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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19 Responses

  1. Larkin April 19, 2009 / 10:53 am
    David, often the problem with youth generated ideas is in fact, the youth. A trolley to connect the Cannery with Oregon is NOT going to make Dayton desirable. A tiny specific idea on the list next to Grow Downtown Dayton? The youth don’t have the life experience, nor do they see the broader picture outside what constitutes their own universe. (This is one of the predominant reasons why the Dayton Daily News is such an awful paper, btw.) I’d like to see a Creative Summit for people age 40 to 70, a better balance of pragmatism and idealism might emerge from that. 

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  2. David Esrati April 19, 2009 / 11:01 am

    @Larkin- the trolly wasn’t connected to the Wayne Ave corridor project- the Wayne Ave corridor was “Be more interesting, colorful and lively- will-lit walkway along Wayne between 3rd and 5th. Work with businesses to clean up and provide unique options.”

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  3. Gary April 19, 2009 / 12:02 pm
    Sorry I couldn’t attend. I have a youth of my own that taps all of my creativity. Surely all we have to ask ourselves is this; “Will this project attract quality people to Dayton?” If the answer is “Yes” then we can ask “How many?” and “What is the cost?”
    If the answer is “No” then why even repeat the question?
    Start with small things that have maximum impact at minimum cost. This creates activity. Activity will justify any additional expenditure. Activity will create direction and leaders will rise out of activity. If you want lots of leaders we need to create activity and lots of it!

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  4. David Esrati April 19, 2009 / 12:18 pm

    @Gary: This is Dayton- logic not allowed. I agree with your thinking. Greatest good, fastest action and can we fund it are key questions.

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  5. A different Jeff April 19, 2009 / 12:33 pm
    I was part of the breakout where the Wayne Ave. Corridor was suggested, and it was actually a very well thought-out, clear suggestion that the breakout was able to clarify and delineate.  The originator of the idea even presented it as a continuum of immediate simple changes (lighting around the train overpass) to a long-term ideal (creating a combination of shops, housing, and parking that would combine all three areas (cannery, oregon, corridor) into a cohesive hub for Dayton nightlife (the overall topic of the breakout was the ‘Dayton Scene,’ and most other discussion was about nightlife).

    I think part of the difficulty was in trying to summarize the idea into a few sentences.

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  6. Jeff April 19, 2009 / 1:09 pm
    One comment about “young creative”.  Young in this case means young adults in their 20s and 30s, just out of college and early in their careers.  Perhaps not so much youth (which I would define more as people still in high school or college).

    The “creative” label comes from Florida’s theories, and is really another way or spin on Peter Druckers concept of knowlege worker or Robert Reichs’ “Symbolic Analysts”, or the generic term “young professional”.  The former RAND Corporation analyst, Herman Kahn, later of the Hudson Institute, called them the “New Class” (borrowing the term from Djilas).   David Brooks’ Bourgouis Bohemians (BoBo) is a related concept.

    All of these are various ways of looking at or labling a sociological or socioeconomic phenomenon, and most of these are not necessarily age-specific.  The age part becomes important due issues of outmigration of the young adult age-cohort of this group, and failure to attract in-migration.

    The direct economic effect is that companies needing this type of person will have difficulties recruiting early career and entry-level people.  And the demographic effect (which has economic consequences) is a decline in birthrate as the young adult cohort are in their prime childbearing years.  This means an ongoing long term population decline, as well as a reduced market for housing, furniture, consumer durables and things as mundane as clothing, since there will be fewer new families, fewer children, and fewer new single households (thanks to Bruce Kettele  for pointing this out somewhere).

    That is why the issue of the disappearance of young adults is of concern and why there is such strong interest in retaining and attracting these people.

    So I guess I am defending the generational bias a bit.

    Otherwise, interesting analyses and critique of the process.  This sounds like what EDAW used to program Riverscape (including the colored dot exercise, but without the electronic voting).  Riverscape is actually a good example of a plan having the missing things you noted, David, i.e. funding and a champion.

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  7. David Esrati April 19, 2009 / 1:12 pm

    @A different Jeff- of the four tasks- The Wayne avenue project is the only one that I think might get traction- however it doesn’t impact the whole region quite the way it should.
    I had a complete presentation on the Free Bicycle Share program with me- but the way the facilitators ran our group- and assigned a task- it didn’t make it to the finals. We had the central communications hub in the running- but- a lot of groups had the same idea- so it became number 2.

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  8. Matt April 19, 2009 / 5:17 pm
    David,

    Thanks for your recap. I took a different approach at my site because my frustration over wasted conversation discussing novel ideas when they actually showed how ignorant some people are.  Many ideas that were suggested are already being implement, albeit most of them are implemented poorly.

    I, too, was frustrated by the representation of the ideas at the voting session. I also noted the misrepresentation of the apprentice idea. People were led to believe we needed an apprenticeship program and clearly by the description it was about a single competition. I think Buy Local would have rated higher if more similar items were combined and if all items were presented accurately.

    I was also frustrated that it seemed like ours wasn’t the only breakout session where people didn’t come up with concrete ideas. It was more like themes emerged, not necessarily projects that could get done in a year. What I wonder if whether all the breakouts had the exact same three questions. I’m not sure the breakouts themselves met the descriptions that were in the promotional literature. And I think there wasn’t enough explanation tying the questions to the particular subjects.
    What I’d also like to know is how the computer software accounted for the dropping numbers throughout the afternoon. Scores surely would have been different if everyone had stayed.

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  9. Matt April 19, 2009 / 5:20 pm
    Sorry for the bad grammar! i should have read my post before submitting it! :)

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  10. Frank Coleman April 19, 2009 / 6:34 pm
    I agree, Matt.  I noticed that a lot of the initiatives mentioned all already taking place in Dayton.  It was like the updayton organizers emerged from a black hole somewhere- unaware of the activities already taking place in the city!

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  11. David Esrati April 19, 2009 / 7:13 pm
    I neglected to bring the point about the number of people dropping as the voting droned on. To evaluate that many options, I’m not sure we had enough voters to make it statistically significant. It’s good to hear that other breakout sessions also were lacking in focus- so at least we know where things went south.
    I highly recommend Matt’s post for more info: http://www.lifeindayton.com/its_great_n_dayton/2009/04/a-few-surprises-at-the-updayton-summit.html

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  12. Lisa Helm April 20, 2009 / 9:34 am
    We have been working on cleaning up the Wayne Ave corridor for a year now by starting Garden Station, an urban art park and community garden. :)
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/DowntownGarden

    We will be featuring concerts, movies, bonfires, picnics, the really really free market, art exhibits, green living workshops, murals, community gardening, and more this year!
    Garden Station is completely accomplished by volunteers and donations so if you would like to help revitalize this corner of downtown Dayton please contact us!

    http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#/group.php?gid=14574773660&ref=nf
    http://www.myspace.com/gardenstation
    http://www.daytoncircus.org
    [email protected]
    937-610-3845

    We are kicking off the season by hosting Gem City Jam this upcoming weekend!
    http://www.myspace.com/gemcityjam
    http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/event.php?eid=56046127814
    http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/group.php?gid=15790339610

    Gem City Jam is a fund raiser for Glen Helen Nature Reserve
    featuring two days of Music, Art, Film and Skateboarding including over 20 bands on two stages.

    http://www.ticketcenterstage.com/gcj

    We hope that Garden Station can be a true community building project and would love to see you all there! :)
    Lisa Helm, Garden Station Co-Manager

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  13. David Lauri April 20, 2009 / 11:13 am
    Good work, Lisa!

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  14. Larkin April 20, 2009 / 3:33 pm
    With all respect to Lisa and the people putting forth hard work and sweat equity at “Garden Station” (which I pass four times a day taking my child to and from school) this is not the kind of project that is going to help revitalize the economic base for Dayton. 

    I moved here from a town in Montana that was chock full of galleries and fine restaurants but other than the railroad had no real industry to support it. Tourism, sure, great for three months of the year. One railroad folded in 1986 and nearly brought the town to its knees. It was only with the arrival of a second railroad in 1990 that allowed the town to survive.

    We need nuts and bolts here people. Free bikes and garden spaces and entertainment corridors are wonderful, but they’re the trim pieces, not the core. What Dayton really needs is to change its self-image and the perception that it is a dangerous place. I would suggest a massive overhaul of the local media who all bear much of the responsibility for Dayton’s undeserved reputation. They ought to be ashamed of themselves. 

    We need clean industry. We need commerce. We need some deep pockets to sustain these enterprises while they gain a foothold.  We need people to repopulate this city. (Realtors could help promote Dayton, but instead they want to steer you to the suburbs, because that’s where they live, because they are afraid. These are the ambassadors for our city?)

    While projects like Garden Station certainly add to the positive quality of life in this town, we need to find a way to attract companies and JOBS to Dayton, we need to enforce residency requirements for City of Dayton employees, we need to celebrate Dayton Public Schools achievements and bring the whole district up to the same standards that apply to the jewels in that crown. We need to develop a sense of pride in our town and affection for our community.

    Get cracking. :-)

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  15. J.R.Erwin.CEO April 21, 2009 / 8:18 am
    Everybody should Goggle…Dream Sports Arenas…!!   Larkin has the answer to development..!  We ned development that will attract…corporations…and people…!  We need economic development that caters to the people and..NOT..the pockets of the ~good old`e boys..!  For the last few months…I`ve proposed a sports/business/industry  development that would create a perfect project ( I have shown David ) that would $impact$…every person & business in the area. (all year around)    My project..just gets…ignored by the ~powers…in office..!!!   I would like to meet with the ~young minds in the area and get thier …ideas..!

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  16. tg April 23, 2009 / 3:05 pm
    Could the process have been better, yes.  I would have loved to have seen more interaction.  Mostly I’m disappointed that the opportunity hear what 200 young creatives think about their region was deemed unimportant by the vast majority of the region’s elected officials.  Remember that the next election!

    And yes, jobs are critical.  But times have changed.  Today’s young professionals go where they want to live and then find a job.  They’re looking for a sense of place.   Those of us who are older than 40 are used to finding a job and living wherever that jobs takes us. 

    Quality of PLACE is critical to this demographic.  They want a street scene, want to be able to run into other professionals their age – but with much cultural diversity – so they can bounce ideas off each other.  They don’t like group think, don’t like cookie cutter, and many want an urban experience.

    So while the 40+ cohort may think things like connecting entertainment venues with well lit, attractive walkways or urban gardens or buying local is insignificant – these are exactly the things this group is looking for.  Richard Florida’s research shows that if someone hasn’t left an area by the time they are 31, they will likely stay there for life.  It is critical that we engage college grads right off the bat and get them involved in their community so they don’t leave. 
    As Scott Murphy likes to say, every college graduate that leaves this region is a lost economic opportunity.  If we have the talented creative workforce, companies will come to us. 

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