This month marks International Creativity Month, where creative communities, people and organizations all around the world celebrate the ingenuity of human imagination.
Reflecting on Creative New Jersey’s past year, which saw Calls to Collaboration in Atlantic City and the Skylands region in northwestern New Jersey, along with programs involving NJ Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NJVOAD) and NJ Health Initiatives’ Culture of Health grantees, as well as the start of our work in Hammonton, Camden and Jersey City, we want to share the “Top 5” lessons we’ve learned about cultivating the space for creativity, creative thinking and collaboration.
The power of an introduction can have far reaching ripple effects and spark creative ideas and collaborations when the conditions are right. We recently saw the briefest of introductions spark a new collaboration in Atlantic City between R.E.P.E.N.T. (Recidivism Prevention Through Entrepreneurial Training) and the Noyes Arts Garage Stockton University. In an impromptu conversation I had with Marté King, Founder of R.E.P.E.N.T., at an event held by our colleagues at Free Press hosted by the Arts Garage, I learned R.E.P.E.N.T. was looking for space for a regular open mic night which would be coupled with entrepreneurial training for its members.
I took the opportunity to introduce Marté King and Michael Cagno (Noyes Arts Garage) and shared why I thought they should know each other: I know that the Arts Garage actively works to grow into a community hub for creative expression. It seemed to me that the two organizations might benefit from a creative collaboration.
Within a few minutes, Marté and Michael decided to set up a meeting at the beginning of January. I was inspired by how quickly, organically and seamlessly the collaboration came together and incredibly excited to hear that the inaugural open mic event is set for January 30th. R.E.P.E.N.T. members will get to share their work in a creative setting and speak with the Arts Garage Artists about running their own creative businesses.
“Coaching” means coaching, not dictating. Allowing the person or organization you are coaching to take ownership of whatever project or goal they are pursuing is a key component to sparking creative thinking. Equally important is the ability, as the coach, to make the space for adaptations suggested by your mentee. It can be tempting to want to keep people from “straying from the path” of whatever process you are coaching them on, but that can stifle not only creativity but also dynamic problem-solving on the part of your mentee.
The Atlantic City Youth Council, formed during the Creative Atlantic City Call to Collaboration in February 2015, wanted to replicate the Creative AC process for the youth of Atlantic City. The charge was led by a cross-sector group of educators, social service organizations, citizens and community leaders. Creative New Jersey was delighted to help coach the group on the Call to Collaboration process we utilize. On October 24th, 2015, the S.A.Y.i.t. AC (Student Advocates Youth Interest Talks) Call to Collaboration was launched, with adaptations that aimed to best support the needs of young people ranging in age from 15 to 21 years of age. Among the adaptations the group introduced into the process were the role of adults in the room (as recorders and connectors to help move ideas forward, not as speakers or experts) and the way information was recorded (to ensure the ideas discussed were captured).
Abundance thinking allows connections and trust to be built between parties. When operating from a mindset that you might have knowledge, experience, connections, in-kind or financial resources to help other people be successful at their work – and to be willing to share that freely – builds social capital for “givers” that can determine long term success.
Wharton Business School professor Adam Grant’s book Give and Take examines the data that shows that many givers end up being the most successful people. Do givers get burned sometimes? Sure they do, and Grant explains in his book more about what differentiates successful givers from givers that do so to their own detriment.
Creative New Jersey’s communities are encouraged to participate in giving behavior and we’ve seen several examples of cross-sector sharing – be it resources, referrals, knowledge or contacts. We’ve seen organizations move from protecting their programming to recommending each other’s services. We at Creative New Jersey continuously share contacts and knowledge of opportunities with people and organizations we encounter who are doing good work around the state – all of whom have reciprocated or “paid it forward” with whom they meet and work. The collaboration and relationships forged through giving have pushed forward creative partnerships in all these cases.
2. Be honest about what is needed.
There are times when we all want to take on a project that is exciting, that propels us forward, that seems to achieve a bucket list goal. Sometimes we’re willing to overlook the fact that the alignment of what we do and what a colleague, partner, or community needs isn’t totally in sync.
Digging deeper, asking questions, and being honest about what we are hearing and seeing – about what is actually needed – helps to open up thinking and engage creative problem-solving. The key to real creative problem-solving is when both parties continue the conversation, helping to brainstorm the appropriate next steps and identify the right contacts, methods or research to help inform that process. This goes back to giving, and to introductions and coaching: by being honest about what is needed, drilling down and having frank conversations, people, organizations and communities will benefit from smart strategies, wise investment, and lots of good will.
1. Let it Launch.
When the introduction takes off, when your team or community or mentee takes ownership and introduces adaptations, when you’ve given freely and had honest conversations about what is the most useful next step – let “it” launch.
When the goal is to cultivate creative thinking and problem-solving, when you’ve worked to provide ideal conditions for that to take place, the best thing you can do is let the people, projects, and relationships race on down the road toward new collaborations and innovation.
Creative New Jersey is fortunate to see this process happen regularly in the community host teams who are the driving engines behind the planning of the Calls to Collaboration, and then again at the Calls to Collaboration as community networks are woven tighter, dialogue on issues of importance to the community are advanced, and people, as CNJ’s Director Elizabeth Murphy says, step into their own leadership.
By practicing these five things we give ourselves the ability to seize creative and collaborative opportunities when they come our way and allow us to capitalize on human ingenuity and imagination to make our state – and our world – better.
Kacy O’Brien is the Program Manager at Creative New Jersey, a statewide initiative dedicated to fostering creativity, innovation, and sustainability by empowering cross-sector partnerships in commerce, education, philanthropy, government, and culture, in order to ensure dynamic communities and a thriving economy.
Number 5 image: Malaysian-based designer Mei Linn Chan created this handmade type series out of cut leaves.
Number 4 image: Stacey Brunner Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)