Archives for category: Practice Profile

Each post in the Practice Profile series invites discussion about creative practice. This post features Jason Moriber, whose creative vitality is unmistakably present in his writing.  Jason’s interest in creativity is both personal and universal, and he is quick to champion the creative pursuits of others.

When asked how he would describe his personal creative practice, Jason explained,

“Don’t be afraid of the eraser,” is one life-long impactful lesson I learned from my undergraduate drawing professor Karen Saler. I would say that describes my personal creative practice. I like to add maybe too much stuff, then remove most of it, then add more stuff and then remove it. I do this with writing, with drawing, and with plaster. The eraser takes many forms.

Digital has made erasing both easier and harder. As example, I used to type on a manual antique typewriter and enjoyed covering over swaths of texts with white-out and then type over it (if not re-type the entire page and discover/make serendipitous changes). With digital you can cleanly erase, without history, both texts and images…this is “easier.” I use both, sometimes redundantly, to see if I get different results. I typically start with the physical and then shift into digital.”

Learning to edit extraneous elements is essential.  The iconic designer Charles Eames subscribed to a philosophy that asked two important questions: “What are the details that matter most?  That reveal the most?”. These two questions are central to any creative work.  Knowing which details do matter most separates master from novice. Learning not to be “afraid of the eraser” is a powerful lesson, and once this is internalized it becomes far easier (though not entirely easy!) to edit liberally.

Next I asked Jason to consider the ways he has observed this practice informing his professional practice.  To which he replied,

“I bring it directly into my pro work, but in my pro work there is a need for speed. The add/erase process is time intensive. I’ve developed a working technique, like exercise, so I am always practicing the form of adding and erasing, but not necessarily for my pro work. I believe the side effects of practicing the process allows me to develop ideas quicker when I’m called on to generate quick results.

One way to think of it, as a metaphor, is that I’m always working in my sketchbook, trying out ideas through add/erase. My client-work is a still-life photograph. I take the experience of my sketchbook and use it to influence how I will set-up the still-life. I do both, but the add/erase is an indirect practice.”

The comparison between working in the sketchbook and composing a still-life photograph describes two distinct but interrelated working styles.  Becoming fluent in this add-then-erase working style means that Eames’ two questions are ever-present.

Jason acknowledges that there is an important element to this process: a willingness to cultivate alternative perspectives. He demonstrates the benefit of exploring a new subject in the example given below.

“One key tenet of add/erase is to be open to change, to serendipity, no matter where it comes from. Ideally, through add/erase you’re generating “happy accidents.” If this becomes your mojo, a mantra, then ideas that seem unrelated can be adopted and modified to find a new solution.

As example, I was working on a client pitch presentation that was due in a few weeks’ time. During that time I attended a conference about organic farming. While listening to a presentation on organic dairy farming I had the serendipitous insight that the farming model could be the “story,” the foundation to my client presentation. My team thought it was a little “out there” but I convinced them to go with it. I erased a bit of the farming aspect, adding more about the client need until the presentation had a balance…ultimately we won the assignment.” 


Jason Moriber has always been interested in dissonance, the beachhead where cultural and social behavior negotiate and balance the past with the future. It’s the place where new ideas evolve. Over the past 15 years, the evolution of social and cultural behaviors caused by dissonance has been radically accelerating, mainly due to the digital revolution.

Within dissonance, his professional career has been focused on “social communications,” the way people invent, adapt and communicate due to these changes. At start-ups through to agencies his roles have been a mix of researcher, architect, designer and futurist, all within “social.”   Catch Jason on Twitter or spend some time on his blog:

© 2013


Last year I began the Practice Profile series, motivated by a nagging desire to instigate more dialogue about the subject of creative practice. My curiosity about the nature of creativity leads to countless informal discussions about the influence of creative thinking in our daily lives. Often those conversations broaden or augment my perspective in some way. Likewise, each Practice Profile offers readers a similar opportunity to consider creativity from the perspective of another.

This month I am excited to feature Jessica Ivins, a talented User Experience (UX) designer. Jessica is based in Philadelphia, where she seems right at home amid a city that is teeming with other talented and intelligent professionals. User Experience (UX) design is a field that relies heavily on creative thinking, a subject with which Jessica is already well versed. It was her childhood interest in drawing, coupled with academic training in Fine Art and Art Education, that ultimately taught Jessica the importance of stepping beyond the comfort zone in order to shed creative limitations.

When asked about her current creative practice, Jess replied,

For a variety of reasons, I decided to take a drawing class at a local arts center last year. The instructor, Maggie Mills, brought me back down art school memory lane; we started each class with quick sketches called croquis. She would say things like “don’t be afraid to scribble… try holding the medium at different angles to get a feel for what values and textures you can create… get your blood flowing and get your arms moving.” It had been so long since my last art class. Generating raw ideas and practicing raw drawing skills in this way set a great tone for me. It allowed me to explore new territory unhindered. I realized it was okay to mess up, and that taking risks and failing made me a better artist in the long term. I was proud of all the work I produced in that class.

Unfortunately, I don’t make much time for art these days. My interests have shifted to reading, exercising, cooking, and devoting time to my career, user experience (UX). But my job does demand creative thinking skills. As a user experience (UX) designer, my role is to make websites useful, usable, and desirable for the people who need to use them. But my job is also to satisfy the needs of my client or colleagues. Businesses have goals that must be met, and users have needs they want a website to satisfy. Sometimes the needs of the business and the users conflict, so reconciling all of this can be challenging. The Web is also a medium that’s constantly in flux and evolving. Thus creative thinking and problem solving skills are indispensable necessities for any UX designer.”

Jessica’s vivid description illuminates why the habits of mind learned through the making of art are not easily forgotten.  The most profound lessons that take place through arts learning—that is, learning to take risks, learning to explore multiple angles, learning to explore new territory unhindered—are accessible long after the direct experience of making art is finished. In a complex and dynamic field like UX design, the territory changes frequently. Developing skills to navigate new terrain is paramount. Fortunately, once internalized, the habits of mind learned in the art room become useful in other contexts. Creative thinking begets creative thinking, and learning through the arts cultivates qualitative reasoning skills that are needed to thrive in any profession.

When asked how her creative practice informs her professional practice, Jessica gave the following (fascinating!) reply,

“Before any sketching or designing begins, I always begin a project by obtaining a full understanding of the problem. What are our users trying to do? Is it the same as what we think they’re trying to do? What are the needs of my fellow team members or my client? Do I understand all goals and limitations? Once everything’s on the table, I can put any creative exercises into perspective. I can find the right exercise or approach to fit the problem I need to solve.

I realized some time ago that my traditional way of working was inefficient and limited. I was generating my own ideas, working in a silo to produce fully realized documentation, then asking for feedback after pouring my heart and soul into a finished deliverable. It wasn’t a fruitful way of making quality designs. Ironically, I had always appreciated the creative approaches I learned about in art school, though I never put similar approaches to use in my work. The Exquisite Corpse game created by Surrealist artists comes to mind. This game involves the collective assembly of words or images, usually the body of a person. The results are entertaining and humorous, but more importantly, they spark new ideas. I had also never thought to look outside my own industry for new ideas. But in an art school drawing class, we watched a film called Decasia: The State of Decay. It is an assortment of very old silent films that are decaying with age. The film is set to music, and the decayed artifacts render distorted imagery that is stunning to watch. We watched the film in its entirety, and then used stills to inspire charcoal drawings. Both the Exquisite Corpse exercise and the film helped me find new ideas as an artist. I remember them both so clearly because they had such an impact upon my creative approach.

For years I had never thought to apply collaborative activities like the Exquisite Corpse to my own practice as a UX designer, nor did I think to look outside of my industry for inspiration. But thanks to the many collaborative exercises outlined in Dave Gray’s Gamestorming, as well as Kevin Hoffman’s mentorship and work on running effective, collaborative meetings, I’ve come to build creativity into my work as a UX designer. I’ve learned to involve a diverse range of stakeholders in the creative process so that various perspectives are considered, rather than relying solely on the perspective of myself or other designers. At the most basic level, crowdsourcing colleagues allows me to accomplish more than simply working alone. But it also brings more ideas into the equation than I could ever generate on my own. Sketching and affinity diagramming are two of many techniques I’ve learned to employ with groups of stakeholders or clients.”

Finally, I asked Jessica to share a memorable example that speaks to the relationship between her creative and professional pursuits.  She explained,

“While at Happy Cog, I was tasked with creating a site map for a client project. A site map is essentially a diagram of all pages on a website. The diagram accounts for all pages but also establishes the hierarchy and organization of those pages, forming a comprehensive website structure. I had traditionally created site maps on my own. However, I decided to create this one collaboratively with the help of several colleagues working on this project. Together we successfully produced all possible types of content, categorized them on the wall, and adjusted the categories for content that didn’t have a natural place to go. The result was a site map structure that everyone on the team was happy with.”


Jess is a Philadelphia-based User Experience (UX) designer and researcher who enjoys making websites useful, easy to use, and enjoyable. She speaks, writes, and volunteers for many things UX. She’s spoken internationally at conferences such as SXSW, Midwest UX, IA Summit, and UX Camp Ottawa. She’s the main organizer for UX Book Club Philly and served as an officer for PhillyCHI, Philadelphia’s UX community. Previously a senior experience designer at Happy Cog, she is now senior UX specialist at AWeber.

Jess is passionate about making everything she touches easy and enjoyable to use. A strong advocate for universal usability, she’s admittedly befuddled by a lack of clarity in everything from road signage to food packaging. She especially likes to drive her family nuts by complaining about the plastic film on food containers that can’t be removed without a knife.

In her spare time, Jess busies herself with reading, cooking, and enjoying a fine glass of wine or craft beer. She’s also mildly obsessed with the TV show Forensic Files.

© 2013

Since creativity can be manifested in countless ways, discussions of creativity can run both deep and wide. One goal of the Practice Profile series is to reveal, over time, the richness in those discussions by highlighting individuals’ personal practice. Every Profile is unique, as no two individuals share the same creative habits. This month I am excited to feature C. Todd Lombardo, whose creative habits happen to be rooted in visual thinking. The more familiar I become with visual thinking, design thinking, studio thinking and handmade thinking, the more clearly I understand the benefits of each.

Recently, C. Todd shared with me his thoughts on the value of visual thinking:

“I am a sketchnoter, which is a fancy word for notetaking doodler. I like to visualize things as I hear or think about them. This could be in a meeting, at a lecture or a conference or even when I am just thinking about something. At its simplest, it’s boxes and arrows. It is not about being a great artist, nor being “good at drawing,” rather establishing relationships with concepts in a visual manner. I sketchnote for myself, but I have found that other people find value in them, so I post most of them to Flickr. This doesn’t change my practice. In fact, because it is for myself I give myself permission to really screw up (read fail!). If I was doing this for others I’d feel more pressure to elevate the level of quality, which wouldn’t allow me to discover what many like to call “happy accidents.” This is helpful because some are really amazing. I think “wow, I did that,” while others are pretty terrible.”

Posting sketchnotes to Flickr makes his creativity accessible for others to observe. The images, drawn by hand, become an opportunity to learn about the ideas or concepts depicted in the drawings. Topics range from Glen Kelman’s presentation “Where do Ideas Come From?” at the Harvard Innovation Lab to “Human Centered Design, Methods for 21st Century Challenges”. Each pictorial rendering is dense with information, with only the most essential details communicated.

When asked how sketchnoting informs his professional practice, C. Todd explained: 

“This practice of visualizing helps me think about anything, and gives structure to my thought process. The story below shows a great example of how it helps with communicating in my professional life. I also think that there’s a kinesthetic value actually doing something with my hands and creating helps solidify concept in my brain so that I can recall them at a later date or even better, when I refer back to the image I can tell the story just as vividly as when I first heard the concept. I also find that it pulls out things that others may not have noticed or thought about. For example, I took notes at a talk given by Hacker Chick (Abby Fitchner) and she mentioned something about “leap and a net will appear” which she dismissed as something unimportant, but when she saw the notes she realized that it was quite integral to her talk and was surprised that picked up on it.” 

Finally, I asked for a memorable example that would speak to the relationship between his creative and professional pursuits.  His reply:

“A few months ago, I had a phone call with Eli Stefanski from BIF. As we chatted I started drawing out our conversation on the whiteboard and circled areas I wanted to circle back on and dive deeper into. I took a photo and sent it to her as a record of our conversation. Last week we were on a phone call with a few others and she was explaining something to the group. I repeated back to her what I understood the concept was and her reply was something to the effect of:  “Yes, that’s exactly correct, can you send me the picture you’re drawing that explains that? I’ve been trying to distill this for a while.” I chuckled because indeed I had drawn it and she rightly called me out.” 

C. Todd’s stories about sketchnoting speak to the value of visual thinking, with the examples posted to Flickr demonstrating that value further. With the promise of deeper comprehension and better retention (not to mention the possibility of the occasional happy accident!) I am certain to be putting pen to paper more often.


C. Todd Lombardo, often known as “CTodd,” has over 15 years of experience creating change in the corporate world and is very comfortable navigating ambiguity. When it comes to creativity he believes the power of three simple skills: convergence, divergence and withholding of judgment. He can be found working on a variety of project types such as user experience (UX), communication, design and strategy. In addition, he serves on the adjunct faculty at Madrid’s top-ranked IE Business School where he teach courses in design thinking, innovation and communication. His sketchnotes are often found online, and he believes chocolate chip cookies are one of the secrets to creativity.

© 2013

Last year marked the start of the Practice Profile series.  Each post in the series captured a glimpse of what we can learn of creativity.
I’m delighted to be starting 2013 with a feature of David Timony. Both a musician and an educator, his commitment to learning was immediately evident to me when we met several years ago. His blog is often insightful, and his Twitter stream often humorous. Among the things I have learned to expect from the Philadelphia native: candor.

About his personal creative practice, David remarks,

“I’m restless. Learning new things is pretty much a constant activity for me. It is not always purposive learning, sometimes it is just a matter of mental diet. I many ways I treat my mind the way a competition athlete may treat their body.”

Curiosity and the drive to learn are essential to creative output.
Without the benefit of diverse input, from which thoughts and ideas are gathered, the likelihood of seeing a familiar topic anew is slim. Fortunately, there are myriad ways to expand our experiences, so that novel input can be explored.

In the examples that follow, David describes ways he has sought novelty in his creative work:

“It’s all about the process and how that process influences the rest of my life. I’m my own coach and devils advocate–I don’t trust my tacit mind. If I love or hate something, I want to know why and how I could change that if only for a while. I started learning Romanian and Italian just to see what it would be like to be in that situation. I’m strongly considering a Scandinavian language because it is unlike anything I know. If I’m not actively learning new things I get out of shape and dull. I guess I can get really annoying really fast. 

This is a parallel to how I approach everything. A composition professor told me years ago, ‘you’re not going to write intervals or chords that have never been heard before.’  The next thing I did was go out and see how I could change that. I pulled the frets off of my main guitar. The luthier said, ‘you’ll hardly ever use that, it’s impossible.’  Well, that became my main guitar and still is.”

Like many others who thrive creatively, David understands the value of stepping outside the lines of certainty and beyond the comfort of the known. He explains,

“Being a learner requires some basic rules for living. There is no sanctity or superstition in my work. I’m willing to be uncomfortable. I’m willing to be wrong. However I may seem on the outside I’m terribly sensitive to others and hold no defense or pride to my method. I do, though, want to be sure and thorough. Some people have told me that they are not comfortable with my willingness to be uncomfortable. 

It’s been said that while Shoenberg was the primary architect of serialism, it was Berg and Webern who did it best. I’m alright being out front and setting stages for others. Sure, pioneers get slaughtered but hey, we all have our roles.” 

One of the greatest (and most damaging?) myths about creativity perpetuates the common misperception that discipline is somehow at odds with creativity. Significant creative outcomes require discipline.
David regards his training this way,

“I am familiar with the intensity of focus and practice required to learn. It has made me very honest about the work I am willing to invest to achieve in a domain. My calibration and tolerances are very finite. I love Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I’m willing to improve slowly knowing that I cannot dedicate the practice necessary to improve at a quicker pace. In other areas, there are differing amounts of those resources.” 

When asked about the ways in which his creative practice influences his work as an educator:

“I can’t think of one. It’s all just living for me. I really don’t see my life in compartments like that. Everything that I do has a reciprocal influence–it’s a performance, a rehearsal, a critique, and a classroom. Life is pretty surreal sometimes.”

As 2013 begins, I see many opportunities to integrate creative practice and professional practice.  I look forward to sharing some of that work here.  And, as always, I look forward to the learning!


David D. Timony holds a PhD in Educational Psychology and is a teacher, speaker, and researcher with more than 20 years experience in the classroom. He is a regular presenter at local, national, and online conferences and seminars. David draws upon his life as an artist and musician to bring creativity to his educational work and has been recognized for his approach in creating and developing tailored programs for individuals, groups, and institutions. When not at his desk, he spends his time with his family and chairs the Board of Directors at Miro Dance Theatre.

David’s research focuses on the demonstration and development of teacher expertise, student perceptions of teacher expertise, and the effect that the interaction of these constructs has on the outcomes for teachers and students.

A regular invitee to national and international conferences, his research has been presented at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, Temple University’s Department of Psychological Studies in Education, NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, and Phi Delta Kappa International’s Summit on Teacher Quality and Retention.

© 2013

Each Practice Profile in the series highlights the personal creative practice of an individual, in order to demonstrate one of the most reliable and inspiring elements of creative expression: variety.  In an increasingly complex world, the outlets for creative expression, and the tangible forms of such expression, are both exciting and staggering!

The nature of creative practice defies narrow definition.
There is consistency within practice, but practice is often mercurial. There are some common elements between individuals, but personal practice is also highly idiosyncratic.  Fortunately, the many benefits of maintaining a practice are far easier to describe.

Len Kendall describes his personal practice this way:

“In a word, accidental. My creative practice is generally spurred by discovering interesting new ideas, projects, and people online. My output usually comes in the form of writing, sketching, and “non-technical hacking” which involves using digital tools in unexpected ways. When I come across something that excites me or challenges me, I block off time in the future to tinker with it or write about it. The majority of the time, my creative practice has little output, but the process of sifting leads me to new creative avenues. Once in a while, I land a real gem.”

Len’s emphasis on the inherent value of process renders output, temporarily, to a secondary concern.  What Len refers to as “new creative avenues” are a necessary part of the process which ultimately lead to new creative territory.  Although this craggy territory may be harder to explore than territory which is already known, the input we receive from such exploration is key to creative output.  To explore is to be willing to investigate new avenues without knowing the terrain, or exactly where the road, on or off the macadam, might lead.  Reserving time  to investigate a topic that excites or challenges, as Len mentions, truly embodies the spirit of exploration that is needed to “land a gem”.

Much has been written about the importance of flexible thinking in the 21st century, and adaptability as a significant life skill.  On the topic of flexible thinking, John Dewey once wrote, “Only because the artist operates experimentally does he open new fields of experience and disclose new aspects and qualities in familiar scenes and objects.”   Although it is true of the artistic process, this openness to new fields of experience, described by Dewey, is a necessary part of exploration in every domain.

Len acknowledges the role of experimentation:

“With my new venture CentUp, I’m building a product that requires a behavior change in a large group of people. Taking on creative projects requires a person to learn something new, try something different, or simply be uncomfortable. Ultimately, there are hurdles that need to be overcome and I’ve been studying the specific issues that have prevented me, and others, from wanting to pursue a creative idea. The same process takes place with a new digital product.”

Although Len chose the word accidental to describe his practice, it is also clear that there are some important moments he isn’t willing to leave to chance.  Here he describes the resourcefulness that characterized a recent milestone:

“When I proposed to my now fiancé via something I called Operation SayYesKatie, I had to build a viral campaign extremely quickly and leverage the power of a large media partner and my friends.”

The examples in this Practice Profile speak to a personal creative practice that prizes the process, and also demonstrates where the avenues of such a process might lead.  Other examples of his handiwork found on the internet demonstrate where else the process might lead!
So what has all this exploring and experimentation taught Len about the nature of creativity?

He explains:

“The biggest lesson I learned is that people are more inclined to help you with creative projects if there is a large component of good involved. With my proposal that component was helping a guy profess his love, with my new professional pursuit, it’s raising money for charity. So much creative talent today is leveraged to sell commodity products. My practice with creativity in the past has taught me that if you want lots of collaboration in your creative pursuits, you need to be building something that makes people’s hearts feel good.” 

What has your creative practice taught you?


Len Kendall lives in Chicago, Illinois.
Expert at nothing. A Social Entrepreneur.
He is the founder of and former Digital Director @GolinHarris.
The internet is his box of LEGOs.

© 2012

Each post in the Practice Profile series captures the distinct perspective of one individual, in order to highlight some of the ways a personal creative practice can impact professional practices.  Recently I asked Paul Williams, founder of Idea Sandbox, what he relies upon to maintain his inimitable style of playful creativity.  In this Practice Profile, Paul shares some of the tactics that aid him in his work as a professional problem solver.

Paul’s first suggestion: Write It Down.  He explains,

“That situation or problem you thought about last week has been mulling in the back of your brain.  Our brains fire out ideas when we do things that don’t require a lot of thought, when doing things that are routine.  Driving to work.  Taking a shower.  Exercising.

For me it is the shower.  I’ll be struck with a brilliant idea, an idea so great I know I’ll remember it.  Only to lose it when another idea hits.  So, I bought a diver’s slate.  A small piece of white plastic with a pencil attached to it.  This is what underwater divers use to make notes.”

Although it would be convenient if the ideation process occurred in an orderly fashion, that just isn’t the case.  Any idea is just one of many possibilities.  And, as Paul describes, often when the possibilities begin to flow they flow fast and furious!  When problem solving, capturing ideas in their earliest stage is an important step in reaching a refined and quality solution; much like the artist or designer whose process begins with rough sketches in order to eventually yield a refined composition or design.  While the habit of keeping a notebook to capture ideas is not a new method, relying on a diver’s slate in the shower spins that concept, making it quite an effective variation of the norm!

Paul was clear that he always has something to capture thoughts and ideas, whether it is the Notes app on his iPhone or a Field Notes brand book and pen.  His philosophy is simple: it doesn’t matter what you use—as long as you are using something.

Another technique Paul recommends is mind mapping.  He maintains that part of the value in mind mapping is the ability to represent certain connections in a visual fashion.

In his words,

“We get uncomfortable when new ideas are so different they do not link with old ideas. It makes us nervous.  Feels risky.  As a result remarkable ideas are often not adopted or modified so they feel more familiar (and ultimately no longer remarkable).”

The visual nature of a mind map makes it easier to observe what connects the new with the old.  Seeing the relationship between the ideas tangibly expressed on the page can help to mitigate some of the nervousness around a new idea. Paul suggests that this type of nervousness, “is one of the problems with the adoption of new ideas within organizations.”

Reluctance may accompany the unfamiliar, but, when evaluating possibilities, we benefit from the willingness to put reluctance and judgement aside.  Taking the time to pay attention to unrelated facts and ideas, even if the information initially seems at odds, can make all the difference.  Such was the case with an example Paul shared about exploring the common ground between farming and advertising:

“An ad agency was experiencing employee churn.  Designers would often quit after only working for 9 months or so, complaining they felt ‘burned out.’

The problem caused me to remember a lesson about farming.  If you planted the same crop in the same field too many times – the soil would become tired, lose nutrients, and not produce.

I wondered if the same way you kept soil productive and nutrient-rich would work for the agency.  Instead of designers doing the same type work until they became worn out, what if they rotated the types of projects they worked on?

The firm tried the idea – and everyone was happy. Designers cross-trained for a variety of project types.  This enhanced productivity and made for an overall more creative team!  And, instead of specializing, having a depth and breath of knowledge made each designer better at all types of projects.

While this technique – stealing and applying ideas from seemingly unrelated fields – isn’t the ONLY tool in my creative shed, it is one that has come in handy many times.”

When asked about his personal practice, and how it informs his professional practice, Paul replied,

“There is a great quote by British historian Arnold J. Toynbee.  It goes something like this… ‘The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.’  For me being creative is fun, so when I do it for work – it is always play.”

Whether the line is between farming and advertising or work and play (or anything else) very often it is our willingness to blur the line that leads to the most creative outcomes!


Paul Williams is the founder of Idea Sandbox, a brainstormer and professional problem solver. Through hand-crafted strategy and brainstorm sessions he helps people create remarkable ideas to grow their business. As one client put it, “Idea Sandbox turns brains into idea machines.”

Paul has spent the past 20 years building marketing, branding, and customer-experience strategy for The Disney Company, the Aramark Corporation, and Starbucks Coffee Company. He founded Idea Sandbox in 2005 driven by his passion to help others create remarkable ideas. He blends the skills and lessons he has learned through the years to build a sandbox – an idea sandbox.

He help brands solve challenges, grow their brand, think-up remarkable ideas, and create innovation. Clients include: Starbucks Coffee Company, Starbucks Coffee International, Panera Bread Company, Seattle’s Best Coffee, BGR The Burger Joint, USA TODAY, Woodhouse Day Spas, The Microsoft Corporation, and Wells Fargo Mortgage.

He lives just outside Washington DC in Alexandria, Virginia.

© 2012

Last month, the Practice Profile featuring Jon Mueller marked the beginning of a new series.  Each post in the series will highlight the creative practice of one individual, in order to explore the theme of this blog from another perspective.  Celebrating creative expression through dialogue in this way creates opportunity for interesting threads to be revealed.

This month I am excited to feature Linda Essig.  I have followed Linda’s blog, Creative Infrastructure, for more than a year, and it is my great pleasure to have her thoughts included here.

I began by asking two basic questions:

How would you describe your personal creative practice?


In what ways have you observed this practice informing your professional practice?

To which Linda replied,

“I find it difficult to separate the two. There is creative activity that I undertake that is not part of my professional practice, but a lot of my professional practice is creative or is about enabling the creativity of others. If creativity means coming up with new ideas (which is how I define it for my students) then perhaps creative practice is bringing those ideas to some level of actualization or, at least, publication.”

Emphasis on action, rather than sheer ideation or imagination, is integral to any conversation about creativity and creative practice.  Particular elements of creative practice may vary greatly from person to person, but commitment to action is a necessary constant.  The impulse to act upon a creative idea takes place in all contexts, and genuine creativity is not readily contained.  As Linda suggests,

“Creativity happens everywhere. I mean that in terms of my personal practice of creativity (some of my best ideas are developed while thinking sideways, thinking about something else) and in terms of the loci of creativity in our culture. Creativity happens in central city classrooms, in artist’s studios, in business conference rooms, and in every part of the country. This has always been true, but the democratized digital distribution of ideas makes the pervasiveness of creativity more obvious.”

As digital culture thrives, we gain the capacity to record and share evidence of actualized creativity with far greater ease.  Consider the presence of sites like Kickstarter and Etsy, and each software or app du jour that enables us to engage in some form of creative or artistic expression.  We only have to look as far as our mobil devices to access memorable examples of creativity such as Caine’s Arcade, Talk Back: The Bubble Project, or the story of a game designer now well-know for his solar system app. And certainly what circulates digitally represents only a fraction of the creativity that takes place in our daily lives.

Does the sharing move our collective creativity forward in some way?  Does the ubiquity of examples serve to catalyze more abundant creative impulses within ourselves and in our communities?  And, if so, does the impact occur closer to the stages of inspiration and ideation or does it also have an impact upon execution?

Execution, in contrast to ideation, favors consistency.  Linda offers the following thoughts,

“However, just because creativity happens everywhere doesn’t mean it is practiced everywhere. Practice implies intention and repetition. Thus, when I go into my kitchen and cook an interesting meal, I (or you) may consider that action creative but not part of my professional creative practice.

Conversely, when I approach my desk on Monday morning to write, that is creative practice ­ I create with intention, discipline, and practice.”

Many books have been written which describe the discipline needed to achieve a creative outcome.  Among my favorites is Twyla Tharp’s, The Creative Habit.  Certain lines from the book stayed with me long after the first reading.  For example,

“No one can give you your subject matter, your creative content; if they could, it would be their creation and not yours.  But there’s a process that generates creativity—and you can learn it.  And you can make it habitual.” 


Linda Essig heads ASU’s arts entrepreneurship program, p.a.v.e, which has helped launch 27 arts-based ventures into the Phoenix area and beyond since its inception in 2005.  She was Founding Director of the School of Theatre and Film in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts where she also served as Artistic Director of the school’s MainStage Season from 2004–2010. A professional lighting designer, Essig’s design for the ASU production of Suzan–Lori Parks’s “Venus” was part of the USA National Exhibit of theatrical design at the Prague Quadrennial in 2007. Essig has designed lighting for theatres throughout the country including Cleveland Playhouse, Milwaukee Rep, Missouri Rep, Utah Shakespearean Festival, Skylight Opera, La Mama ETC, Pioneer Theatre, Madison Repertory Theatre and others. She currently has funding from the Kauffman Foundation for her work on the p.a.v.e. program and has previously been funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the City of Tempe, and the Arizona Commission on the Arts. She is the author of articles and book chapters on both arts entrepreneurship and lighting design as well as two books: Lighting and the Design Idea (to be published in a third edition January 2012) and The Speed of Light: Dialogues on Lighting Design and Technological Change. She is a member of the boards of directors of the Phoenix Fringe Festival and the United States Institute for Theatre Technology.  Her blog, covers arts entrepreneurship, arts policy, higher education in the arts and, occasionally, cooking. You can follow her on twitter @LindaInPhoenix

© 2012


Throughout the last year I’ve written often about my practice of artmaking, with a focus on implications of the creative process in everyday life.  The writing led to inquiries into the creative practice of others and these inquires brought new opportunities to learn more about the impact of their process in their daily lives.

Exploring and expressing creativity does not come with an instruction manual.  It is not one-size-fits-all.  The very thing that stimulates one person’s curiosity and creative mojo might not have the same impact upon another.  No doubt this is one of the many reasons evidence of creativity manifests itself in remarkably diverse ways.  Just as our fingerprints are uniquely our own, so too is each of our creative practice.

Such diversity of practice reflects what is original and unique among individuals.  And yet, as the dialogue around creative practice grows, in increasingly larger circles, certain universal outcomes are becoming more readily apparent.  The more we consider and value these universal outcomes—the countless lessons learned as a result of having a personal creative practice—the greater our desire will likely be to cultivate them more broadly in our communities.

Near the end of 2011 I began to make my informal inquiries with more regularity.  Recently I asked Jon Mueller a few questions on the subject.  Much to my delight, Jon was enthusiastic about participating in the dialogue and candid with his responses.  Within those responses he describes the fundamentals of his practice, and, in doing so, Jon reveals the act of listening to be particularly vital.

An accomplished musician, Jon speaks of his process in this way:

“It starts with listening, which is a process. I hear, see, and understand a variety of things that strike me in a profound way. I listen to the way those things resonate with me and my existing ideas and values that are fundamentally important to me. Then I build things based on these new intersections.  Sometimes only more ideas get built. These might get realized in different forms at a later time. Or, sometimes the process moves quickly and is revealed almost as a call to action. The key element to these actions though, is that they must reflect my personal fundamentals.”

Reading his description, I began to recall elements of the Knowledge System model referred to by Hilary Austen in her book, Artistry Unleashed.

The Knowledge System model is comprised of three parts:
Directional Knowledge, Conceptual Knowledge and Experiential Knowledge.

In Austen’s framework, Directional Knowledge is data that influences individuals’ unique choices.  Directional Knowledge reflects identity and motivation; it is the aspect of the framework in which individual preferences, ideals and orientations are revealed.

When asked how his professional practice is informed by his creative practice Jon replied:
I have focused strongly on removing a divide between the two. I think it’s less about existing in two separate situations and more about being me as a person – how I think, what I can contribute, what solutions come from my experience and ideas. This philosophy applies whether I’m writing music for solo percussion, analyzing yearly costs for a company, or deciding what food to serve at a party. The aim is to provide quality decisions that contain some sense of my character, which contain traces of the fundamental interests referred to in the previous question.”

In the three examples above, Jon’s emphasis on honoring personal conviction demonstrates how this concept of Directional Knowledge is brought to bear in various contexts.  When I inquired a bit further about this working style, Jon offered the following illustrative example:

“Costs always need to be analyzed, and often, the areas where to reduce them can be obvious. But sometimes those aren’t necessarily the best choices, or the only choices. In some cases, the root of where the concern for reducing lies needs to be dug into deeper. Finding that can involve the creative process. For instance, are employees failing, or is management? If management, what about the system they exist within can better facilitate success? Are the material costs too high or is advertising overworking when the quality of the material already sells itself? Business can be an endless conundrum, and without tapping into one’s own creative process for bringing out the most positive and interesting elements in any situation, it can be disastrous.

Also, wherever a reduction is made, this often creates an opportunity to create additional value. Taking away might improve the health of a business, but what replaces that cost or effort can also have a profound effect, and this definitely involves the creative process. For instance, if 20 people are laid off, what can be invested in those who remain to make their effort and time more fulfilling and successful? If planned activities are canceled due to costs, what else might occur that costs less, but have similar results?

These types of questions exist in many disciplines besides business. What are the reasons for not doing something, and what are the reasons for doing something else? Often, these answers are rooted in one’s own ideas for what can make something interesting, and what is interesting can involve a variety of things, from people, material and sound to thoughts, actions, design, and more.”  

Jon’s description of cost analysis, and the need to “dig deeper” reflects his original statement regarding the value of listening.  As a result of his creative process, and his commitment to listening, tasks that lie outside his artistic pursuits are enhanced.  This impulse to dig deeper and listen might also be regarded as a dedication to quality; anyone dedicated to creative outcomes will very likely find themselves striving for quality during the process.

In a recent interview, John Maeda, President of the Rhode Island School of Design, remarked,
“Once people are exposed to quality, they recognize it right away and they appreciate it”. 

In what ways are you dedicated to, or striving for, quality?  How is this evident in your own creative practice?


Jon Mueller is the General Manager of 800ceoread, a company that connects people and ideas.  They host the sites, and a variety of other resources for people looking to gather or spread good ideas.

He has given talks about creativity and new business approaches at places such as The Music Forum: Loyola University (NOLA), WMSE’s Radio Summercamp (Milwaukee, WI), Viva! Festival (Montreal), Weslyan University (Middleton, CT), PRSA (Milwaukee, WI), and MARN (Milwaukee, WI).

As a drummer and percussionist, he has performed throughout North America, Japan, and Europe, and has released recordings on labels such as Table of the Elements, Polyvinyl Records, Type Recordings, Jagjaguwar, Hometapes, Important Records, and many others.

Over the past 25 years, he has increasingly focused on recognizing the dialog between sound and the situation it’s presented in, often bypassing standard approaches to percussion and considering acoustics and concepts surrounding the work in order to create a larger experience for those listening.

More info can be found at

© 2012