“Time flies when you are having fun!” This overused phrase has been used so often I feel that time just flies, fun or not. I began my journey in London a little over nine months ago, feeling like an expatriate from Canada and an adventurer returning home to Britain from the colonies. The similarities and differences between the two countries are abundant but equal, leaving my expectations redundant. I chose my program, Managing in the Creative Economy, with the sole purpose to learn the skills I desired to merge creativity and business and return to Canada to apply them. However, time flew, andI am now reflecting on what feels to be the end, or perhaps, a start of a new adventure. My purpose has changed though the goal is still the same, thanks to what as I have learned in Design Thinking and Entrepreneurship in Practice module as well at the rest of my MACE experience. I have learned in this module the beginning of design thinking, as well as, networking, teamwork, leadership, and a clearer goal for my future. My journey may be over in this module, but every journey has to begin somewhere.
Everyone has a preconceived notion of how they should learn; this is a natural bias that stems from previous learning experiences. I attended structured traditional schools through to my first year of university. I changed schools, degrees, and learning structures when I began my undergraduate degree in photography at Ryerson University in Toronto. I was being graded on what I took away from the learning experience, not the recollection of facts and figures that I would forget the moment after I had completed the test. I felt I was prepared for anything when I stepped into the introduction day last September. I cannot recall exactly what happened, but I do remember feeling caught off guard and unsure how to even process what was going to happen, Design Thinking was going to be a completely different way of thinking and learning. I resolved that the big picture was not going to be an option, and that one day at a time was the only way to even begin to process what was coming.
As the title of the module suggests, one of the first topics discussed was design thinking. Corrine introduced us to her USER Model as one approach to design thinking. Her model created a four-stage model (User, System, Establish, and Realise) that challenged preconceived notions of what people really want and need. The USER model also challenged me to stop thinking and start doing. It is one thing to think of ten ways to do something, but it is more effective to watch a hundred people doing the same thing, all in their own way. Through watching people, the USER model helped me comprehend why and how a person acts and interacts, this gave me the tools to better understand what a customers wants, needs, or desires. I first thought the USER model was a tedious chore, but I have increasingly noticed that I actively employ the model almost every day. Every time I commute into London I think about my need and the possible needs of those around me, how each delay affects the user, and possible solutions to the problems I encounter. Even with my new job at a pub, I find that the system as it stands is chaotic and I think about the USER model every time I apologise because I’ve nearly collided with a co-worker, this clearly indicates to me that the USER model is an excellent resource outside of the classroom and can be modified and utilised in almost any situation where the current solution is not effective.
I’ve often been told, ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.’ I do not remember a time I did not believe this to be true. Every job I have had has been because of someone I know. Even if it was a reference at the bottom of my curriculum vitae, a positive reference is just as powerful as a negative one. Technology has played its part in how we network, it is no longer about the physicality but rather how you utilise the vast tools available to you online. From the beginning of this course we had to keep a blog, this blog, maintain a Twitter account, and post links on Delicious. Each is a tool designed to help us communicate and to develop and maintain our networks. Robert Metcalfe’s Law notes that “the utility of the network is equal to the square of the number of users – so as new members join the network the ‘value’ of the network increases exponentially (Bilton, 2007, p.65).” This further emphasises that it is no longer about the quality of a few but rather the quantity of many within your network. In the creative industry, networking is a resource, and the ability to network is a survival skill. Facebook is a network, it may not be formal, but even the basic social connection keeps people in touch where without Facebook, the connection would not exist. LinkedIn has the same concept as Facebook, but for the professional, it is a digital curriculum vitae for the 21st century. I cannot think of a better example than my father. He has always been technology driven and has been utilising a tool called Act! for almost 20 years now, every time he meets someone new he puts them in as a contact and every time he has a meeting, a run-in, a conversation, anything with a person, he notes it. At last count he has 23,000 contacts, and approximately 1,000 are ‘reliable’ as he likes to say, but 1,000 is still a very large network that can exponentially grow in an instant. As part of an assignment I was asked to find a mentor. I am normally an outgoing and sociable person, but this was not a normal social call. I started where it was most uncomfortable, just like jumping into the deep end first. I have maintained contact with all my mentors and have also continued to find contacts and grow my network to help me complete my dissertation and find work after graduation.
Nadia Niro: owner/director of Galerié Orange in Montreal, Canada.
Nadia was a source of inspiration as I began working on my dissertation, and even though my topic has migrated away from Canadian art, she is still an excellent mentor as I continue to discuss the struggles she and many other artist have. (I found this mentor through her dissertation that she completed at the Sotheby’s Art Institute, where Dr. Catherine Morel, course director of MACE, used to work.)
Julie Lomax: Director of Visual Arts, Arts Council England (ACE)
Julie has a great deal of knowledge about the Art’s Councils structure and its greatest strengths, and the areas it needs to improve on. Knowing Julie is invaluable to my dissertation and to my future career in the creative economy. (I attended an ArtInsight Lecture near the end of January called Understanding the Art Market: Value, Pricing and Developing an Art Business in the New Economic Climate, where I introduced myself at the reception afterwards)
MaryAnn Camilleri: Founder, Magenta Foundation: Publishing for the Arts
MaryAnn is an awe-inspiring woman, she has dedicated herself to identifying Toronto as a photographic hub and has created Flash Forward to exhibit emerging photographers from Canada, US, and UK in a group show that has international exposure. (I met MaryAnn though my undergraduate program and reconnected with her when I interviewed her for a case study about creative management)
ENTREPRENEURSHIP IN PRACTICE / TEAMWORK
As the title of the module suggests, I also learned about entrepreneurship practically. I teamed up with Sarah and Vlad to create Kingston Pub Culture (KPC). Everyone in MACE was in the same boat when we began the program, we knew no one and choosing teams was a guessing game. I was lucky to bond with my teammates over a pint and a curiosity of English pub culture. We were lucky to like each other as friends first and teammates second. As we began our journey to create KPC, I was also enrolled in a management class that focused on personal and professional development. I took this opportunity to develop my teamwork skills so that I could effectively work with my team and minimise conflict. West (2004) notes it is not just about listening, but also being open and to reflect on the topic of conversation to ensure that all involved are confident in what they understood. This was an issue within our group, there were times when assumption took the place of listening and a quick scatter to correct the mistake was needed so we could continue moving forward with our business plan. The other struggle that I had was my assertiveness, I can come off aggressive when I am trying to be assertive. West (2004) and Cottrell (2010) note that assertiveness involves the expression of your thoughts, feelings, and opinions clearly using ‘I’ not ‘you’ style statements. When I would get frustrated that I wasn’t being heard I would naturally point fingers and remove blame from myself. I, however quickly found that by pointing inward and using ‘I’ statements to express myself and ensuring that my thoughts are appropriate in the current situation has become a great asset to my teamwork skills within KPC as well as aiding in my assimilation into British culture.
As for Kingston Pub Culture, the business itself went though several struggles and a few triumphs as well. We hit a barrier trying to find funding for our website, as advertisers and pubs did not to advertise on our site. This was a self-perpetuating problem, as we could not get advertising without site traffic and we could not get site traffic without advertising. However, thanks to Sarah’s brilliant writing skills, we won the runner-up prize with Bright Idea’s. This was soon followed by my designer friend, who had promised KPC a website that would meet our needs, ignoring all my attempts to contact him. I had high hopes for the website and continued to put off making the decision to fire our designer and cut our losses. It was ultimately Sarah who pulled the plug and created our temporary website. This was a steep learning curve and I have since learned that all agreements need to have a written contract, even if it is an email. I had let my emotions get in the way of reality and I should have put a stop to the website problems early and hired a reliable web designer with our Bright Idea winnings.
As I have said before, Kingston Pub Culture did not have any significant team problems. We each took responsibility for a task that we excelled at, and worked as a team through everything else. But even in a team setting, one person has to take charge and make the final decision so that what needs to get done can get done. I have an undergraduate degree in photography, so I was responsible for the photographs of the pubs. I was also put in charge of the finances, which had its own struggles. Group tasks included the Trade Fair, promotion of KPC, and pub reviews. Ibbotson was a source of inspiration when I was placed in the leader role because he looks at leadership creatively to ensure that the creativity is nurtured and not hindered, as he states, “most of the skills of effective leadership and the good management are embodied knowledge, not intellectual: charm, decisiveness, compassion, enthusiasm, persuasiveness, the ability to listen, to be firm, to establish boundaries for others, to inspire” (2008, p. 119). Ibbotson acknowledges that a leader needs to be creative to understand the people you are leading and that boundaries are more effective than a set path. Having to take on leadership duties within KPC gave the experience to understand Ibbotson’s theory and to practice it in a forgiving environment. While I learned and practiced my skills as a leader in this course, I also learned that sometimes it is better to concede to someone else and allow them to lead and for me to follow. A leaders greatest skill is knowing their own strengths and weaknesses.
IT ALL MAKES SENSE NOW!
At this point, with classes all over, I feel that this reflection needs to connect all that I have learned and how all my different modules, MACE and Management alike, found a place within Design Thinking and Entrepreneurship in Practice. I have noticed that within this reflection some of my management modules have found a place, just as design thinking has influenced my management modules. Creative management reflects on traditional management skills, but requires a leader who provides direction and boundaries, not a structured trail. I have had the chance to learn the theory as well as had hands on experience to find the connections I desired to connect creativity and business.
I have learned from experience that it is equally important to live in the moment as well as plan for the future. While I cannot dictate where I will be in five or ten years, I can at least create boundaries to focus my direction.
Design Thinking and Entrepreneurship in Practice has taught me to think more openly and the even bad ideas are still good as long as you learn from it and move past it. I have had the opportunity to speak my mind and also learned the skills on how to do so effectively. I have made contact with people that I would have not been able to prior to this course. The mentor report was by far the most challenging assignment, but the most beneficial to my future career. I want to manage creativity but I also want to make a difference. I have found two mentors that will help me do this, Julie Lomax with Arts Council England and MaryAnn Camilleri with Magenta Foundation. Both these women are working tirelessly to turn creativity in to a sustainable business. I feel that I am still connected to Toronto but now with London as well. I feel that I can maintain my connection with both as an aid to the Magenta Foundation in London, and as a support to Flash Forward. Also, working with the Arts Council to help the Magenta Foundation find artists and funding to continue aiding emerging artists find their niche and an audience. Other than that, it is just one day at a time and working towards where I want to be, but I also know that things happen and desires change. Either way I will enjoy the moment so that time does not fly away without me having fun.
Bilton, C. (2007) Management and creativity: from creative industries to creative management. Oxford: Blackwell.
Cottrall, S. (2010) Skills for success: the personal development planning handbook. 2nd edn. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Ibbotson, P. (2008) The illusion of creativity: directing creativity in business and the arts. London: Palgrave – Macmillan.
West, M.A. (2004) Effective teamwork: practical lessons from organizational research. 2nd edn. Leicester: Blackwell.