Posts in Tips
How to Grow, Specifically

Today's urban nomads want to feel at home wherever they are in the world. Ideally that includes connecting to hi-speed wifi in Bali, having the perfect pour-over in Barcelona, and the ideal co-working space in Berlin. In many ways, experiencing these comforts around the world is a beautiful thing. But when it's met with the overused formula of hipster-washing spaces (slap on some Helvetia font, crisp white decorations, and the latest food trend...avocado toast anyone), it's just not all that creative. 

There's no greater insult to creativity than the word generic. The same goes for the growth and development of creative places. And it's a trap we're falling for.

Our cities look more and more like each other and our organizations aim to feel more Google-y. We think we've cracked the code on creativity, but in reality we're more afraid of failure than ever. Today's strategies for fueling creative culture lack what makes something authentic: specificity.

When something is specific, it won't suit all tastes. And that's okay. Striving for authenticity and a celebration of what makes a place unique is daring to be creative. When you generalize culture, identity, and history, creativity is often killed along the way (among many other things). When an organization or city is growing rapidly, one of the most common fears we hear, is of losing the atmosphere that attracted them in the first place and the elements that inspire them to create.

But growth is inevitable in our favorite spots. So the question remains: how can we strategically grow while maintaining an authentic creative pulse? 

Is it possible to provide a formula for a creative place, a framework for creativity, or a template to grow creatively without becoming too generic? Can organizations, cities and services both scale and evolve while maintaining specificity? 

Yes. But it is in the process of discovery where a framework is possible, not in the implementation or output. It's about finding the specific pulse, discovering what makes a place unique, and growing with those core values in mind. It's about taking the time to first understand the nuance of the place, organization, and people, and evolving from that base.

In 2018, Place Makes visited 10 cities to get to know their creative pulse. We talked to local artists, shop owners, musicians, and organizations to learn about what makes their places unique, and why they love them. We learned that some things are quite universal: the prevalence of third spaces, affordable housing, and a group of passionate people, but the differences, the "creative essentials" for each place are culturally distinct.

Identifying creative essentials is a bit like getting to know a friend by talking to his or her dearest friends (you know, the friends who let you grow and change, but know you at your core? The ones who have seen you through all the weird phases, and helped you not only be comfortable with who you are, but also damn proud of it). Find the people who are passionate with the the place or company, and start listening. 

Here are our favorite questions to help identify an organization or city's creative essentials:

  • Where do you feel inspired?

  • How do you collaborate? What does collaboration look like here?

  • Where do you create?

  • Where do you share your work? Are there enough opportunities to share?

  • Where do you feel most at home here?


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How to Take a Creative Retreat in Your Own Backyard

1. Self-impose constraints

Most creatives we talk to purposely work with a set of constraints. These constraints might be time, materials, budget, a word limit, color palette, or musical scale. Create prompts and limitations at the start. Dream big, but take bite-sized steps.

2. Get bored

We live in a business culture that often promotes “appearing busy” over actual productivity. The best ideas don’t come in a crowded meeting room, sitting in front of a computer, or staring at a smartphone. Create purposeful time and space for boredom during the week. During your morning commute scribble in a notebook rather than scroll through the phone. Deny yourself easy entertainment after dinner (yes, this means Netflix), and take twenty minutes to go for a walk around the block. You’ll be surprised at what ideas come forward once you rid your mind of distractions and screens.

3. Prepare the materials

When inspiration strikes, you don’t want to be without the right tools. Simple things like large sheets of paper, sticky notes, and your favorite pen are a good place to start, but we recommend introducing a few unusual materials - you never know what they might inspire (think: found objects or an instrument you don’t yet know how to play). Over time, you’ll discover your own favorites.

4. Don’t ask for feedback…yet

Contrary to what you might have been told - rapid feedback may hold you back (at the beginning). During the first stages of creative ideation, resist the urge to immediately ask for input. Be patient with yourself, and don’t worry about editing. Improvise. Allow yourself to draw strange hypotheses that might not make sense at first. Free-write and let the stream of consciousness flow. After the ideas have had time to simmer, then you can edit and ask for feedback.

5. Find retreat

A creative retreat doesn’t necessarily mean going to cabin in the woods, becoming a hermit, or renouncing technology (although it definitely can!). Make your own daily or weekly rituals. While we like to think of famous ideators and artists as having inconsistent or zany schedules, most are very disciplined at making time and space on a daily basis to create. Start by giving yourself 30 minutes on the weekend, and build up to daily habits. You’ll be amazed at the results.

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