What does flexibility do? Reflections on Creative Ecosystem Building

My vision has been stable for a few years now and suddenly it changed- literally. Overnight my new glasses have brought new clarity and one of those creative rocket speed growth spurts along with them. Considering vision is a key sensing and perceiving tool, this is no real surprise to me. No wonder the eye doctor wants to see you at least once a year. Makes sense really.

What hit me, with my newly found sharper vision, is how creative flexibility must properly be used for the value it holds to be recognized in ecosystem building. So what are the best traits of flexibility and how exactly can this character trait be used to maximize communal productivity?

When you move like a jellyfish, rythm is nothing, you go with the flow.  Translucent hydromedusae arndt
When you move like a jellyfish, rhythm is nothing, you go with the flow.
Translucent Hydromedusae Arndt

When someone is flexible it is a bit like becoming translucent, in my opinion. You easily adapt. You convene. You are a receptor. You listen, you share but you build others up essentially by helping them in any way you can that serves their increased connectivity to you. And this has an important role in life. And it’s the work of the Creative Class to do.

Creatives are naturally conveners. We like to bring people together. It feels, often, like why we are here on this earth to build a sense of community; despite the polarity of often feeling deeply alone with our crazy ideas and visions and misunderstood and sometimes even acting like stingers. (Remember: all of us have deep seated polarities.)

As a creative entrepreneur I come hard wired with a lot of empathy. This has translated into being highly malleable and flexible with my customers, vendors and peers. Perhaps too much so.  We all have to stand up for our ideas and ourselves. We all need to strive for balance- for both sides. When people really understand each other and can compromise to meet each others core needs, not only does respect flow but relationships have a real opportunity to grow.

Recently at iaeou I have been pressing our members to step up and show up to each other. The

iaeou: photo of main room
iaeou: photo of main room

first year, 8/12-8/13,  I asked nothing from our members but simply served and observed them. We bought them storage lockers when they asked, locked some doors for private access because they wanted it, cleaned up after them when they held events at iaeou and did not. A new fashion designer member and some others that were sewing in our space, asked for some more comfy furniture. So we found a hotel furniture liquidator and bought nice leather sofas and comfy chairs and fabric covered benches so everyone could relax and hangout. We simply did everything we could to ensure they felt like they could create there and felt at home.

And a lot of creation began. One of the most creative being a homeless woman who claimed to be a fashion designer. It took us about 4 months to realize that her ‘working over night’ was just an excuse to pay $80.00 a month to live there. Very creative thinking on her part and yet very much a deal breaker for us. She was the first we had to expel.

And she also made us wonder how engaged our ‘community’ really was if this could have gone on as long as it did with over 30 community members; and not a one spoke up or figured it out- including us.

My husband, Chuck and I, have viewed iaeou as a grand experiment. What happens when people say for real they want to be a part of a creative community? Does anyone really show up? Or does it sound good to say you want to do that? How does anyone build a creative ecosystem from scratch?  And does anyone have any time to actually engage with another human being, instead of their computer alone, these days??

Ecosystems from scratch
Ecosystems from Scratch: Graphic Conversations from The Global Innovation Summit 2014


I learned a lot at the Global Innovation Summit. Attending it helped me validate that my instincts are good.  There has to be at first one person who steps up to become a cheer-leading leader to build a community. Not all that dissimilar to life in a family honestly. Doesn’t every family have a matriarch or a focal point that seems to be the glue that binds everyone together?

And to bring more than one ‘family’ together, there has to be more than one leader.  And yet this kind of leadership comes more naturally to some than others. I still believe, despite being raised to be of service to others, that it can be taught by example. I learned this value from my grandmother. My grandmother at 94 years old was still serving the elderly at the Armory in downtown Whitewater, Wisconsin.  It never dawned on her to sit down and be served. Every day she was on breakfast and lunch duty. She started volunteering in her 60’s. Before that, she was a nurse.

As a little girl, I remember walking with Yaya as she pulled a little red wagon full of bird seed to feed the ducks as she crossed a bridge to go volunteer. The local paper published a few pictures of her over the years because there wasn’t a person in that town that she did not seem to know. It was difficult when we had to make her stop going to serve the elderly. Eventually she could not get there on her own without falling down and she refused all the rides we offered. Stopping my grandmother from being of service to others was like ripping her heart out of her soul. And I think creatives by and large are wired in a very similar way.

Self defined creatives want to think the best of people, mostly. We naively trust. We offer up all of our gifts and believe what we give will be returned fairly. And when that fair exchange does not come, in the end, our generosity is what leads to our profound distancing from one another and continued silence about the things we really know and need to say out loud. Creatives often say ‘Why bother’? Because when we do bother, we repeatedly find ourselves feeling used up or burned or spit out or chewed up. And never paid up for our contributions and abilities.

And yet not allowing the things we see, often which can be strikingly abtuse to the receiver, to be verbalized and to show up is a mistake because it does not ask the other to engage directly with us through their response and curiosity.  This allows us to see their level of interest in building community between us. And yes, it’s all of course a matter of delivery, which sometimes we are not that good at, but I think a lot of times creative people would rather turn a blind eye, in service of another, to the point of becoming mute.  I certainly know this has been true for me. And muteness, creatively, is not always packaged in stone silence. It simply means we are unwilling to fully engage from our hearts because there is certain to be conflict and pain and it won’t pay to get involved- despite the clarity of our vision and the value that clarity holds for powerful productive collaborations.

And that’s what we all did with the homeless designer we discovered, eventually, undeniably was living at iaeou. We all wanted to see the best in her and no one wanted to say anything to get her thrown out. We allowed our flexibility to get the better of us. After all she was a homeless designer. Creatives deserve shelter and food. And yet you cannot build a creative economy if anyone in it has lost their dignity. A tight knit community cannot form. And honestly, some more STEM diversity would help at iaeou too.

It was only after her membership was terminated and she was confronted that I heard others confess they knew it and simply didn’t speak up. And that has lead me to begin to press for more connectivity and value(s) creation from our small growing community.

Just like a stool has 3 legs, communities start with a few leaders and both watchdogs AND cheerleaders. Someone has to teach the mission, vision, values of the community to the community. And it has to come from more than one. To build community REQUIRES activated-engaged-flexible-translucency in the beginning. This is what matters most. But then it tips and needs structure- and that need for structure ebbs and flows. Too much structure means leadership speaking from up high dictating and too little and the community does not develop the family values and ties it needs to communally thrive.

I feel blessed to have some new vision and new ideas about how to work with what I have in front of me. Creative community growth requires flexibility, structure and investment working together in harmony until they together find a rhythm and can dance to the music they all hear together to not feel so alone. Colliding with creative thinkers results in increased productivity. That much I already have learned and know.


 1014467_10202833947183293_5964056692173013765_nAbout Lisa Canning

“Vowels are to words what creativity is to the world~ basic and necessary.”

What motivates you to explore your creativity?  Email me and tell me: lisa@entrepreneurthearts.com

For daily inspiration and creative education join me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EntrepreneurTheArts

Need a magic creativity wand? Let’s start with the clarinet and see what it inspires you to dream and do.

Lisa Canning is the founder of Lisa’s Clarinet Shop, IAEOU, the Institute for Arts Entrepreneurship (IAE) and Entrepreneur the Arts. And now Learning Flies too.














What does flexibility do? Reflections on Creative Ecosystem Building

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