At WCG, we believe that innovation is something that must be willingly cultivated. And that the path to inspired thinking depends largely on our own personal curiosity for new ideas and experiences. The Spark Series is all about recognizing the people, places and things that have provoked us to think differently. From a particularly powerful exchange with a colleague to a book we can’t seem to put down, the Sparks Series aims to explore the curious dynamics behind big ideas. With that, below is the first in what will become an ongoing series of “sparks” from Laura Ciocia, Director of Media & Engagement.
Spark 1: Serenbe & the Paths Less Traveled
This past Saturday I visited Serenbe, a 1,000 acre sustainable living community located about 45 minutes outside of Atlanta.
Serenbe is hard to put into words and certainly unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. It’s spacious land, winding trails and tightly knit neighborhoods where the houses almost touch each other and front porches act as living rooms. Serenbe is home to an organic farm, three award winning, farm-to-table restaurants, and it’s very own theatre company, the Serenbe Playhouse.
My visit there to take an outdoor yoga class is ultimately what inspired the idea for the Sparks series. For a mere 30 bucks and a 45-minute car ride, I was reminded of the importance of staying curious and deliberately seeking out the paths less traveled. Because every new experience is an opportunity to learn, grow and expand on our creative capacities.
For the record, “creativity” is not something I consider exclusive to those with “Creative” in their job title. Whether you’re building a custom dashboard or designing an influencer engagement plan, creativity is at the heart of all great work. And any artist will tell you that creativity requires cultivation. Even science shows us that those “lightbulb” moments aren’t just random flashes of genius but rather a cumulative result of the ideas, experiences and interactions we take in over time.
So whether it’s expanding your peer circle, committing to a new hobby or taking an outdoor yoga class on a sustainable farm, it’s the sum of these experiences that enable us to better understand the world we live in and in turn, the individuals we aim to reach.
While meandering through the commercial district of Serenbe, I stumbled on an installation of Before I Die, the brainchild of artist Candy Chang and what turned out to be my second spark. Launched back in 2011 in her New Orleans neighborhood, Before I Die is nothing more than a giant chalkboard canvas mounted on a public wall space. Community members are then invited to complete the phrase: “Before I Die I Want To __________” with their own hopes, dreams and aspirations.
Candy created the first Before I Die wall in response to her personal struggle with grief in hopes that it would inspire others to reflect on their own lives. Since the first wall went up, Before I Die has grown into a global movement with 450 walls & counting in over 60 countries around the world.
What’s perhaps most compelling about Before I Die is that it’s left entirely up to the community to install and populate. There’s no website address or QR code, no call to action, no credit to the artist and no guidelines for how or what to write. Just a semi-blank slate and a few pieces of chalk. Yet somehow it’s managed to grow into this global phenomenon resonating across cultures, religions, races and socioeconomics.
Before I Die reminded me of the power of simply creating for creating’s sake. Candy never set out to go “viral”. She turned her very personal experience into a public experiment and stood back and watched it catch fire.
As marketers, so often the experiences we create come with expectations or conditions attached. We want to believe we’re adding value but more often than not we’re just adding to the noise. But what would happen if we allowed intent to power the experiences we create for our customers, and the world at large? No agenda or expectations other than the hope that it might stir something in others.
The lesson of Before I Die for marketers is to let go of the demands and requirements at the onset and focus on creating something magical. Because if we invest in the integrity of our products, messages and communities in a way that speaks directly to our intent, the results generally take care of themselves.
Spark 3: Show Your Work
Austin Kleon was in town recently for a talk and meet & greet promoting his latest book Show Your Work. You may know Austin from his bestselling Steal Like An Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative a whimsical guide for finding inspiration in the work of others and using it to inform your own creativity.
Where Show Your Work picks up is as a manifesto for how to use your process as a means to evolving your finished product. As Austin explained, “it’s not about self-promotion, it’s about self-discovery” and being brave enough to share what goes on behind the curtain, before the final product is revealed. I jotted down several sparks during the course of his talk but two in particular really connected for me.
1. “Your process is now your product.”
This applies not only to individual creative efforts but also to organizations. As consumers become more connected and empowered, their expectations of the companies they support continue to grow more complex. The “how” and the “why” matter more than ever and “showing work” is just another manifestation of this shift. One of the best examples of this tenet in action can be found on Zappos Labs, an extension of the Zappos company website. Zappos Labs is an open source test and learn platform where users can interact with and provide feedback on the tools and shopping add-ons that are still very much in beta phase.
2. “The story we tell about our process is often central to why others connect with our product.”
We’ve always known mission is critical to brand identity but today’s consumer is interested in how we’re living that mission through the stories we tell. Revealing process, learnings, and other “in-progress” initiatives that define the organization all help to humanize a brand and give consumers something tangible to stand behind. Simply put, the mission IS the marketing.
Have you been recently inspired by a “spark”? Share your experiences below along with any tips you might have for optimizing creative capacity.