Call for Submissions: The Defectors, Season 3

Season 3. We back.

defectors s3 imagery.png

The time has come to share your stories. I’m gathering a new set of dispatches for The Defectors, my now annual series about the interesting and fulfilling ways that I and others are using their higher education experience in new fields. Former faculty, staff, and administrators in higher education are encouraged to submit; don’t be shy, I’d love to know more and I’m sure others would too.

This year, I’m focusing on a few different areas:

  • K-12 education (classroom, tutoring, etc.)
  • Corporate training and recruitment
  • Nonprofit management and administration
  • Technology/”startup” companies
  • Government and/or politics

If this is you, or if you know someone for whom the brief fits, please get in touch using the form below! Nominations of others are welcome, or you could share the link to this page. Submissions will be accepted until Friday, April 27th.

Leave any questions you might have about the process in the comments, and I look forward to sharing some great stories here this fall!

For previous installments of the Defectors, look here and here.

Contributors are compensated for their time and testimony.

What Does Creativity Without Heart Look Like?

I want to talk about Logan Paul for a minute.

Actually, I don’t. I don’t want to talk about Logan Paul, but the events of the past few months surrounding the callous video content he’s posted on his YouTube channel, his apparent contrition for offense or trauma that was caused, and subsequent missteps which show little was learned, have forced my hand.


Because after his latest antics were deemed outside YouTube’s revised guidelines, guidelines likely inspired by previous challenges the platform has had with Paul, he made an urgent plea on his video: “They’re cutting me, bro. Creativity being stifled.”

Oh, Logan. Honey. Bro, if I may.

While I have a number of issues with the argument put forth, I want to center on two in today’s post.

First, the idea of restrictions. Contrary to the popular belief that you can only be creative if there are no limits imposed on your work, a great deal of creative work is accomplished because there are boundaries in place. I think of the OG side hustlers Wright brothers, who successfully developed the first flying machine” with roughly $2000, while holding down full time jobs running a bicycle store. Comparatively, the US government had given Samuel Langley the modern-day equivalent of $700,000 and no other tasks to accomplish the same task. Langley’s behemoth prototype took to the sky once…before crashing into the Potomac, ultimately unrecoverable.

What did a lack of time and funding do for the Wright brothers? It made them efficient. Because they had to sandwich their work on the flying machine between substantial stretches of “real work,” they learned how to make things in short periods of time, to test things in low-cost ways, and to move quickly if something didn’t work…because they didn’t have time to dwell.

I remember this when I write posts for this site between other tasks, or create content for other publications within their set guidelines. Hell, even as  I think about (and stress over, and write right down to the wire of) deadlines. Without those boundaries, I’d never get anything done. And without content and style guidelines, publications and other outlets would never be able to refine their own voice- which, it’s important to note, is their right. So, Logan. Honey. Bro, if I may. Creating absent restrictions is possible for relative few. But creating with boundaries is both perfectly possible, and necessary for a few reasons. Which brings me to my next point.

Some really important points stand out in the written statement from YouTube’s Vice President for Product Management Ariel Bardin (emphasis added):

Recently, we faced situations where the egregious actions of a handful of YouTubers harmed the reputation of the broader creator community among advertisers, the media industry and most importantly, the general public. In light of this behavior—and our commitment to tighten our policies and communicate them more quickly and transparently—we’re introducing new consequences to apply in the rare event when one creator’s actions harm the entire community. When one creator does something particularly blatant—like conducts a heinous prank where people are traumatized, promotes violence or hate toward a group, demonstrates cruelty, or sensationalizes the pain of others in an attempt to gain views or subscribers—it can cause lasting damage to the community, including viewers, creators and the outside world.

That damage can have real-world consequences not only to users, but also to other creators, leading to missed creative opportunities, lost revenue and serious harm to your livelihoods. That’s why it’s critical to ensure that the actions of a few don’t impact the 99.9 percent of you who use your channels to connect with your fans or build thriving businesses.

Bardin’s recognition of the community harm that can be done by an idea (perhaps one that previously hadn’t been undertaken for a reason), reminds me of how I conceptualized the metric of heart in Cultivating Creativity. From the book:

It isn’t enough to just be creative. It isn’t enough to leverage the support of allies, advocates and activators, to take inspiration from varied places, and to enlist talented and varied people to do it. It isn’t enough to steel ourselves against the fatigue and insecurity that can hinder our determination or execution. It isn’t enough to learn how to hold these ideas lightly, or to grow into the people it takes to make them a reality. We also have to think about the impact that these ideas will have once they’re released into the world. We’d love to believe that the thing we’ve created will unequivocally improve the lives of others. But there are times where this is not the case; in extreme cases, there are times where the destruction of others is the express goal of what we create. Simply put: I don’t want to empower that kind of creativity. I don’t empower that kind of creativity.

To that end, I always encourage the asking of three questions when vetting an idea:

  • Who does this idea, project or solution help?
  • Who does it hurt?
  • What can be done to maximize the former condition while minimizing the latter?

I go on to talk about how you and your team can discern the most advantageous answers to this trio questions (invoking the other elements of the Cultivating Creativity Manifesto):

The first question is generally simple enough; it is those who we wish to help, often (but not always) including ourselves, that bring these ideas to the forefront in the first place. The second question is a little bit tougher. It requires deeper examination: in the process of elevating the population that inspired the idea, is it possible that others might be left behind, marginalized, or even hurt in the process? A thorough answer to this question can benefit from other essential elements. Honest and forthright allies, advocates and activators; a broadminded perspective; and varied and diverse collaborators can bring some of these issues to your attention sooner than if you didn’t enlist their help.

The third question might (and should!) test your determination, alter your execution, and employ your flexibility. It is affected by the mental models and assumptions you might have made but otherwise been unaware of. Growing past these assumptions, challenging them with new information and testimony, can change the face of what you’re creating and how it’s received in the world. The result? A more heartfelt project, one that aims to avoid harm and ultimately improve the world in which it exists.

Were Paul to have run through these questions before releasing the initial controversial video, he may have identified that he and his online image could be helped by its release, but in the process many others (survivors of suicide victims, those who hold the Suicide Forest sacred, those struggling with suicide ideation themselves, etc.) would be hurt. Further, if no one on Paul’s team was able to voice these objections, that hints at a circle of collaborators and allies, advisors, or activators with dangerous blind spots in their world perspective. To enlist people who will challenge you when insensitive or ill-advised actions are underway isn’t stifling, it’s enriching.

So Logan. Honey. Bro, if I may. Doing something novel means relatively little if it also brings about harm. Maybe that’s why there wasn’t much of it up to this point.

I have little hope that Paul’s particular brand of shock-based online entertainment will change; that’s far from my goal in examining his case. What I do hope, however, is to provide a framework by which others can vet their creative decisions. Not just by how novel an idea is, but how altruistically it can be achieved and implemented. That should matter, too.

Inclusion Riders for the Rest of Us

A few weeks ago at the Academy Awards, Best Actress in a Motion Picture winner Frances McDormand set Google afire with the phrase “inclusion rider.” The idea was not hers; rather, it was the brainchild of USC Annenberg School of Communication professor Stacy L. Smith. First proposed in 2014, it is a contract clause that

A-list actors can incorporate a clause in their contracts that stipulates that inclusion — both on camera and behind the scenes for crew members — be reflected in films. The rider states that women, people of color, people with disabilities, and members of LGBT and marginalized communities who are traditionally underrepresented be depicted on screen in proportion to their representation in the population.

Most of us will likely never be in the position to create such a clause for our own contracts. But the purpose that they aim to serve is one we all have the power to explore in the environments we create- and the culture developed by the people populating these environments.

This is far greater than a matter of aesthetics. Valuing and abiding by the principles these inclusion riders espouse contributes meaningfully to a team’s ability to thrive in a constantly changing marketplace. I write in Cultivating Creativity about how those in positions of power (like those who can ask for these rider provisions in negotiations) have a tremendous opportunity to disrupt a power differential in this area:

Those with like experiences and perspectives coming together will result in either relatively few clashes for the sake of harmony, or the same old clashes fueled by existing factions fortifying their ranks. But by seeking to elevate the potential and impact of those who don’t typically have a seat at the table (or an audible voice once they arrive), the work that we seek to do can yield new perspectives, reach new people, solve problems that we previously haven’t had the resources or insight to solve.

This shifting take on allyship, advocacy, and activatorship might challenge those who typically inhabit these roles. By choosing to support those who differ from you, you are making yourself vulnerable. There are aspects of these relationships where you will not be the sage, expert, or most experienced party. And for those who typically sit in the majority, this is an unfamiliar stead. Embrace it. Listen through it, honoring and affirming the difficult truths you may hear about, even  (especially!) if they’re not your own. Learn through it. Use the knowledge gained in these moments to bolster your own work, to fuel your own creativity.

Creating space for underrepresented voices isn’t just “the right thing to do” to make people feel good. It affects an organization’s ability to serve its marketplace, to meaningfully shape the society in which it operates, and the lives of the people affiliated with the organization – both inside and out.

This is presently not easy work. An exchange I found on Instagram late last week dismayingly addressed this concern with an actress and comedian about whom I’d been wondering: Amy Schumer. When asked by a commenter why the three “Amy Schumer Presents” specials had highlighted the comedy of one white woman and two white males, Schumer responded meaningfully:

Thank you. You’re right. But what you don’t know is that I’ve tried and worked hard to produce specials for other women including women of color and been rejected. You’ve seen the ones they agreed to buy. I’m doing my best. I will keep trying. @miacomedy (Black female comedian Mia Jackson) will have a killer special very soon if the people in positions of power wise up.

Admittedly, Schumer’s approach was one I had previously questioned; while the talent she has lifted up (Rachel Feinstein, Mark Normand, and Sam Morril) are all deserving of her support, I wonder what could be done if that capital was used to lift up the talent of those who may not otherwise get the opportunity. Director Ava DuVernay put it another way, when she talked about addressing inclusion practices, questioning the very language that we use to describe it (as Dr. D-L Stewart has previously):

I think the very words diversity and inclusion are unfortunate because it’s really just reality. The world is not as we depict on film and television – that is not real. Unfortunately, it’s the case for the people who are controlling film, television and theater, but it is not a real space. So the idea that inclusion and diversity is some kind of allowance being made to open our arms to more people — no. It is a correction of an error. It is a righting of a wrong. And it is going to be done.

Academy Awards red carpet outside the Kodak Theatre

IMAGE CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons

And yet, in all these discussions, I see hope. I see people like Jessica Chastain tying their own compensation to that of Octavia Spencer, resulting in a fivefold raise for the latter. I see the launch of sites like People of Craft (a directory of artistic creatives of color developed by Amélie Lamont and Timothy Goodman) and Akuarel (a directory of television and film creatives launched by #oscarssowhite creator April Reign). And I have to hope that these mechanisms in media will create a world that other industries can see and emulate in their practices.

For most of us are not in roles where we can include this type of stipulation in our employment contracts. Most of us are left to our own devices and judgment when advocating for these changes in our workplaces. Whose perspective isn’t being heard? Where does your organization have gaps? And who needs to be not just present, but heard and empowered in your organization to change its face?

A few suggestions:

  • If in a hiring capacity, look meaningfully at the job descriptions and locations of postings. If paywalls are associated to access sites, consider how that could keep out segments of the qualified applicant pool. What words could be turning off female applicants, or applicants of color, or applicants with disabilities?
  • Seek to acknowledge, and then change, elements of your organizational culture that are actively challenging or demoralizing underrepresented populations. Asking in earnest, with an eye toward improvement, can reveal inequities and injustices that actively hinder success or comfort for employees.
  • Closely related to the last point: when confronted with evidence of these challenging or demoralizing circumstances, stop. Listen. Acknowledge the experience of the person who is sharing. And incorporate said testimony into your present view of the organization- even if it isn’t your experience. To reiterate the advice from Cultivating Creativity above: “honor and affirm the difficult truths you may hear about, even  (especially!) if it’s not your own. Learn through it.”
  • If serving as a mentor or sponsor, consider not just advising those under your watchful eye, but actively putting them forward for opportunities. Don’t tell them how to do things, let them do things and encourage others to do the same.

Presenting: 2018 Post Conference “Coffee Chats”!

I know the feeling well.

Your head buzzes the whole flight home, perhaps punctuated with quick jots in the margins of conference programs or inside padfolios. The last several days have been educational, entertaining, and energizing. But what do we do with that energy once we get home?

This year, I want it to really have an impact. And I want to help.

Set aside a half hour with me during the week of March 19th to talk about your conference season. Where’d you go? What did you learn? And what are you worried about when it comes to taking those lessons, conversations, and recommendations and transforming them into action? Half an hour won’t give you all the answers, but it’ll be a start…a start I’m happy to help you achieve.

This call is free, and gives you no obligation to buy or book anything. I just want to know what you learned, what you want to do with it, and (if possible) how I can help you get there!

Ready to sign up? Let’s go!

[PODCAST] Boundless Podcast, Episode 8

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of getting to talk to Paul Millerd of Boundless for The Boundless Podcast. Paul is doing some really smart and interesting work on the future of work, how we can prepare people for it, and what traits it will take to embrace and thrive in this new space.

Paul says I hold the present record for making him crack up the most over the course of an interview; if you’re into that, you’re going to enjoy this one. Thanks so much for having me, Paul- looking forward to teaming up again soon!

Click the image below or head to Boundless to hear my episode- and several others on the future of work!

9 Ways Senior Leaders Can Promote Creativity

I spend a lot of time thinking about creativity. How to encourage people to find their own, how to expand the definition of it, how to make the case for its utility in organizations. But what I also spend a lot of time on, is pondering what environments need to help people be creative. A lot of organizations have chosen to focus on the space in which people work – hence open offices, Ping Pong tables, whiteboards, and all those other “office perks” that companies put in place to set themselves apart.

Companies with beer fridges and board games be like… IMAGE CREDIT: GIPHY

But things don’t make an organizational culture. People do. And the people in that organization  – be it a student club, a nonprofit, or a corporation – should have philosophies about work that are congruent with the environment they build and attract prospective employees with.

This congruence came to mind again a few weeks ago when I read this report from the Center for Creative Leadership, about senior leadership behaviors that sabotage innovation. It’s one thing to say, “we love creative ideas,” but it is quite another to foster an environment that truly does that. As such, I want to turn around their findings, thus sharing nine ways that you can ensure your surroundings promote the innovative impulses of your team.

(1) Encouraging creativity.

And I mean really encouraging it. Not just saying “no idea is off-limits,” only to later poke holes in the ones that don’t match what’s previously been done or what solutions were expected. I wrote about the many ways that leadership can articulate dedication to creativity in Cultivating Creativity– and the way that’s most effective:

Leadership over creative individuals, or over individuals with whom you’d like to work creatively, requires a shift in thinking from the way we’ve typically conceived of supervising and managing. In the earliest waves of management, we believed that giving employees permission was the highest form of agency we could provide. Managers and supervisors are custodians of a work environment, and the manner in which people worked was up to them.

Then, leadership and management theory moved away from language of permission and into the language of support. “This individual has my support” was the new way of saying that someone was allowed to work in a different direction than they might have originally. While this change was welcome, this language is challenging because it still puts the onus of directing a project, a department, or an organization in the hands of the leader. The modern workforce is evolving to where having support still isn’t enough. So what comes next?

My answer: truly transformative creative work will come when individuals don’t have permission, or have support, but when they feel supported. While it may seem like a subtle semantic change, I believe it matters. It matters because it changes the responsibility of the manager or supervisor. Helping someone feel supported is a collaborative process. It requires the joint understanding of an employer and an employee, a patron and a protégé, a leader and a team member.

Leadership practices that help people feel supported, whether their idea goes well or poorly (more on that later) is more likely to foster further creativity. I speak often of how important collaboration is to creation; to help someone feel supported is far more collaborative than “you have my support,” and certainly more so than “do whatever you want.” As a creator, how can you articulate the importance of such support? And as a leader, how can you articulate or demonstrate that support to those under your employ?

(2) Evaluating ideas thoroughly, including resources and systems.

There is a time and place to prioritize ideas based on feasibility and resources. That time is not the very instant after the idea is presented. Perhaps the most precious resource that creativity needs to thrive and take hold is time; remember that when an unfamiliar idea is presented. Choosing to evaluate an idea for feasibility at that introduction point fails to truly examine the needs that idea addresses, the resources truly available (and what changes could be made if needed). In the Cultivating Creativity framework, the commitment to thoroughly evaluating an idea is a function of determination. Two traits of a workplace determined to be creative that I strongly recommend embracing and continually implementing:

A determined environment periodically assesses the resources of those dedicated to solving problems. Are they well equipped to address the issues at hand? Where are there gaps? How can those gaps be filled? And how can those in relatively higher positions of power assist in filling those gaps?

When assessing decisions, these environments encourage open-minded assessment of ideas and pitches. Go into negotiations or ideation sessions with a “how can we make this work?” orientation, rather than a “here’s why this won’t work” orientation.

(3) Pushing a Bottom-Up Approach.

After moving to an electronic system for ticketing at my last institution, we had a misfire on how tickets were distributed. I was embarrassed that a system I had championed had failed relatively early in its deployment and had disappointed students. One of those students, more agitated than many, came to see me. I asked her “what would you have me do?” and listened to her reply; the answer was a good one. Later in the day, we re-deployed the ticket acquisition process incorporating her suggestion. She was right.

Good ideas can come from anyone. This means that ideas can be acted on whether they come from the top of the organization, or from someone elsewhere in the pipeline – who sees challenges or problems from a wholly different perspective than those in leadership. As a leader, do you acknowledge the validity and truth in those perspectives, even (especially!) if they don’t align with what you’re seeing?

(4) De-Emphasizing Structure and Hierarchy

One challenge to allowing ideas to rise from wherever they originate, is finding the professional mechanism, or personal courage (or both!) to convey that idea upward in the organization. If we’re convinced people in power won’t listen or honor what we think, we hold ideas in- ideas that can make a difference if supported and funded.

So while it’s unlikely that most companies will dismantle their hierarchical structure simply to ensure the free sharing of information (and, as many learned from the lessons at Zappos, such a move isn’t necessarily productive), it is possible to lower the intimidation factor when it comes to voicing a problem or suggesting a solution. A few quick ideas:

(5) Expanding Innovation Beyond R&D

Confining an expectation of creativity and innovation to research and development (or whatever the equivalent would be at your organization) underscores the idea that creativity is the exclusive province of a select group of people, equipped with a certain skill set, and allowed to impact an organization in a certain way. To be clear: I don’t believe that. I often express disdain or frustration with the phrase “I’m not creative,” but for a very specific reason: it underestimates its speaker. Yes, you too can be creative! And believing that, particularly in a professional capacity, starts with feeling empowered to explore that part of yourself.

Worried about your ability to contribute meaningfully to a creative solution? Start by noticing, and start by encouraging those you supervise to do the same. What elements of your daily routine could work differently, perhaps better? Who does your work include, and who might it exclude? What “research and development,” as it were, could you do within your organization- and how will you use those experiences to get the wheels of creativity and innovation moving? And in your role as leaders, when are approached with the results of these R&D efforts: how do you empower these folks to pursue solutions?

(6) Uplifting First

“That’s not how we do things here,” the fraternal twin to “that’s how we’ve always done things,” is the most disempowering phrase any budding creative can hear. You’d be surprised how many forms it can take – “we’ve tried that before, but it didn’t work,” “that’d never work here,” “we don’t have enough [insert thing] to try that,” – and yet it has the same impact each time: cooling not just that attempt to create, but any subsequent attempts from folks who want to create change.

I expect that much of the reason it’s so tempting to poke holes in ideas when they first arise, is because we’re accustomed to the mythology of good ideas descending from the heavens, fully formed and foolproof. That’s far from the truth. And that means while many ideas do need to be subject to feedback and criticism, it also means we have to try and see the good in those initial proposals to get to that point- not the bad or imperfect.

(7) Encouraging Risk in Innovative Ideas

I’m a generally risk-averse person, so the idea of advocating for risk feels foreign to me. And yet, I have to do so because nothing creative or interesting can thrive without it. Innovation needs risk because it deviates from what we’re familiar and comfortable with. The level of risk can be as big as turning money or humanpower over to an initiative, or as small as daring to imagine your department’s work, or a stakeholder’s experience, as different than it has previously been.

Mitigate risk by supporting creators testing new ideas with the parties who will see the most change. Worried about how a change will affect thousands of customers? Pilot it with five. Scared of long-term implications? Make the first trial time-limited. Small risks that generate wins make larger leaps of faith a little easier to digest.

(8) Embracing Ambiguity

Thinking about ambiguity in a creative scenario always brings to mind the image of Willy Wonka in the Tasting Room, snacking wide-eyed as Augustus Gloop wriggles in the chocolate waterfall tube. As the others around him fret about what will happen next, he muses aloud: “The suspense is terrible. I hope it’ll last…”

Few of us will embrace ambiguity with that level of comfort. And that’s understandable! Ambiguity has stakes for many of us, in a way that they never really seemed to for Mr. Wonka. If something goes badly, we could lose money. We could lose trust. We will hear about it on social media. In those moments, it’s also important to recall the good that could come from creativity and change. What parts of our jobs will be easier? What parts of our stakeholders’ experiences will be improved? How can we save money, or time, or the sanity of staff members? Yes, there are things we won’t be able to predict. But even to the risk-averse, I have to admit: there’s something a little fun about that possibility. It keeps our work fresh when we might otherwise get bogged down or bored with routine. In the words of another high-profile creative, Todd from BoJack Horseman, “I never know if I can handle anything. That’s what makes my life so exciting!”

(9) Acting Like a Rookie

At some point, society decided that an ironclad requirement for leadership was having all the answers. Being the steady pillar and sole source of information became a sign of power. But the very nature of creativity and innovation means venturing into territory that no one has seen or experienced before. It requires not having the answers. Liz Wiseman calls this a “rookie mindset,” and it’s one that we could all benefit from when considering a new idea. In her book Rookie Smarts, she explains why:

“When the world is changing quickly, experience can become a curse, trapping us in old ways of doing and knowing, while inexperience can be a blessing, freeing us to improvise and adapt quickly to changing circumstances.”

The purpose of organizational creativity and innovation is to change in a way that responds to our circumstances- not just to implement change for its own sake. Inexperience (and our willingness to embrace that inexperience) forces us to act on instinct and in response to our surroundings, yielding better and less predictable solutions.

I want you to pledge to do one thing this week that makes it easier for you, or someone you work with, to do something creative. Share with me what you’ll do in the comments!

4 App-Free Tools to Supercharge Your Creativity

At some point, creativity got conflated with a few different adjacent concepts. One which I speak about often, is artistry. I promise: you can be creative even if you can’t “draw a straight line” or “even make a stick figure.” Do you cook to feed yourself? Put together outfits each day? Write emails that people read all the way through? Congratulations, you’ve got what it takes!

But another concept got oddly conflated with creativity at some point: tech savvy. That is to say, the popular creatives of our time- Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, so many others- displayed their creativity in the form of technological creations, so we all assumed that those skills were essential to unlocking our own creativity. Thus, I’m dedicating this post to a second promise: you don’t need tech smarts to incubate your ideas. I get asked often “what tools do you use to get work done?” Honestly? Mostly, these. You can do it with a few of thees tools listed below, or with all of them…or even just your favorite one. Read on to find out more about my four favorite creativity tools that don’t require an outlet, charger, password protection…they just need you to unlock their power!


I give notebooks as gifts to friends with fair regularity. The catch? As I told one friend as I gave him his at a going away party, I don’t give them to people who don’t have the potential to put anything stellar in them. And sure enough, these talented people who let me hang out with them continue to show me what they do with these blank pages…and it’s amazing.

Notebooks excel over the open Word document or Google Drive page for a few reasons. One, they don’t need power. If you find yourself wanting to record an idea on the fly or in a place where power isn’t at a premium (think airplanes, the woods, meetings, etc), a notebook will make the move look contemplative where doing the same on a phone or computer can look unfocused or inattentive. I don’t make the rules, or even agree with them all the time- that’s just the mentality we’re working with right now.

An added benefit to a new creative of using notebooks over a seemingly electronic equivalent? They make your progress easy to spot and even easier to track. I think of about my younger days, when my mind and I had a brief dalliance with the idea of being a fashion designer. The earliest pages of my binders of outfits were crudely drawn; the end ones probably were too, if I’m honest. But one thing I got from keeping them in a dedicated space like that, was the ability to see my work evolve. My sensibilities changed, my drawing improved, and I had a tangible record of how my skills had grown.  I don’t draw outfits anymore – I work from home, I scarcely assemble them day to day! – but I find I feel similarly rewarded as I look at my joke notebook now. Premises have gotten stronger, material has shifted with feedback…despite what my inner voice sometimes tells me, I am getting better.

For the budding creative, often mired in a feeling of “is this any good?”, having your own record to look back on can provide a reassuring artifact that yes, you have put in the work; yes, you’re growing; and yes (or sometimes no!), this is worth your time. You can do this digitally, but I find there’s something immensely rewarding about being able to flip through pages and see this evolution take place.


I tell the origin story of Post-Its in my book Cultivating Creativity; they’ve been one of my favorite inventions since I learned how they came to be in a college engineering class. And while they share a lot of traits with notebooks in their utility for the creative process, they also serve a different purpose.

As a “paper perfectionist,” who abhors pencils for their tendency to smudge but also dislikes crossouts because they’re messy, these (literally) scrappy and imperfect signs of the creative process feel unwelcome in my notebooks. But Post-Its? Whole other story. I love using Post-Its to share abstract ideas, organize those thoughts in a structured way (along walls and whiteboards, but rarely connected by yarn), and then express those ideas once they’re coherently “mapped out.”

Post-Its strike me as an exceptional “analog tool” (my catch-all term for non-tech tools) because they’re colorful, portable, and curiously unintimidating. To that last point: I use them frequently in group activities when I speak and facilitate sessions; the ideas that come forth on these tiny sheets of paper end up being eminently more coherent and candid than many of the thoughts I get when asking participants to raise their hands or shout out answers. Their size means what you write can be short, and their relative anonymity in a group setting means that there’s little singling people out for what they’ve written if their name isn’t on it. And if you want to keep a thought? You just take it with you, or take a picture of it. I’m a big believer in lots of drafts before getting things right; Post-Its, themselves the product of a questionable first draft, are the perfect venue for workshopping a big idea on its way to success.

A Door

One of my favorite illustrations from my first book The I’s Have It, drawn by the lovely Sue Caulfield, is of a person tightly hugging a door. And it’s true, doors (particularly when they’re shut) can be the saving grace of an overwhelmed introvert, seeking a moment of solitary time after being overstimulated. But they’re also an essential piece of the creative process – regardless of how introverted or extroverted you might be.

Multiple studies have shown that the most creative ideas are generated when budding creators are afforded time to work on their own first, bringing them to a group after they’ve had time to ponder and ideate solo. Unfortunately for many of us, this means that our standard methods of brainstorming are far less effective than we originally thought. But this also means that when we want to encourage people to be creative, or want to enable the creativity of those close to us, we need to give them some time to themselves. This stage is sometimes called ideation, sometimes called incubation, but it is this brief “vacuum” where disparate ideas can start to connect in the brain, yielding that new idea that we’ll eventually get to know and love.

(The Right) Friend

I clarified that the vacuum above would be (relatively) “brief,” and I did that because creativity cannot exist in isolation. The cross-pollination of ideas, and feedback on those ideas that aids the iteration process, can’t happen if the creator’s work never sees the light of day. That’s why the fourth analog tool I recommend for aspiring creatives is a friend. With that said, this is not just any friend.

This friend has to be someone who acknowledges the hard work you’ve put in, but isn’t afraid to give you the honest truth about what you’re working on. This right friend can ask critical questions, not to take the wind out of your sails but to help you sail in the right direction. This person understands what you’re doing, but their knowledge isn’t limited to what you know. Joshua Wolf Shenk suggests “find[ing] a stranger who gets you, or a friend you think is strange.” This combination of affinity and different experience gives you a richer form of support- one that critically and meaningfully encourages you to  be better.

And indeed, all four of these tools can critically and meaningfully encourage you to pick up a creative pursuit, stick with it (literally, in the case of a Post-It) even when it’s hard, and do the work that it takes to succeed- all without having to remember to bring along a single charger!

See Me Talk Creativity and Makerspaces at #ACPA18

Becoming a Student Affairs Creator: Digital Makerspace Workshop #ACPA18

Join the Student Affairs creator revolution. We’re moving from lurking to participation! Less consumption, more contribution! Professional learning and engagement is not sitting back to absorb information. Let’s lead by example by changing how we process knowledge, share innovative ideas, and apply design thinking in higher education and student affairs. 

To push the boundaries of expertise and unpack meaning making in the profession, I’ll be joined by a group of other creators at the 2018 ACPA Annual Convention in Houston Texas for a pre-conference half-day workshop. This hands-on session will have participants create audio, video, textual, and visual media projects to think about how knowledge is created and disseminated in our profession. .

Join us for this dynamic four hour workshop on Sunday March 11th, 11:30am-3:30pm! Learn more about the session here and register here! Limited spots available, deadline is February 15th!

I’ve so enjoyed getting to embrace my creative side, be it through finding a new way to work in the field of student affairs, to finding ways to incorporate interests like comedy and literature into the content I share with students and professionals alike. It is my goal, alongside the outstanding professionals I’ll be working with in Houston. to help you light the spark that encourages you to stoke your own creative fires. What issues on your campus need a fresh perspective? What new forms of expression are you looking to explore. Come see us and start the journey during your time in Houston!

Background on #SAmakers Pre-Convention Workshop

For college student educators to be relevant in higher education, we have to be contributors to the proliferation of knowledge and practice in the field. Student affairs professionals need to be actively engaged in developing the future of higher learning. This is a bold and necessary call to start a true SA creator revolution. Let’s move from lurking to participation by consuming less and contributing more! Professional learning and engagement should not be sitting back to absorb information. In reflection and through self-assessment, a small number of professionals are blogging, podcasting, creating videos, and sharing visual digital traces of what it means to be a professional in SA today. There are innovative practices from professionals and networked communities that enhance how we work and interact with our functional roles at our institutions. SA professionals are toggling between traits and cognitive processes for design thinking, problem-solving, and create ways to share experiences in a variety of emerging technology outlets.

As college student educators, we need to lead by example, specifically  rethinking how we process knowledge, employ innovative ideas, and apply design thinking to higher education. Technology allows us to contribute via multiple modalities to teach and reach our learners, colleagues, and stakeholders on campus. Part of this digital literacy development includes storytelling, narratives of experiences, and dissemination of  open educational resources for knowledge sharing in higher ed. How are you contributing to the profession? To push the boundaries of expertise and unpack meaning making, this hands-on session will have participants creating with audio, video, textual, and visual social technologies to deconstruct how knowledge is and can be shared.

Hands-On Experiential Activities

This pre-convention workshop will give participants information on the pedagogical strategies behind a variety of makerspaces. We use the word pedagogy here intentionally – meaning reflecting on your philosophy and thinking through how to apply that philosophy to various makerspaces. How does your chosen tool or medium influence what you are trying to say, convey, or create? These are the types of conversations we will have during this pre-convention workshop. Specifically, we will discuss:

  • Audio pedagogy – Storytelling, podcasting, interviewing, SoundCloud
  • Video pedagogy – GoPro, Jing, Screencast-O’-Matic, live streaming, YouTube, Vimeo
  • Visual pedagogy – Drawing, Graphic facilitation, visual mapping, infographics, Canva, web
  • Written pedagogy – Blogging, Freelance/Publication, Self-Publishing, Wikis, email newsletters

Makerspace Rooted in your own Experience

One key to our workshop will be that, prior to convention, we will engage registered participants to think about how to make this workshop work for them. While you can engage with these ideas in the abstract, it will be easier to “choose your own adventure” once your destination is set. What issues are you facing in your work – and how can you use makerspaces to solve that problem? What knowledge have you gained that you want to share with the rest of the student affairs world? What innovative practices do you have that will benefit the larger college student educator community?

Learning Outcomes

At the end of this institute/pre-conference workshop, participants will be to:

  1. Identify the barriers and opportunities for creating content and sharing as an open educational practitioner in higher education with attribution and creative commons licenses.
  2. Outline pedagogical practices and applied technologies to develop creative works and experiment with various media technologies to hone maker skills.
  3. Design visual, audio, video, and written creative projects during the institute/pre-conference workshop to hone digital literacy skills that support open education resources development.

Pre-Convention Faculty

Josie Ahlquist
Digital Leadership Author, Coach & Speaker
Florida State University Research Associate & Leadership Instructor \\ Josie & The Podcast
Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Instagram

Paul Eaton
Assistant Professor
Sam Houston State University
Department of Educational Leadership
Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Instagram

Amma Marfo
Speaker and Facilitator
Fun Enterprises || The Imposters Podcast
Twitter | LinkedIn | Instagram

Laura A. Pasquini
University of North Texas

Register Today!!


[PODCAST] Higher Ed Geek, Episode 12

It was a pleasure to get to appear on my friend and fellow Defector Dustin Ramsdell’s podcast, Higher Ed Geek. If you include his stint as cohost of the Student Affairs Spectacular podcast, it’ll mark the third time we’ve shared the airwaves! In this third edition, we get a little more personal and talk about humor, book nerditude, and the empowering origin of #speakersneakers. Check out the episode– and thanks Dustin for having me on again! Remember, at five I get a zip-up hoodie. Them’s the rules.

Higher Ed Geek logo- blue text with a microphone icon in the bottom left.

Click the image above to hear the episode at Dustin’s site!

Utilizing The Many Motivations to “Make”

Whether you’re hiring someone in a new professional role, seeking to motivate a team of volunteers, or leading a student organization, the fact remains: not everyone is in it for the same reasons. I don’t mean it in a catty Bachelor contestant kind of way (“I just don’t think Haley is here for the right reason”), but more to say that people join organizations for a number of reasons. Suzanne Brown and Sara Boatman recognized that when they developed their GRAPE Principle as being key to the supervision of teams. The GRAPE Principle boils down the myriad reasons someone might choose to get involved in an organization to five; I’ve shared them below, along with the guiding questions that Boatman and Brown shared to tease out which might be motivating your team members.

  • Growth: those members who choose to work with you to increase their skills, experience, and confidence in a given area.
    How do you feel when you have the opportunity to complete a stimulating and exciting task?
  • Recognition: those members who choose to work with you to gain feedback and/or respect from the group.
    How do you feel when you are given genuine recognition for a job you did well?
  • Achievement: those who choose to work with you for the opportunity to solve problems and see an idea become a reality.
    How do you feel when you achieve a difficult goal?
  • Participation: those members who choose to work with you for the intrinsic joy of being active and “doing” something.
    How do you feel when you can say with real honesty, “it was a pleasure working with you”?
  • Enjoyment: those members who choose to work with you for the chance to have fun, be part of a team, and feel a part of something important.
    How do you feel when you genuinely have fun on a project?

As I think about leading and guiding a team that might have members with all of these differing factors pushing them to do their best work, I am sensitive to the idea that even an outstanding supervisor is dividing their attention several ways to ensure all these people have what they need for success. And if this is the case when business is, for lack of a better term, “as usual,” how hard might it be when a task requires something unusual? What if a group is charged with making something new? What if a group is doing something they’ve never done before? How, then, can you motivate all of these people effectively?

Once again inspired by the Cultivating Creativity manifesto, I have some ideas for where to position folks on a creative team based on their motivations. It is my hope that, by learning what drives those you work with, you’ll be able to best harness their talents and interests toward an outstanding final product…whatever that may be.

For Those Motivated By Growth…Focus on Broadmindedness and Allies/Advocates

Who on your team is constantly looking to improve his or her work? These are the people who are hoping to go to conferences, who are reading and listening to podcasts, who are most likely to start a conversation with “I just heard about…” in a way that could change the way you work. If you’re seeing these people on your team, and the project at hand is in need of some new information, charge them with finding it.

Encouraging broadmindedness means that this individual will feel empowered to find information in places beyond just what’s “related” to the work. What is there for a medical supply company to learn from a technology and innovation conference? If anyone can draw that connection, it’s the individual oriented toward growth. Drawing connections between seemingly disparate ideas, industries, or sources of inspiration can make the difference between an effective solution and an innovative one- so allow the latitude to draw those connections imaginatively.

The broadminded coming to your meetings like… IMAGE CREDIT: GIPHY

Similarly, allowing this person to initiate and develop contact with allies, advocates, and activators will provide context for the project at hand. One key thing we learn from these individuals, generally higher in stead or with a longer tenure at an organization? Context. Where has this idea or project perhaps been tried before? What tripped folks up? How might an idea need to be phrased for it to take hold? What information do these allies, advocates, and activators have that can grow the project you’re working on? Charging the individuals interested in growth with uncovering the answers to those questions, will allow them to contribute in a way that best utilizes their energy and interest. They’ll be more satisfied with their work, and you’ll have what you need to tackle the next challenge.

For Those Motivated By Recognition…Focus on Allies/Advocates/Activators and Collaborators

It can be tempting to scoff, sneer, or look down on those who are motivated on recognition. After all, aren’t they just looking for an unnecessary treat or trophy for doing what they’re supposed to be doing? Not necessarily. I prefer to look at those who work for recognition as people who seek feedback as a means to do their best work. One way to weaponize this desire to solicit feedback or recognition for work: have these individuals seek out others to work with. Be they the aforementioned advising powers inherent in allies, advocates, and activators, or the more “peer” level collaborators, part of the process of bringing these team members on board is learning to tell your story.

Synchronized dance moves not required, but you’d know you were cooperating! IMAGE CREDIT: GIPHY

By utilizing the energy of these individuals in this way, those seeking recognition will find it not in the proverbial cookie or a good job. Rather, it’ll come from the knowledge that their ability to articulate their (and their team’s) successes will result in new partnerships- and the resources, visibility, and additional humanpower that can afford. This means of seeking recognition is constructive; in seeking out new collaborators, we share our accomplishments in hopes that they’ll want to align with us. Similarly, we are forced to be thoughtful about our gaps and to speak about them candidly, so it has an added need for humility that we don’t often associate with seeking recognition.

Recognizing individuals in a manner that fits (a) the task, and (b) the individual is crucial; this form of contribution is amenable to either. Share with the team what new partnerships are formed as the result of their work, or thank the individuals personally through a card or visit to their workspace. In either case, appreciating the work they do will be the final means by which you respect and offer the motivation they seek.

For Those Motivated by Achievement…Focus on Growth Mindset and Determination

Here again, the precise definition of the word in question can help direct efforts. For those motivated by achievement, the reward of a task comes in completing it effectively and proudly. In my mind, an individual so oriented would excel in the areas of growth mindset and determination.

Growth mindset, in this instance, means to address roadblocks that might recur in the process, and devise ways to overcome them. Contrary to the version we’ve grown accustomed to – effort counts more than effects! – growth mindset here acknowledges that there are things we don’t always recognize in ourselves as assumptions, prejudices, or mental shortcuts. If you’re working on a task which has elicited the dreadful phrase “we’ve tried this before, but it didn’t work,” this is where the achievement-oriented individual will thrive. Encourage them to examine the circumstances of the last failure, compare them to the present circumstances, and work to counter that skepticism. If ever there’s someone who can respond with “here’s why it’ll work this time,” it’s the achievement-motivated person on your team.

Let Michelle motivate you when things get hard. Or, you know, the Michelle of your team. IMAGE CREDIT: GIPHY

This may not be an easy thing to do. Even with a well-prepared argument, overcoming resistance or challenges to your big idea might be difficult – and, at times demoralizing. It is in these moments that determination becomes essential. Those motivated by achievement have determination in spades, and can help others cultivate it. Especially if the determined person is made aware of what other folks are motivated by, they can suggest mechanisms and help frame challenges in a way that appeals to their “let’s do this” impulses.

For Those Motivated by Participation…Focus On Collaboration and Determination

Please don’t make this true for your people. IMAGE CREDIT: GIPHY

Participants just want to be, as their name might suggest, “part of it.” And yet, it might surprise you how many opportunities we have to do this, where we instead count people out. How often do we keep new, younger, or less senior additions to our staffs in the dark, instead of taking the time and energy to appraise their ideas and perspective?

Here again, allowing these “part of it” motivated people help guide collaborators can be a powerful way of empowering them, their skills, and their knowledge. For as long as they’re able to put in the time and energy, and supported as they do so, it’s likely they’ll do good work. What’s more, for as long as they feel appreciated for the work they’re doing, they’re going to keep doing it. Tied closely to the recognition motivation: if someone’s participation makes a difference, let them know! That will yield more, substantive work.

For Those Motivated By Enjoyment…Focus on Heart

Yes, I know that not every job can (or should!) be fun in the traditional sense. But you will find people who enjoy the work they do, regardless of how “fun” the task or circumstances at hand are. Many will choose to marvel incredulously at these people, or even occasionally make fun of them for their enthusiasm. But I’d advise you to, instead, appreciate these people in your organization and enlist their help in keeping you on the “right” track.

If they could describe their work in a font…well…IMAGE CREDIT: GIPHY

Historically, people who find the most enjoyment in their work have the deepest connect to who the work impacts. If that’s the case, these are the perfect individuals to help the rest of the group focus on the why of a difficult project. Who does the project help? What harm is being avoided? And if a creative project is being attempted, what good will the proposed changes do? How will end users benefit?


A productive and successful creative team needs people who work in all different types of ways, have all different types of skills…and yes, get different things out of the work they’ve chosen to embark on. The most successful teams will seek to learn this information and use it responsibly. Have you had success with this? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear more!