Young Creative Summit: being young, doesn’t make you creative

I work in advertising, a creative industry. If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that age has nothing to do with being creative. Some people have creativity, or the ability to coax great things out of others, most don’t.

Steve Jobs is creative. He’s over 40 (54 right now), and has been a driving force in changing the world by making technology user friendly. He’s been doing it a long time- he started Apple when he was 21. He has been known to be mercurial, temperamental, egomaniacal, and brilliant. He has built, and then re-built Apple into a cradle of creativity, a company that “Thinks different,” and has followers who believe in Apple- the cult of Apple if you will- to the point that a recent article in Business Week about Mac vs PC- the response was likened to a holy war.

I bring up Steve Jobs and Apple, because what we were trying to do yesterday- was nothing different than what Apple has done to differentiate Apple from the rest of the computer industry: we wanted to make Dayton an object of desire. A first choice, a premium choice, a choice you don’t have to make excuses for. By that standard- I believe, the process failed.

I have to be clear on this, because of thin skins and tender egos, the people didn’t fail. In fact- the people who attended this were an amazing group of caring, interested, motivated and sincere independent thinkers. It was the process that failed.

The process

The Young Creative Summit Opening Session
The Young Creative summit kickoff

We started out with a bit of rah-rah. Call and response. A reading of John Lennon lyrics.Thanking the sponsors. A brief recap of what got us together and what the plan was.

The Breakout Session
The breakout session

Then, off to “breakout” rooms- with white butcher paper on the walls, markers and facilitators. My group was “Making a Difference” and may have been facilitated differently than others. After our around the room introductions, where it became clear that many of the people were representing sponsor organizations- or their employers, came three questions (from memory- not exact wording):

  1. What do you think you can accomplish in one year to transform Dayton?
  2. What are the barriers to that?
  3. How will you overcome them- or what is the solution?

The process was scarily similar to what we did in the CitiPlan 20/20. After each question, we went around and described a bit about our answers.

Then we were to pick the “top answers” to rate with color coded dots. Two people, pre-selected, were going to present our top three ideas to the group in the “Town Hall.”

Off to lunch, where there were sponsor tables – a “resource fair” where everyone from the Girl Scouts to the Dayton Gay Men’s Choir were at tables. This was the first chance to sit down- since the main room, and the breakout rooms were all standing rooms. A little networking, the news media was there doing interviews, and politicians and “leaders” started showing up- ready for the big “town hall” event, where they were going to “listen to the creative young people.”

Town Hall was really the breaking point. Entering the room- we were handed a remote voting device and a list of 32 ideas that had been generated- with brief one sentence descriptions- for most. It took almost an extra half hour to get people up from lunch to the main room. The MC recognized the electeds in attendance-  then the representatives of each breakout gave a brief description of their ideas- and then the voting process began. The people in charge had tried to combine some of the similar ideas- but we still found ourselves voting on things that seemed very similar.

The system was slow and tedious- and confusing at first. The ideas would be presented two at a time- with a yes/no question. “Is Dayton Apprentice” (like the Trump show- but, the MC kept saying Dayton Apprentice-ship) “more important than Buy Local Campaign” and then would flip the two and ask the same thing- and then compare it to something else. After a while the vote tally screen stopped saying what round we were in-  the actual number of votes was well over 150 and ended an hour late. People were getting very restless- you could feel the energy draining.

The Results of the Young Creative Summit
The results on a little screen.

In the end, the top four projects were announced. After all the voting, it would have been hard to guess what they would be.

  1. Community programs for youth
  2. Central communication hub
  3. Grow downtown Dayton
  4. Wayne Avenue Corridor (the section between The Cannery and the Oregon District) to connect the two arts/entertainment hubs.

Then we were asked to sign up for the projects, which we will start working on in two weeks. End of summit- except for a pub crawl and discounts at nearby restaurants.

Where the process failed

This is my opinion, and I could be wrong, but, I think that with a few tweaks, the process would have been much improved. Much of my frustration came from two areas:

  1. The ideation stage wasn’t given specific goals: i.e., what can we accomplish in one year that will have a major, visible impact on making Dayton a desirable place as members of the “young creatives.” It didn’t require us to identify ways to fund the projects either. Without having a funding strategy, almost any idea is rendered useless.
  2. Guidance was needed in advance to what the evaluation process would be. On the Apprentice the fundamental mistake of most team efforts is not fully understanding the grading system- and optimizing effort to achieve it. Some tasks are subjective (customer satisfaction), some quantitative (dollars raised) and how you are to be graded should be the guiding principle of your strategy and tactics. In the summit’s case- we should have been tasked to come up with a very sexy program title with a one sentence benefit to assist in the voting. Example: Free Bicycle System: To put Dayton on the leading edge of the green multi-modal transportation movement as a salute to the Wright Brothers and to compliment our rare electric trolley system. This would have helped make the voting system cleaner- since some ideas clearly didn’t win because of bad names like “Countywide Job Fair Fun” which got drubbed every time.

Even if the above two processes were implemented- there is still one gaping void.

Champions

To roughly quote Ross Perot again- (I quoted him in the pre-summit post) “Anytime anything is being accomplished it’s by a monomaniac on a mission.” Totally lacking in the process were the champions, visionaries, leading proponents of an idea. We took a room full of energy and let it go. We failed to identify our champions, who we would gravitate to, to follow into battle, to push the boundaries of our imagination, our comfort zones and what we believe is possible.

Take the passion out of the process and you are left with bland, generic solutions.

It’s that passion for great design, the ease of use, the going into uncharted waters is what gets Steve Jobs the results at Apple. In Steve’s Wikipedia entry, he talks about what motivates his vision:

There’s an old Wayne Gretzky quote that I love. ‘I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.’ And we’ve always tried to do that at Apple. Since the very very beginning. And we always will.”

The process yesterday did little to identify our champions, or sell ideas on the basis of taking Dayton to a vision of the future. Maybe in two weeks, we’ll see champions step forward, but even then, the question of funding/execution timelines could be propelling us in the wrong directions.

For example- project three: “Grow downtown Dayton”- as if this hasn’t been tried before, by well funded groups. Without a clear definition of what “grow” means in this case, we’re on a wild goose chase. And, how do some of the other ideas fit into this- like “downtown student housing” – “Connect Entertainment Pockets” (with a trolley system- shouldn’t Trolley have been in the voting title) and the Wayne Ave Corridor also fits into this overall grouping.

Given a do over, with the same group of people, we might have better/differnt results. I’m still going to do my part to help- having signed up for the youth programs project (this is the basis of Sportsplex and other ideas I’ve had in the past).

What are your thoughts?

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