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Jon Kolko

Creative Clarity: Finding Focus in the Midst of Ambiguity

Sunday, March 26 9:00 am – 9:45 am

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Session Summary

Creativity is the key to addressing ill-formed business threats, for putting shape around poorly defined market opportunities. A creative organization is ready to handle the innovation challenges of greenfield markets, to take on the reimaging challenges of shrinking market share, and to best the misalignment challenges introduced by running fast and loose. But bringing creativity into your company feels like adding to the mess, not fixing it. Creative processes feel wild and unpredictable – and so do the people doing the creative work. We hire creative talent, but we don’t have a lot of well-formed frameworks for managing them or their work.

Design thinking offered us a starting point, as it gave us tools like empathy to help drive innovation. Lean tells us to run really fast and pivot left and right and left and right. But many of us have started realizing the limitations of design thinking and lean, because after doing a lot of thinking and pivoting, we still have to do a lot of doing. We don’t have the skills to bring the mess into focus.

Creative clarity is about four main things. First, it’s about having a vision and choreographing a creative strategy – envisioning a crisp future even among the blurry business landscape. Next, it’s about growing a team that includes those creative unpredictable outcasts, and giving them the space to produce amazing work. Third, planning the work takes process, but not a process characterized by boring stage gates or stale gantt charts. It’s an iterative process of conflict, resolution, and trust. Finally, it’s about actually delivering creative new products and services that bring everything into focus.

About the Speaker

Jon is the Founder and Director of Austin Center for Design, and Partner at Modernist Studio. He was previously the Vice President of Design at Blackboard, the largest educational software company in the world. He joined Blackboard with the acquisition of MyEdu, a startup focused on helping students succeed in college and get jobs. His work focuses on helping design students develop autonomy through making. He has worked extensively with both startups and Fortune 500 companies, and he’s most interested in humanizing educational technology.

Jon has previously held positions of Executive Director of Design Strategy at Thinktiv, a venture accelerator in Austin, Texas, and both Principal Designer and Associate Creative Director at frog design, a global innovation firm. He has been a Professor of Interaction and Industrial Design at the Savannah College of Art and Design, where he was instrumental in building both the Interaction and Industrial Design undergraduate and graduate programs. Jon has also held the role of Director for the Interaction Design Association (IxDA), and Editor-in-Chief of interactions magazine, published by the ACM. He is regularly asked to participate in high-profile conferences and judged design events, including the 2013 Cooper-Hewitt National Design Awards. He has taught at the University of Texas at Austin, the Center for Design Studies of Monterrey, in Mexico, and Malmö University, in Sweden.