Innovating Through Artistry

Author Archive

Who Gets to be an Artist or A Designer?

In Author: Tommy Dawin, Creativity and Innovation, Emotional Intelligence, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS on October 28, 2009 at 9:54 pm

Recently re-reading Lisa Canning’s wonderful piece “Innovating through Artistry” I am reminded of a surprising challenge we face in promoting the value of art and artists. We work hard to demonstrate our value in a world that is hard skilled, bottom line, and ROI driven. We take the challenge to cross the border into the land of business, policy, and technology. And, yet, I wonder how hard we make it for ourselves in the ways we patrol our own borders and how easily we welcome others into our midst as fellow artists and designers.
One of the possibilities that inspires me most is teaching as many people as possible (and especially our kids) to be artistically and creatively adept, able to learn the skills and mindsets that characterize the “creative class.” Following the inspiration of local artists to democratize the arts and designers who promote the spread of “design thinking,” I have created curriculum and programs that teach the processes of art and design to “non” artists and designers, to give them a very powerful platform from which to change the world.
In the process I almost inevitably come against the question of who gets to be an artist or a designer. When I first started talking about teaching design to community members as a way to engage community challenges, some of the biggest resistance came not from business or community leaders but from some professional and academic artists and designers who I approached as potential partners. They expressed concern that I was trivializing or dumbing down their art and discipline by implying that anyone can be an artist or designer. Or, that if we share the knowledge too easily, it will be taken from us and that we will no longer be needed. Or, that one only becomes a “real” artist or designer after years of training and practice.
I struggle with this question, because there is an important distinction between someone with years of formal training and professional experience and someone who is an amateur. And, yet, we are all artists and designers by virtue of being human, and the more we cultivate and spread that capability and sense for the world, the better off we are.
So, who gets to be an artist or a designer?

Lemonade Stands and Teaching Our Kids to be Entrepreneurial

In Author: Tommy Dawin, Emotional Intelligence, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS, Entrepreneurial Tool Box, Outside Your Comfort Zone, Risk, The Idea on August 18, 2009 at 6:16 am

Summertime is the season for lemonade stands, especially when it’s hot outside. In my neighborhood they sprout like pink and yellow flowers, advertise with markers on neon poster-board signs. Lately, they have even been diversifying their offerings. In addition to the usual varieties of lemonade, I’ve noticed one stand selling brownies and cookies, while another was selling dog biscuits (showing some astute marketing research since in our neighborhood there are a great number of people are out walking dogs).

Given my interest in how to cultivate and support entrepreneurs, I can’t help but wonder how these lemonade stands are seeds for the next generation of entrepreneurs. In an article in Inc. Magazine two years ago, George Gendron made the point that “kids with passion are our next great entrepreneurs.”* Lemonade stands are a great beginning for teaching our kids to be entrepreneurial, and for a great many reasons our kids will benefit. So, by teaching our kids to be entrepreneurial, what are we teaching them?

1) A habit of looking for and an ability to recognize opportunities, especially the ability to reframe challenges as opportunities. Opportunities emerge from the right people coming together in the right situation with enough resources to make something happen. In the process of learning how to do this, our kids will also learn to be more open minded and empathic, and will cultivate the habit of understanding others.

2) The know-how to do something with those opportunities when they are identified or created. Imagine the benefit to our kids if they learn how to use their knowledge to create solutions to problems that matter or bring meaning to peoples’ lives, pull together the necessary people and resources, and then build a plan for actually making it happen.

3) This third element is the most intangible and the most important—having the courage and willingness to act. What ultimately distinguishes an entrepreneur (in any realm) is that they are the ones who step up and say “I’ll do it.” This will teach our kids that taking on challenges doesn’t mean they should not be scared or act as if failure is not a possibility. It means that despite all this, they are willing to take the chance to start something and to see it through.

Whether our kids ever start businesses, they will start and sustain many ventures and undertakings during their lives. And, the willingness to squarely face a challenge which is at the heart of entrepreneurship will be ever more important as they inherit the world we have created.

*Gendron’s article is at

The Impending Demise of the University

In Author: Tommy Dawin, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS, Intellectual Entrepreneurship on July 2, 2009 at 12:19 am

You may have seen Don Tapscott’s recent article about the future of the University:

Tapscott paints a very compelling picture of the radical changes coming in higher education, probably much sooner than most anticipate.

The article was forwarded to me by Rick Cherwitz founder and director of the Intellectual Entrepreneurship (IE) consortium. Rick’s note on the article is worth passing on:

“As you know, I agree that we need a new model of pedagogy–one that
involves more than simply implementing new uses of technology, as Tapscott
suggests. Universities (as well as K-12) are broken in a more fundamental
way. While biased, I think we need organic, student-centered, problem-oriented, entrepreneurial approaches to learning. Tapscott is on the mark in explaining why universities are so slow to change. His approach resonates with the IE platform for education.”

In view of Tapscott’s observations, you might find interesting an article
on IE that was just published this week.

Gary Beckman and Richard Cherwitz, Richard, “Intellectual
Entrepreneurship: An Authentic Foundation for Higher Education Reform,”
Planning for Higher Education, 37:4 (July-September, 2009), 27-36.

No Idea Left Behind—The Preservative Power of Boxes

In Creativity and Innovation, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS, Outside Your Comfort Zone on June 6, 2009 at 4:36 pm

Think outside the box.
We all know that our intellectual boxes can limit us. They can eliminate options, make us overly cautious, and generally just get in the way of innovation and creativity. Eventually, they can breed a “silo mentality,” an afflictive state of mind that strikes at the very moment we most need to come up with new solutions to pressing problems.
And yet at the same time, we love boxes. You know this if you have ever experienced the Container Store. The Container Store sells containers of all shapes and varieties, designed to solve all varieties of organizational problems. The Container Store also sells something much more important. Walking through the store discovering possibilities it becomes clear that the Container Store actually sells hope–hope that you can actually get your stuff organized and easily accessible, even if for just a day or two.
And, it turns out that much of what we need to keep in our containers and boxes is stuff that we’re not sure what to do with, but we think might be useful at some point in the future. We do the same thing with ideas and discoveries, relying on our intellectual boxes, disciplines and traditions, to keep ideas viable, even when they don’t have any direct or obvious application.
Early on teaching at the University of Texas I worked with a graduate student who studied medieval monastic texts—treatises, guides, handbooks, poetry, and devotionals. This graduate student was running the real risk of becoming a living caricature of the academic who studies something obscure and useless. That is until I met a senior manager at Dell Corporation who was very interested in creating retreats for mid and upper level managers to help them revitalize themselves and their careers. I helped this manager at Dell connect with faculty who did research on management and organizational change. I also connected the manager with this graduate student. And, as it turned out, the graduate student ended up being a key resource, precisely because of their intimate knowledge of how to do a retreat, the long term transformative power of a retreat, and why retreats started in the first place.
Go to any design house, and you will almost certainly find a “bone pile.” The bone pile is the place where all the ideas that don’t work for now get collected with the assumption that they may well help solve a future problem. Designers, like all smart creative folks (and kids), do not like to throw anything away, because they never know what may prove to be useful later. Some design houses even label and categorize their not-yet-useful ideas and designs to make it easier to find them when the time comes.
We often don’t know which ideas are before their time, after their time, or just haven’t found their time. If used well, our intellectual boxes help us maintain ideas while we find new ways to use them. This means that we need to constantly ask ourselves how else we can better use our boxes and what’s in them. What new configurations of boxes (talents, disciplines, experiences, historical perspective) can we create to effectively respond to challenges as they emerge? How can we better network our boxes to become more proficient at moving among them? When our boxes limit us, it is seldom because of the boxes themselves. It is usually because we have become too comfortable and have stopped using our imagination.

Entrepreneurial Courage

In Author: Tommy Dawin, Emotional Intelligence, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS, Risk on May 1, 2009 at 5:30 pm

I find myself talking more and more these days to groups about social entrepreneurship, especially to non-profit and community organizations. This makes a lot of sense in these difficult times, because entrepreneurship as an idea and a practice is generative, pragmatic, and hopeful.
I also find myself revisiting Franklin Roosevelt’s canonical line from his first inaugural address that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. It’s only recently, though, that I went back and read the entire address and discovered that Roosevelt actually defines what fear is. In fact, his definition of fear is quite useful for thinking about entrepreneurship:
“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Fear is to be feared, in other words, because it makes us hesitate (or even paralyzes us), doubt ourselves, stop taking care of each other, and stop thinking and creating. And, it has this power when we are unable (or unwilling) to name or fully think through tough situations that confront us.
In terms of entrepreneurship, fear stops us from being entrepreneurial or can set in when we stop being entrepreneurial. To engage our biggest challenges in an entrepreneurial way, what matters first is not funding, or infrastructure, or even good ideas. What matters first is mustering and sustaining the courage to come up with the good ideas, scratch for the resources, and build the infrastructure to make new ideas possible.
Indeed, in all my years teaching and consulting on entrepreneurship, I have found that my most important role has been to help my clients and students sustain their courage, and stay accountable to their own best ideas. All the rest, building a team, developing a venture plan, making an idea a reality, only happens because someone pushes through the fear and uncertainty that inevitably goes with new ventures or difficult moments.
So, what does entrepreneurial courage mean in practice?
First, it doesn’t mean lack of fear. We’ve all heard some version of the saying that bravery isn’t not being afraid; it’s being afraid and acting anyway. Same with entrepreneurial courage. Viewed positively, fear (of failure, of looking like an idiot, of running out of money) creates an opportunity for entrepreneurial courage.
Entrepreneurial courage requires us to manage the tensions that arise when we work with others who have different viewpoints and different ideas, as we must.
It requires us to become adept at experimenting with new ideas and being willing to fail so that we can learn quickly what doesn’t work and get to what will work.
It requires us to be unapologetically pragmatic and not let perfect be the enemy of the good and done.
It requires us to constantly fend off cynicism and skepticism about situations we face and the people we face them with.
It requires us to humbly seek and listen to the ideas of those who may not have official expertise or “power” to change things, but may simply have the authority of lived experience and the power of intimate connection to situations and people.
Finally, and this may be the most entrepreneurially courageous act of all, it requires us to identify and focus on what is good and workable in a situation and the personal and material resources we can bring to bear. This attitude is beautifully embodied in the character of Gene Kranz in the movie Apollo 13. Along with his famous line that “failure is not an option,” he continually refocuses his flight engineers from what is wrong with the spacecraft by asking, “what do we got on the spacecraft that’s good?” Or saying, “I don’t care about what anything was DESIGNED to do, I care about what it CAN do!” This is not false optimism. It is a recognition that precisely because a situation is dire, we must focus on what is positive and workable, and we must sustain the courage to act.
In my next post, I will take up the value of silos and boxes. Sometimes, before we try to think outside the box, we need to find new, imaginative ways to use the box.

Intellectual Entrepreneurship and New Minds for the Future

In Author: Tommy Dawin, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS on April 6, 2009 at 10:13 pm

Here’s the problem—we are facing unprecedented challenges that require new ways of thinking, and the cultivation of new capacities for innovation and problem solving. We have to revamp our entire education system from K through continuing education for adults, re-orienting it to educate people who have to think and act in a world that is more fluid and unpredictable than ever before. Beyond job retraining, we have to cultivate (to blend Daniel Pink and Howard Gardner) whole new minds for the future.

Question is how we do this, especially in Universities, which benefit from and are hindered by having been in the business of cultivating minds for a long time. Universities are in very real ways trapped by the sheer intellectual momentum of their own traditions, even as those traditions provide the grounds of possibility for innovation. Universities, especially major research Universities, run the risk of becoming the educational equivalent of a big-three automaker—doomed to irrelevance if not outright failure. Their momentum will carry them for a long way, but not indefinitely.

Of course, the seeds of radical change are always growing within these same Universities, manifested in multiple ways. For example, Universities have understood for some time that knowledge becomes most relevant when it can be applied to real world challenges, yielding new understanding and ways to engage pressing challenges. Towards this end, Universities have been the sites of pedagogical innovations like experiential learning, project based learning, internships, and mentoring, all designed to enhance a student’s education by providing “real world” application and experience. Similarly, many new forms of University-Industry partnership have emerged, focused especially on the commercialization of university-based technology or the incubation of university-based businesses.

Though powerful, these pedagogical innovations still focus on disciplines and majors and do not go far enough to cultivate the very thing that is most necessary now—individuals with the knowledge, commitment, and courage to innovate, on their own and with others. In other words, now more than ever it is imperative for Universities to foster and cultivate intellectual entrepreneurship. And, perhaps the most successful example of a university responding to this challenge is a program at the University of Texas at Austin that takes this imperative as its very name—the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Consortium (IE). In upcoming posts, there will be much more about the concept and enactment of intellectual entrepreneurship, drawing from the work of IE at the University of Texas.

I will conclude this post, though, by sketching some of the principles that have guided IE at UT Austin and provide a critical framework for the growth of intellectual entrepreneurship as a concept and practice. First, entrepreneurship transcends the creation of new businesses or ventures. While new venture creation is one of the most powerful expressions of an entrepreneur, at their core entrepreneurs are cultural innovators. Entrepreneurs are tuned in to the deeper cultural currents from which new meanings and imperatives emerge. They are able to create new space within which those meanings and imperatives can be articulated and engaged. Second, entrepreneurs have the courage to act first, before they know the answers, or even all the questions. They are comfortable with ambiguity, and while they are oriented to solving problems, they recognize that one problem’s solution lays the ground for an entirely new set of problems. Third, despite the cultural myth of the entrepreneur as lone ranger, entrepreneurs are profoundly connected and collaborative. They always have a double mission—engaging opportunities as they emerge and sustaining a living web of relationships that makes innovation and valuable change possible. Finally, entrepreneurs see through the cult of creativity, the belief that only certain people are creative or can be the source or profound and valuable change. Entrepreneurs understand that we are all creative, all capable of engaging our own situations for the better, and all capable of continually building this capacity. Which brings me back to where this post began—our greatest imperative now is to teach everyone we can how to be entrepreneurial and creative, inside the university and out.