it was low-grade anorthosite — of little value. With mining hopes dashed, the founders bought a sandpaper factory and struggled for years over how to run it. New investors had to pour in cash to keep it afloat. Eventually, one of them, Lucius Ordway, moved the company to St. Paul, where 3M hit upon some key inventions, among them: masking tape and cellophane tape.

3M launched the 15 percent program in 1948. If it seems radical now, think of how it played as post-war America was suiting up and going to the office, with rigid hierarchies and increasingly defined work and home roles. But it was also a logical next step. All those early years in the red taught 3M a key lesson: Innovate or die, an ethos the company has carried dutifully into the 21st century.

“It’s one of the things that sets 3M apart as an innovative company, by sticking to that culture of giving every one of our employees the ability to follow their instincts to take advantage of opportunities for the company,” says Beinlich, who tries to get most of his 70-person technical lab team to participate.

How is the program implemented? In Beinlich’s telling, workers often use 15 percent time to pursue something they discovered through the usual course of work but didn’t have time to follow up on. And even that depends on other factors — how closely managers keep tabs on projects, for one. What’s more, 15 percent time is extended to everyone, not just the scientists (you can hear the cheers in marketing), the idea being: Who knows where the next Post-It Note will come from?

There is failure. As a company culture, it’s accepted, if not entirely embraced. In Beinlich’s department, engineers designed a heat-repelling cover to protect car finishes from welding sparks. But there just wasn’t a market for it: Automotive workers didn’t want to shell out for another product when they could keep layering blankets to protect finishes like they always had. “When we found that out, we celebrated that we had found something that was innovative and had its place. But we said OK; let’s move on,’” Beinlich says.

The 15 percent program has clearly inspired copycats. Google’s 20 percent time famously gave birth to Gmail, Google Earth, and Gmail Labs. (Google would neither confirm nor deny that the idea for its program came from 3M, but it’s hard to imagine otherwise; after all, 3M’s program had been around 50 years before Google even filed incorporation papers.) Likewise, Hewlett-Packard Labs offers personal creative time.

Still, it’s a rare perk at most companies, technical or not. For starters, it’s expensive. 3M invests more than $1 billion in R&D alone; 15 percent of that starts to be a sizable outlay. Author Scott Berkun writes about business innovation. He says these policies only work when the outcomes are backed. “Many companies have tried to emulate the ‘20 percent time idea’ but failed because they remained conservative about supporting the new ideas,” he says. And experts agree that this kind of nudging probably works best at companies where there’s a high level of creative competitiveness; that is, where impressing peers is just as important as the innovation itself.

3M’s got that in spades. Once a year, about 200 employees from dozens of divisions make cardboard posters describing their 15 percent time project as if they were presenting volcano models at a middle school science fair. They stand up their poster, then hang out next to it, awaiting feedback, suggestions, and potential co-collaborators. Wayne Maurer is an R&D manager in 3M’s abrasives division and calls it a chance for people to unhinge their “inner geek.” He elaborates: “For technical people, it’s the most passionate and engaged event we have at 3M.”

Past projects have included making clear bandages, optical films that reflect light (seen above), and designing a way to make painter’s tape stick to wall edges (to protect against paint bleed). All these products are on the market now.

Sometimes ideas can languish for years. One worker had a hunch that if he reshaped particles on sandpaper, they wouldn’t dull so quickly. But that was 15 years ago, and the technology and feedback weren’t there to advance it beyond an interesting idea. Two years ago, the same worker started looking at the problem again during his 15 percent time. He made a poster. This time, he got different feedback with the help of new employees and new technology. They discovered they could retain a particle’s sharp, pyramid-like shape just by changing the mixing order (see image up top). Now 3M has a winner in the Cubitron II (above), a sandpaper that acts more like a cutting tool -– and one that still stumps copycats, despite that it’s been on the market since 2009. If not for the 15 percent time, this worker’s idea might’ve never taken off.

Another obvious benefit of this “think time” is in recruiting. Specialized workers are highly prized and fought for. Companies that offer roughly the same salary as another, can tip the scales with paid personal time. (The snow in Minnesota might be another issue.)

“What you’re offering is essentially freedom, and that is very attractive for the right person,” says Henry Chesbrough, a professor at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, and the father of open innovation business practices.

Paid personal time is, of course, just one way to help a company innovate and, given the expense, it’s not best for everyone. Chesbrough says advances in technology can be achieved if companies generally soften boundaries between where ideas come from and how they take root. A company can limit risk by letting internal ideas spin off into external companies, which might be bought back. On the flip side, internal groups can pursue external ideas. Perhaps the real lesson is that the best ideas can come from anywhere. And an innovative company will find a way to champion them.

Kaomi Goetz


Kaomi Goetz is a writer for Co Design. She also uses audio to tell stories about technology and social and economic trends for National Public Radio and others.Read more

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