How Has Creative Training Affected Your Life?
For more than 30 years, Creative Consumers® associates (CCs) have been one of the leading factors in Ideas To Go's success. While they bring great insights based on their experience as regular consumers alone, their extensive training in creative process helps them to imagine and articulate innovative solutions that continually exceed our clients' expectations. But we've also become aware of another positive result of the creative training our consumers receive: personal and professional success and advancement.
One of our long-time CCs, Lynnea Atlas-Ingebretson, recently sat down with me to share her own experiences of training at Ideas To Go—and how it has had an impact on both her personal and professional life.
Q: Tell me about how you first came to Ideas To Go.
Lynnea: My first introduction was when I was a teenager. Someone I knew from my neighborhood was a Creative Consumers® associate (CC)—and she identified me as someone who would be a good fit to work on a project. A few years later, I came back as a part of recruitment efforts to diversify ITG’s pool of CCs.
Q: What stands out to you about your initial training as a Creative Consumers® associate?
Lynnea: I remember learning about not editing or shooting down ideas—whether it was my own, or other’s—and that was something that really resonated with me. I have a background in fine arts—so, from an artistic perspective, there’s value in being able to let go and have permission to solve a problem, or to create something new with others. I found it to be really interesting and really valuable.
Q: You mentioned the concept of “not editing”—can you tell me a little more about that?
Lynnea: Throughout our life, we’re told to edit ourselves. Even as kids you hear, “Don’t put that outfit on,” or “Don’t say that in this space,” or “Color inside the lines,” and you learn really quickly that it’s not socially acceptable to just be whatever you are. As a person of color, we’re told to edit ourselves to make ourselves fit in, or to make other people feel more comfortable. But I learned that in order to be successful as a CC, I couldn’t edit my ideas—and I found that really freeing. It also meant that I had to get out of my own head in order to get my homework done, and to be more productive when I was in-session, working a project.
Another thing I recall from my training is the value of ideas—and how much can be done if you just spend some time exploring them. Even if someone has an idea that you don’t like, one idea can easily lead to another—so you just use it to inspire something that is of you, that you do like. So there’s really no bad ideas. It’s all just energy and information to get to the right idea. I would also say the “No Yes, But” philosophy with Forness® thinking has been essential, as well. It’s a tool I’ve used in lots of places throughout my life. It’s also really important to being inclusive—which is also an important skill, across the board.
Q: Can you describe one of your favorite moments at Ideas To Go in a client session?
Lynnea: We were working on a culturally-specific project for a well-known television channel, and there was a moment when it became really clear that they wanted ideas coming from a particular ethnic stereotype. They stopped us halfway through the project and asked us to think more like one of the stereotypical people that they had created. And we, as CCs, pushed back. It was a really complex situation, but I think the ITG facilitators handled it well, and we had a really authentic exchange. And that’s what is really powerful to me about being a part of these projects. It’s really about utilizing the consumer to generate something better, something special. Ideas To Go knows how to bring clients and consumers together, and have that dialog, and make a difference in a positive way. That’s what makes it a really great experience for me.
Q: Can you speak about the fact that you come into client sessions as both a trained, creative person—and as a unique individual with your own specific attributes?
Lynnea: Well, we are all many things—people have many layers. When you first come in to train to be a CC, you’re really thinking about yourself—what you want, what you need, and what would work for you, your family, or someone you care about. You also hope that whatever you’re doing is going to be successful—partly because you know you’ll get to benefit from it later on. But as a person trained in the creative process, you quickly learn that you may not even know what that want or need is, exactly. You become good at identifying the general things you are looking for, while also staying open to hearing other ideas coming from the clients, other Creative Consumers® associates, or the ITG facilitators. Then you build off of those. It’s not about being hyper-focused on yourself. It’s about being able to not self-edit, be true and authentic to yourself, and bring that all to the table—while staying open to others’ ideas and be creative with them. That’s what the creative person skill-set is all about.
Q: What led you to your work with nonprofits?
Lynnea: I want to know I’m making a difference—not just making a buck. So moving into the nonprofit and public sectors was really the thing for me. I’m driven by a mission, I’m driven by accomplishing something. Being a person of color—at a time when we are still dealing with lots of disparities solely based on the way we look—I want to make sure that I’m doing all I can to help improve situations. Not just for people of color, but for our whole society. So it’s really important to me to be a part of a solution—and because of my experiences, I feel like I have something to contribute in that space.
Q: Can you tell me about work you currently do at the Charities Review Council?
Lynnea: The Charities Review Council is a 65-year-old organization that focuses on building stronger nonprofits—and smart donors—by providing technical assistance and information to nonprofits in governance and management, as well as offering a “seal” that lets donors know which nonprofit have good practices, policies and processes in place—and that they’re going to be around for a while to effect their mission and get things done. It also provides places for donors, funders and nonprofits to come together in partnership and discuss, “How do we create the greater good together?” It’s been great to incorporate creative thinking processes into the work that we do—to really help co-creation happen. It’s not just nonprofits working alone, or funders or donors just making things happen. It’s really a space to come together, where we get the best out of what we have to offer, and talk about some possible solutions—whether it’s creating a new campaign, product or program, or designing or changing a system. All of these things need an inclusive process that’s open to new ways of doing things to be successful. If we kept doing things the way we always have, we’ll keep getting the same results—so it’s an important thing to do. In the end, we’ve been able to incorporate different creative processes into the work we do—not only to help us better bring support to various communities, and also to spread the word that we’re more together than we are apart.
Q: How would you say the training you received at Ideas To Go extends into your career today?
Lynnea: Both of my parents are artists—and I studied art into college as well. One of the things I found challenging as a creative person was being okay being “me.” Because when you’re creative, people sometimes think you’re a little weird. You see things differently. You think different things are cool. And you quickly find that it’s easier to just fit in so that other people are comfortable with you. But becoming a CC at a young age helped me to get past the pressure to “fit in” as I was starting out my career. It helped me realize that there were people who valued what I brought to the table—and allowed me to work alongside others who thought that being creative and passionate, trying new things, and taking risks was the way to get things done. And the other CCs were successful people, too—which let me know I didn’t have to “try to fit in” to succeed. I’ve been able to bring that energy and openness to every job I’ve done—that alone has been a really big way that being a CC has impacted my career.
Additionally, the skill sets I’ve acquired—practicing to be a creative thinker, being open to others, knowing what it looks like to create a product, naming something, generating a new plan or a new campaign—those are things that nonprofits and the public sector have to do all the time. But, oftentimes these organizations are very under-resourced. So, having those skills, and then having the ability to teach others as well, I’ve been able to do even more in every single career step I’ve taken. It’s an important part of who I am as a professional now—and for my work going forward in the future.
Q: When it comes to the area of creative problem-solving, what do you feel like nonprofits need most?
Lynnea: Research and development is something that’s important for any industry to invest in. Unfortunately, nonprofit and public sectors are often discouraged from investing in their administration and infrastructure—due to politics, misinformation, or just plain misunderstanding—limiting their ability to create good things. When you think of overhead in the private sector, you know that you have to spend money to make money. That’s not something that’s encouraged in the nonprofit and public sector—but still just as important. A lot of times, people will say, “Cut that budget, cut this budget,” but the things they’re cutting are promotions, or graphic design, or research and development. How do you do something good without doing research and development? How do you have a successful project or initiative, if you don’t have any PR money? That just doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense in a business case; it doesn’t make sense in a nonprofit case. Both sectors still have a bottom line—so it seems kind of ridiculous that we expect nonprofits and public sector organizations to be successful when they’re not able to invest resources into research, development, promotions, and creative solutions.
Q: A couple of ITG’ers from the Minneapolis office recently attended the Charity Review Council’s Disruptive Philanthropy Forum in St. Paul, MN. Can you tell me a little bit about the event?
Lynnea: The world of nonprofits and philanthropy is changing considerably. Younger generations want to have a different type of relationship with private, family and community foundations, and other nonprofits. And, we have such a huge amount of generosity. At the same time, we also have some really serious social disparity issues. Minnesota, for example, has one of the worst education, health care, and employment achievement gaps for people of color in the nation—yet it’s one of the wealthiest states in the US. The public expects that philanthropic communities are making a difference, but are we? We don’t know. What we do know is that things need to change—and so the idea at Charity Review’s Council’s Disruptive Philanthropy Forum is all about disruption. Getting people together—individual donors, along with private, public and nonprofit sector folks and say, “Let’s use a creative engagement process to figure out: what can we do? What should things look like?” And then throw it wide open, and harvest the ideas to see what could—or should—we be doing next to support them?
But in order to change and have something new, we have to disrupt. And sometimes people find that to be a negative thing—but we have to change direction. We have to introduce new things. And I think that the creative process really embraces the notion that it’s natural and organic to have disruptions, and we have to be better at welcoming them—taking the opportunities to create, test (sometimes to fail), then recreate to hopefully have some great successes along the way.
Q: As a seasoned CC, what has changed, and where do you see Creative Consumers® associates going next?
Lynnea: Right now there’s lots of energy out there around design thinking—and for good reason. I’ve been a part of design-thinking projects before, and have really valued the experience, but I think there’s one really unique thing that Ideas To Go and Creative Consumers® associates bring that design thinking proponents should pay attention to. And that is including users to design solutions throughout the whole process—and believing in consumers’ capacity to solve their own issues—versus relying on the empathy of the company’s designers. I’ve seen first-hand that you don’t have to be a professional designer in order to solve issues that impact you—you just need a good process, mindset and environment to bring out the talents of the people you have working on the issue at hand. So, for me, having that great process adds a lot of value to what it means to be a “creative consumer.” I think what CCs do is so much bigger than just showing up as a consumer—it’s showing up as a person equipped to bring creative opportunities to any issue.
And one last (short) parting thought from Lynnea...
Lynnea Atlas-Ingebretson joins the Minneapolis Public schools December 1, 2014 as Director of Family and Community Engagement. Most recently, Lynnea served as Program Director for the Charities Review Council. She has spent 18 years in higher education, nonprofit, and public administration. Her career has been education focused - with specific work in program development/management, grantmaking, technical assistance, and community engagement. She is passionate about creative outcome-driven innovations developed through research informed design, strategic alignments, and authentic effective utilization of diversity. She is known for her knowledge and experience engaging communities of color and cultural competency, advising many nonprofit/philanthropic organizations - as well as large public and higher education institutions on this topic. Currently she volunteers as the Chair and an appointed member of the statewide Legacy Fund, Parks and Trails Legacy Advisory Committee.
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Jill Reiswig is the Content Marketing Manager at Ideas To Go, an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies in ideation and concept development to incorporate the voice of the consumer.