IDEO: The Business of Creativity, Reflection No. 2

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I have a crush. A business crush, that is. I had never dreamt of “being” with a business until I met IDEO.

Sure, I imagined working for Disney when I was a child. There was magic there and I wanted to know how it was made. In high school I fell in love with Pixar. In my brief teenage ardor, I bought the jumping lamp. I collected Woody and  Buzz Lightyear puppets from McDonalds, only to later give them to my young niece without a spot of remorse.

But with IDEO, it’s different. It’s a grown up business crush, one that could last to infinity and beyond! IDEO is a global design company at the forefront of modern day corporate innovation. They are committed to creating positive impact.

“My dream for the future of IDEO is the same as it was back then: that everyone at IDEO finds their calling, that being here feels like working with friends, that we are all enjoying our lives, that we are engaged in what feels like important work we were personally put on Earth to do.” —David Kelley

IDEO has not only designed and innovated many of today’s technologies, they do so by fostering creativity both in their company and beyond! They started with the first Apple mouse, and moved on to creating answers to complex challenges from healthcare,  government, and education. The employees of IDEO are experts on the process of innovation. They come from a wide variety of educational backgrounds, including psychology, anthropology, linguistics, biology, and fine art. A business or marketing degree at IDEO, while useful, is not the standard. These diverse groups of people innovate new ideas for companies, and they are not picky. They will dive into creating a better toothbrush with the same open mind they use to design space shuttles.

I am currently reading (or shall I say devouring) Tom Kelley’s book The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO’s Strategies for Beating the Devil’s Advocate & Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization. Kelley is the general manager at IDEO and the author of several books on innovation. In this book, Kelley shows us how all those diverse educations at IDEO come together to springboard creativity and innovation for their clients. He presents ten kinds of personas that have a specific viewpoints for addressing the process of innovation.

“The Ten Faces of Innovation is about how people and teams put into practice methods and techniques that infuse enterprises with a continuous spirit of creative evolution.” ~Tom Kelley

Kelley divides the personas into three subsets, Learning Personas, Organizing Personas, and Building Personas. He  does make it clear that these personas are not limited to a specific kind of person, that anyone can adopt a particular viewpoint  (or several) to push an idea forward. These personas work to combat the negativity of the Devil’s Advocate viewpoint, the stance that excuses idea bashing by “side-stepping individual responsibility for the verbal attack” and “torching” a fledgling concept before it can be fully realized.

At IDEO, while there are hierarchies of management, there appears to be a common respect for all manner of abilities. They are perfecting the process of innovation beginning with a creative idea and ending with a viable product. As an artist who truly loves the journey of creating art, I am excited to learn about the Ten Faces of Innovation and how to use them to prompt other to think creatively.

Creative Entrepreneurs and the Artisanal Movement

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The last twenty years have ushered in a wave of entrepreneurship focused on the creative industries. Advances in technology and the Internet have affected almost every aspect of today’s culture. Before the internet, social media, and the ubiquitousness of the smartphone, creative entrepreneurs brought attention to their products through word of mouth and traditional forms of advertising, such as print and television. Creative entrepreneurs are cutting out these traditional “middle men” to access their consumers directly through technology such as Instagram, facebook, and online handmade sites such as etsy.com.

Creative entrepreneurs differ from a more traditional entrepreneur in the sense that they invest in their own intellectual capital or that of others, rather than a business concept or idea. Creative entrepreneurs are visual artists, crafters, and creators of handmade goods, which covers anything from artisanal cheese and hand-dyed yarn to jewelry and leather bags. There is a growing population of creative entrepreneurs who also call themselves “makers.” In essence, makers are artisans who craft things by hand, usually with high-quality materials and a skilled level of workmanship. Two hundred years ago, every town had a baker, a clock-maker, a seamstress, and other workers who made items by hand to sell to their local market. Today, this revival of handmade items is referred to as the Artisanal Movement. This movement, and the handmade products produced and sold within, fall under the umbrella of what is internationally considered the creative industries. This broad term is still being defined, and is often disputed as to what “creative” endeavors should be included in the definition.

In 1998, the British Council released a report aimed at measuring the value of the creative industries, because “there was evidence that the skills and work styles of the creative sector were beginning to impact on other areas of the economy, especially in the use of digital technologies” (Newbigin, 2014). What made this report stand out was when the 2001 follow-up “revealed that this arbitrarily defined creative sector was generating jobs at twice the underlying rate of the UK economy as a whole” (Newbigin, 2014). Today, almost every government in the world is researching the economic impact of the creative industries in their country. The study by the British Council concludes that small businesses “at the cutting edge of creativity, may not only be of growing economic significance, but in some sense, are a harbinger of a whole new economic order “ (Newbigin, 2014).

At first, one might think of movies, theater, or pop music as the main areas for growth in the creative industries. But, in fact, the growth of the creative economy is rooted in a return to the creative entrepreneur as artisan. This is a direct result of consumer demands and relatively low job security in the last couple of decades. Consumers have turned their interest away from corporate giants and are focusing their purchases on the small business. Cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken has defined this growing sector of consumers and their preferences in his blog “The artisanal movement, and ten things that define it.

In essence, this new breed of consumer desires products that are handmade, local, and made in small batches, all natural or simplified, and stripped of corporate branding. However, the product is personalized by the maker, who is believed to be more transparent and authentic than the corporate counterpoint. In fact, the consumer’s belief in these principles creates a feeling of connoisseurship to the product (McCracken, 2006).

Consumers of the artisanal movement want a personal story from the products they buy. They want to know where it comes from, who made it, how and why it was made, and to feel that their purchase financially supports the person behind the story they are buying.

A visit to your local farmers market will reveal both the creative entrepreneur and the artisanal consumer in their habitat. Here you will find farmers selling local beef, jewelry makers and crafters, artisan cheeses, small batch baked goods, and even a local string band panning their latest self-made album. These artisans and makers are all creative entrepreneurs, and their “micro-businesses” have websites, social media presence, branding, and even marketing tactics. Loyal customers “follow” their favorite vendors on social media and make a point to attend the farmers market to support local, handmade goods. Every Saturday they arrive to buy eggs from a neighbor’s farm, a handmade gift for their friend’s birthday, or fresh cut flowers for their dinner party.

As the artisanal movement becomes more prevalent, it seems everyone is making and selling crafted goods. Handmade market places such as etsy.com have exploded, enabling artists, craftsmen, and even stay at home moms to own and operate a small business.  And yet, some of the well-known challenges of small business can utterly overwhelm a micro-business, which is too small to be equipped with ceos, marketing professionals, or financial consultants. In particular, these micro businesses have trouble with the demands of growth, internet marketing, copycats, and competition. So, how does a small batch, local, handmade creative entrepreneur compete in a global, corporate world? The answer to this question is still unraveling.

The artisanal movement is a return to connection through consumerism, and creative entrepreneurs have captured the attention of a new kind of consumer.  This surprising evolution in demand has placed corporations in a challenging position. In Grant McCracken’s (2017) blog about the cultural expansion of the artisanal movement, he explains, “that [the] object on the shelf of Wal-mart doesn’t have a story. It was made by a stranger in a factory in Chengdu, shipped across an ocean, and banged around in the distribution system until it just happened to roll to a stop here on a shelf. It doesn’t mean very much because capitalism was so busy giving it value, it forgot to give it meaning.”

Creative entrepreneurs are in a powerful position to essentially change the marketplace. Corporations are not blind to this power. Because micro-businesses lack substantial resources, they are creating innovative ways to reach their consumers through social media and new marketing ideas. More and more, corporations are becoming interested in fostering these small businesses to gain insight about the changing market, and to examine the creativity and innovation the micro-businesses are utilizing to attract a growing consumer population. Large businesses are scrutinizing how creative entrepreneurs are using technology (such as social media) and community (such as farmers markets) to access consumers who are looking for meaning in their purchasing habits. Perhaps an alliance between the corporation’s resources, and the creative entrepreneur’s innovation will be the answer to how micro-businesses can compete in a global market. As the artisanal movement expands, the challenge for creative entrepreneurs will be how to create opportunities to grow and compete in this internet-savvy, world market without losing their beloved artisanal qualities.

References

McCracken, Grant (2017). The Artisanal Economies, Entry # 1: The Sofi interview. Retrieved from http://cultureby.com/2017/04/the-artisanal-economies-entry-1-the-sofi-interview.html

McCracken, Grant (2006). The artisanal movement, and 10 things that define it. Retrieved from http://cultureby.com/2006/11/the_artisanal_m.html

Newbigin, John (2014). What is the Creative Economy?  British Council. Retrieved from https://creativeconomy.britishcouncil.org/guide/what-creative-economy/