In February, I attended my first Creative Mornings meeting and I have been hooked ever since.
It started out innocently enough as a fun way to get out of the office for a couple of hours on a Friday morning. Then it turned into an addiction that almost wrecked my Memorial Day. I was at Myrtle Beach at 8.59AM, and I put both kids on the beach at the edge of the water. I watched one kid run toward the ocean and the other run towards the house while I stared at my iPhone frantically hitting refresh on my browser to make sure that I got a free ticket to that Friday’s Creative Mornings meetup back home. Fortunately, no one got bit by the tiger shark that was spotted in the area, and I was able to get my monthly fix sans parental guilt.
Creative Mornings is a lecture series for the creative community that meets one morning each month.
It is free to attend and being a living human being is enough of a credential to prove your status as a creative. The Charlotte chapter meets on the first Friday of every month and the meetings have the feeling of the first day of summer camp with a hint of TED talk. They start with free coffee and breakfast and time to mingle. When the meeting starts, there is a musical guest, followed by a Price is Right style audience participation game. Then a member of the community gives a short 20-minute lecture on the topic of the month.
I am glad that I took some beach time to register for the June meeting, because it was relevant to me on a number of levels. The monthly theme was “broken,” and after years of being a tinkerer and an engineer I have plenty of broken machines, prototypes and mechanisms that I have left in my wake. In the last couple of months we broke a postal scale in the office, my lawnmower only runs for exactly 22 minutes before it vapor locks, my oven shuts off if I open the storage drawer under the oven cavity, the face of my shift knob in my car broke off of the stick shift, and I overflowed the toilet in my upstairs bathroom wrecking both the floor and the ceiling underneath. You could say that ‘broken’ and I are better friends than rum and Coke.
It was also an interesting meeting because the guest speaker was Monty Montague (@montymontague), founder of design firm Bolt that is also based in Charlotte. He talked a lot about design thinking, the design process and how to use design as a tool to help our communities. The video of the talk is available on the Charlotte Creative Mornings website here, so I will not rehash it, but there were a couple points that Monty made that resonated with me.
The first was that he brought up the idea that designers are suburban anthropologists.
I am rarely the customer on most of the products where I am involved in the design process, and a lot of the work is understanding the problem and the environment where the product lives. We are currently working on a manicure product and a couple of us went to a local nail salon to observe the process. I ended up coming home with pages of notes and a green acrylic pinky nail. On another project, I was 25 feet up in a tree doing research for a hunting tree stand. The “undercover” research is a necessary, if not scary, part of the gig.
The second key point was the concept that good design is never leaving well enough alone.
Engineers are often of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mind set, whereas designers often think, “if it ain’t broke, look again.” If it were up to engineers, the telephone would have never made it past a rotary dial let alone gone mobile or smart. It is a good mindset to get into when trying to come up with the next big innovation.
The Charlotte chapter was the 123rd to join the movement, and I caught up with the founder, Matt Olin (@mattolincreates), to learn about how he brought it to the Queen City. Olin is a freelance copywriter with a passion for theatre. A native of Charlotte, he moved to NYC in 2009 after producing a play called “The Other Place” which was based off of the life of a Charlotte woman with Alzheimers. The play eventually made it to Broadway in 2013. After meeting his wife Sarah, they had a daughter and decided it was best to move back to Charlotte to be close to family. On closing night of “The Other Place,” Olin’s apartment was packed up and he was headed back south.
After being out of town for so long, he was out of touch with the local creative scene and was searching for a way to gather with his peers. He had heard about Creative Mornings while living in New York, and thought, “I wish there was one of those in Charlotte.” Months later he took it upon himself to get one started. He was granted a chapter in July of 2015, and the first meeting was that November and they have continued monthly.
While the Creative Mornings does not overtly have anything to do with product development, I encourage you to check out a meeting in your area. You may get a nugget of inspiration or meet some peers working on similar creative pursuits. At the very least, there is free coffee, music, and food to get your morning kicked off right.