This paper is a critical review of the Creative Economy module of the MACE programme at Kingston University.
Coming from a background in Industrial Design (Furniture) with a work experience of five years in the field I realised it was important to expand my sphere of knowledge and hoped that a Masters programme in the creative Economy would help do the same.
The creative economy module of the course brought with it a foray of information, new ways of thinking and acting. I could define my learning into three broad segments, first the conceiving and the running of a business, second Design thinking skills and the third and most important – using Design thinking skill to successfully run an enterprise. In a recent interview with Ms. Neelam Chhiber, MD and Co-founder of Industree crafts Pvt.Ltd. (A Bangalore, India based Social Enterprise), on the subject of Managing creativity and Innovation, Chhiber stated that her key insight from running a Design backed Social enterprise was that “Design is nothing without management skills. Designers have to be deeply strengthened with management skills as this is the only way design can cause any change. Design can do nothing without business and business can do nothing without design”. (Chhiber, 2010)
I have divided this review into ten segments. These are based on my key areas of learning within this course.
Ideating is the most enjoyable part and also one of the most creative part of any project. The best thing about it is that one does not have to be right at every step of the way. Seth Godin in his blog state “The best ideas come out of the corner of our eye, the edge of our consciousness, in a flash. They are the result of misdirection and random collisions, not a grinding corporate onslaught”(Godin, 2010).
But of course there are situations where you may have a problem at hand and need to find a solution or identify a gap that you could fill in. These call for a slightly different approach. During the course of this year we have learnt various techniques for ideating like mind mapping, role playing, Lateral thinking, IDEO method cards etc. each of these offer a different method to first evaluate a situation, break away from the obvious and then reorganise or find patterns within the thinking process.
Having said this, it is also equally important to channel creativity in the right direction. Edward de Bono says that one of the dangers of creativity is self-indulgence. The purpose of creativity should to bring about a change in direction, this change does not propel or provide for motion and if one is constantly changing direction it would be difficult to get anywhere. (Bono, 1991)
As social beings one would think that empathy would be of utmost importance to us when delivering a product or service into the market. Strangely this is not the case. Most of us are so involved with the design of the product/service that the user becomes secondary. Empathy can be used as a powerful tool that benefits both the end-user as well as the producer/designer/entrepreneur. Understanding the user can help one identify the gaps in the market. The information gathered can help one focus on the relevant issues hence leading to a service/ product that is much superior to that available from competitors. This in turn builds trust with stakeholders and on the larger scale of things eventually could lead to a better social culture.( Patnaik, 2008)
It’s amazing how some stories can capture you and convince you of things you thought you couldn’t ever be convinced of; and then there are those that help you see things that you had never seen before. Let’s admit it, as humans we all suckers for stories! We are born and brought up with them. Our parent and Grandparents told us stories when we were children. We have grown up watching Movies and Television; listening to Music and Reading books (all forms of storytelling). The most interesting people we know are those that can tell a story well. Our priced processions have stories behind them and so on and so forth……………
As times change knowledge becomes redundant and people have to generate new pools of knowledge. We are currently in this stage of change called the Big Shift. In these early stages it is usually extremely difficult to quantify or define knowledge because of its newness, making it extremely difficult to express or convey. This is where storytelling comes in. Hagel in his blog titled From Research Monographs to Story-Telling: New Forms of Communication in the Big Shift says “Stories emerge as an increasingly central form of communication in times of rapid change because they so richly reflect the needs of the time. In particular, they help us to shift our perception from static objects to dynamic relationships.”( Hagel, Edge Perspectives with JohnHagel, 2010).
Taking this into account as Creative Practitioners how could we not use storytelling as a potent tool to bring about change?
Coming from an Industrial design background prototyping has always been a part of my work process. During the course of this year I have rediscovered the importance of prototyping and especially quick prototyping. Using available material and objects to convey ones idea, be it for something tactile or intangible like a service, can be an extremely useful tool. As our business involved running reality games for Kingston University students, one of the greatest challenges we faced was converting ideas to action. We realised that prototyping games on a small-scale, helped us empathise with the end-user leading to better solutions. It also helped us realise and rectify the flaws within our process giving us the option of making mistakes at an earlier stage without suffering huge consequences, or as Tim Brown says “Fail early and often to succeed sooner,” (Manuel Sosa, 05 )
Collaborations and Multidisciplinary team work seems to be the buzz word of the time. I’ve always enjoyed working with people from varied backgrounds as I feel it brings about the most interesting discussions and ideas.
Looking deeper into the concept, we are in changing times, moving from one phase to another when it comes to knowledge building and transfer. The phase where knowledge was a tightly held possession to be protected and built upon is now gone. We are now in a phase where we need new and better knowledge that calls for look outside of the confines of our existing knowledge pool. People have realised that the way to do this is through building new collaborations with diverse knowledge pools. ,(Hagel, Edge persprctive with John Hagel -Defining the big shift, 2009)
Running a business under Young Enterprise was a much more challenging task than expected. In this section I would like to illustrate areas of learning from the running of our business.
Forming and running an effective team – We used speed dating as a method to form teams. This involved conduct mini interviews with each of our colleagues; eventually leading to us choosing our teams based on compatibility and skill sets.
Our team comprised of 5 members representing 4 countries, 5 professional backgrounds currently perusing a masters in the creative economy with 4 different specialisms. In spite of being such a mixed team we managed to strike a balance. The key rule being, give everyone a chance to speak and express their ideas. Though this helped maintain harmony within the team but eventually had repercussions, in the form of “over suspended hierarchy”. The key learning here was the importance of an organisational structure with designated duties and work flow strategies.
Developing a business plan – The next step once we had formed a team was to arrive at a viable business plan. We began by identify a gaps in the market. Initially we looked for possible options within our respective fields of specialisation. After a lot of deliberations we decided to work on a project that all of us were passionate about, improve the quality of life at Kingston University for both the students as well as staff. Based on interviews with students and staff at KU AS our own experience we arrived at our business idea – Reality games. As in any case there were positives and negatives to our decision. Negative – we didn’t have a background in game design and development or event management. Positive – We could look at the subject from a completely new perspective.
To develop our business plan we use various tool like prototyping, interviews, developing personas to define our target market, research to identify competition, storytelling etc. etc. Where I think we were lagging was that In spite of our process there were points where I felt we didn’t put our research to best use.
Viability and Feasibility – Our initial business plan was to run large-scale games within Kingston University. The major expenses to be incurred were on the prize money which we intended on acquiring through sponsorship. This was something we depended too much on. After a point we were running out of time and funds and hence decided to change the scale of our games. We found a solution in running pop up games as well as forming small partnerships with various people. This meant small investment in terms of money as well as time and effort. For the sponsor it meant publicity at a minimal cost. Most importantly for our Client it meant fun and entertainment at a low-cost and we brought the games to them.
The other step we took was to split our business into two segments, one that dealt with conducting reality games and the second a game development consultancy. Both these segments functioned in parallel sharing resources and funds.
Managing creativity and ideation – In spite of being such a mixed team, the one thing we had in common was ideating skills. One of our key challenges was managing this creativity. At all points in time we found that we were flooded with ideas. Though enjoyable as we moved along onto the various stages of our business we realised that just ideating was not enough. The hardest part was funneling our ideas and doing so without de motivating fellow team members. We found the solution in expanding our business into the game development consultancy, this served as melting pot for all our ideas.
Role definition and management – Our initial decision not to define roles was met with the realisation that there were too many overlaps and we were not arriving at viable solutions. This led us to assigning leaders based on skill sets. Also any member of the team could second chair with a lead. Though this system seemed functional in theory, in reality it was a lot more difficult to instate. A majority of our team came from creative backgrounds making it difficult for them to take on managerial tasks and forgo creative tasks altogether. Though our team bonded well, one of the learning’s here is for a multidisciplinary team to function at its best it needs to be well balance in terms of skill set.
Marketing – We relied on the internet and social networking sites for initial marketing. This didn’t work too well for us. Our approach was wrong as we applied techniques that worked for us on a one on one basis and expected it to work as effectively on the web. Out USP we realised was in conducting activities in real-time and in person. Eventually we found that our pop up game format doubled up as marketing for the company.
Brand development – Though it took a while to arrive at our brand identity a series of short brainstorming exercises helped define it pretty accurately. We developed a Brand kit that we used in all our pop up games. Our brand identity gave us a common language to communicate with, made it easier for people to remember us and helped us keep our goal in focus.
Humans are social beings and have a need to share their ideas and knowledge, today social media has become a vessel for the same. Henry Jenkins on the subject of collective intelligence says “Nobody knows everything but everybody knows something and the more we broaden our access to this expertise the stronger position we are in ourselves”.(Jenkins, 2009)
Social media can be used as a great tool for networking and has benefits when it comes to gathering information, sharing knowledge, marketing, advertising as well as testing.(Common Craft) In the past year we have been exposed to social media in the form of Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin etc. I personally have not been an avid user of social networking sites but the advantages now seem to ought way the reasons for not getting involved.
Self evaluation at constant intervals is extremely important. It is easy to start off with a certain goal in mind and then drift off as time goes along, only to make one realise that they have ended up wasting large amounts of time, funds and energy. The GROW (Goal – Reality – Options – Will) model is one method of self-evaluation that helps one access, analyze keep track of as well as improve one’s performance. (mind tools – The GROW Model)
Converting Ideas into action – In spite of having largely worked within my own team for the duration of this course I would like to say that I have learnt a great deal from the various other teams of MACE. What fascinated me the most was the manner in which some of the teams developed their ideas into functioning businesses and what that they had in common.
I have come to realise that one can have a great idea, a great business plan; oodles of design thinking expertise, managerial skills etc. but at the core there has to exist a conviction for your ideas.
Working within a team of people can be interesting but also has its pitfalls. The initial excitement of working on a new project and meeting new people eventually wears out as the realities of the project set in. The process of designing a product/service or setting up a business can be cumbersome with questions on viability and feasibility constantly looming around. It often becomes easy to get sucked into a negative mindset causing one to lose focus or momentum.
One of the most important lessons I have learnt is never forget to have fun! A sense of humour is a handy tool and ‘take it with a pinch of salt’ is a very wise saying. The best way to get a task done is to enjoy doing it.
Having illustrated my key areas of learning from the Creative Economy module, I am happy to say that I am at a position where I feel I can make a difference in whatever endeavour I take on in the future. This course has provided me with an overall view on the subject of Entrepreneurship, Design thinking and Multidisciplinary collaborations but more than anything else it has helped me identify my areas of strength as well as weaknesses. Having said this I feel it would have been ideal if a portion of the module were focused on the theory of the subject especially when it came to areas like marketing and finance. Also field trips to establishments like IDEO, Design Council etc. would have added to the strength of the course.
The practical experience of running a business was I think the high point of the module as it gave me the opportunity to test ride my skills as well as practically apply the information and knowledge gained within the module.
My future plans stand at eventually opening my own Design consultancy. I am also interested in the area of Social enterprise development and Design education. I hope to be able to contribute to all these fields and believe that the MACE programme will hold me in good stead for the same.
1. Bono, E. d. (1991). Lateral thinking for management, a handbook. USA: American Management Association.
2. Chhiber, N. (2010, 04 26). Managing Innovation and creativity within a Social Enterprise -Industree Crafts Pvt.Ltd. (S. Kariappa, Interviewer)
4. Godin, s. (2010, may 09). Seth Godin’s blog. Retrieved 04 10, 28, from http://www.sethgodin.typepad.com: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2010/05/where-do-you-find-good-ideas.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+typepad/sethsmainblog+(Seth’s+Blog)&utm_content=FaceBook
5. Hagel, J. (2010, January 22). Edge Perspectives with John Hagel – From Research Monographs to Story-Telling: New Forms of Communication in the Big Shift. Retrieved 04 30, 2010, from http://www.edgeperspectives.typepad.com: http://edgeperspectives.typepad.com/edge_perspectives/2010/01/from-research-monographs-to-story-telling-new-forms-of-communication-in-the-big-shift.html
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7. Jenkins, H. (2009, July 01). MIT enterprise forum. (P. Zac, Interviewer)
8. Manuel Sosa, R. B. (05 , Aug 01). Management today.com. Retrieved 04 28, 2010, from http://www.managementtoday.co.uk: http://www.managementtoday.co.uk/search/article/548074/fail-early-fail-often-ideo-service-design/
9. mind tools – The GROW Model. (n.d.). Retrieved 05 05, 2010, from http://www.mindtools.com: http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_89.htm