Thursday, November 5, 2009

Staying creative for life

People who work in creative fields have to find a way to keep growing as innovators, an author and design executive said Thursday during Ball State’s digital media conference.

Tom Kelley, general manager of IDEO, the design and development firm responsible for the Apple mouse, the Palm V and other products, said he met famed architect Frank Gehry recently and was impressed to see him still active and creative at age 80.

“It’s not hard to be an innovator at your age,” Kelley, keynote speaker at this week’s iDMAa Conference, told students in an informal afternoon talk.

“But what happens is, as you go out into the work force, it’s almost as if circumstances conspire against you, to drive some of that innovation out of you.

“It’s like, ‘No, we do it this way.’ That kind of wide, broad, creative thinking you do now, over time there are pressures that narrow that down.

“I talk to students about how to be innovators for life.”

Kelley is author of “The Ten Faces of Innovation,” and “The Art of Innovation,” which describes IDEO’s "deep dive" approach to brainstorming and teamwork in creating new products. Fast Company ranked IDEO fifth in its 2008 list of the World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies.

The International Digital Media and Art Association’s conference, "@ the Digital Edge: Innovations and Challenges," began Thursday and ends Saturday at Ball State.

Thursday afternoon’s meeting with students leaned heavily on advice for people about to enter the workforce. Kelley recommended the Jim Collins book, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … And Others Don’t.

Collins, he noted, said people should think of their abilities and personalities in three circles – the things they are good at, the things others will pay them to do, and the thing they are so passionate about, that they know they were “born to do.”

Kelley said he uses “reverse mentors” - younger colleagues to advise him on trends - to keep pace with a rapidly changing world.

“There are trends - there are new emerging things happening in the world that do not start with 50-year-old bald males,” he laughed.

Kelley said he also has a “regular” mentor, “and I encourage you to find one, someone who is five to 10 years older than you to share their life experiences so you can take advantage of that. “

But he said IDEO relies on its interns to help stimulate fresh thinking, a process he calls, “the eggs teaching the chicken.”

Kelley said some of the best advice he had heard about dealing with creative people came from film director Francis Ford Coppola.

“When you’re working with super-creative people, you don’t tell them what to do – you invite them to the party,” Coppola told him.

- By John Strauss,

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