Fungai Takes February by Storm
Fungai Tichawangana humbled the CreativeMornings Boston community last month with compelling stories of young innovators and entrepreneurs from his home country of Zimbabwe. Fungai, Harvard University’s Nieman-Berkman Fellow for Journalism Innovation (can you say that five times fast?) gave voice to a generation of creators when he founded ZimboJam - Zimbabwe’s leading lifestyle, arts and culture website.
Fungai opened a window into Africa’s creative and innovation communities for us and it was downright inspiring. We were so lucky to get even more magic from him for the blog, so read up bb!
As a master multi-media storyteller, how do you evaluate which stories to tell, when to tell them and how to tell them?
One of the things I try and do in my work is tell the stories of young people doing amazing things in spite of great odds. If we can place these stories on the same pages as stories about well known people who drive lots of traffic, then we help create new audiences and support structures for young innovators.
Has your time in Boston changed you as a storyteller? If so, how?
My time here has enabled me to step away from daily deadlines and meetings to refocus, learn new things and meet some great journalists and digital media innovators from all over the world. I feel invigorated to go back and share what I have learnt and try new things.
Accountability was a recurring theme in your presentation. What do you think is the most effective way to create accountability for leaders?
It starts with how we educate our children. Unfortunately, too many of us were educated to always say yes to those who lead us, to believe that because someone dresses better than us or has more money than us or is from a different social class then they have all the ideas. Constructive dissent and critical thinking are not encouraged. Accountability belongs as much to the person asking for it as the person giving it. If we do not relentlessly seek it, we will not get it.
One of the lessons from young Zimbabweans you highlighted is “keep learning.” What’s the most valuable skill you’ve learned in the past year? What are you looking forward to learning this year?
The most valuable thing I learnt last year was actually not a skill. I learnt that it’s important to work hard, but it’s just as important to get to know people. Like they say, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” I’ll also add, “It’s how you know them too.” Americans are masterful at leveraging relationships to get things done. This year? I’m currently learning about trans media documentary at MIT and it’s opening up all sorts of doors in my mind.
How can the creative community best create opportunities for others?
I have found that simple things like sharing links to resources online, can make a big difference. A friend of mine calls it ‘voting with your click.’ That’s one place to start. Another way is to create communities and groups that meet face to face and not just online. Human interaction is the stuff of magic and the more we can bring people together to share ideas, argue, ask questions and spark each others flames, the better.
Photo courtesy of Dan Powell
Adam Connor Gives Good Vibes
Happy February, creatives! We hope you had just as much fun as we did at last month’s event. We could not have been happier to kick off the new year with a sold-out event, new swag, a kickass speaker and, of course, donuts (RIP #whole30).
Adam Connor of Mad*Pow gave the community an instructional on how to find harmony in the feedback process, AND luckily we had stunning notebooks to write down every word. Or doodle. Or play hangman with neighbors.
We did some more Q&A with our bearded hero for you, because we know you just can’t get enough.
One of the most interesting points you mentioned in your presentation was about practicing critique. How can eager humans like myself practice? Does writing Yelp reviews count?
Sure. Yelp reviews can count. Whenever you think about giving feedback, you can think through the four elements of critique:
- intent or objectives of the creator
- related aspects of the thing(s) you’re analyzing
- the effectiveness of those aspects
- and why they are or aren’t effective
But perhaps more importantly is to remember that the best critique comes in the form of a dialog, both parties–the giver and the receiver–are able to ask questions and gather more information. To that extent, it’s important to look for ways to practice that provide opportunities for discussion. Ask someone for 15 minutes of their spare time to look at something with you. Try asking different kinds of questions in meetings and reviews to see what happens. If you’ve got a local design community like UXPA or IxDA, try using that network or it’s meet-ups.
What’s the most memorable piece of feedback you’ve ever received?
In my first year of film school, there was an end of the year film festival. Students from all four years were required to show their final projects in an auditorium full of film students, faculty, friends, family, and students. After each film, the student was required to stand at the podium in front of the auditorium and take questions and comments. My film, “World’s Finest,” was about two friends debating over who the better superhero is: Batman or Superman over the course of a day. It was effectively an homage or ripoff (depending on whether you like me or hate me) of Kevin Smith’s films. After it ran, I nervously walked up to the front of the room and waited. After a brief silence, one professor decided to take the allowed 5 minutes of comment time to berate me and trash the piece. I honestly can’t remember exactly what he said, but it was full of expletives and questions about any possibility of me ever making a worthwhile film. I was lucky in that, another professor later took see under their wing and taught me what critique really is. I later dropped out of school for a brief time and then enrolled at another school in a different major. I don’t attribute my leaving film school to that incident, but I don’t doubt that it made the decision to do so a little easier.
You spoke about the lack of honesty in work environments today. Is there such a thing as too much honesty?
Yes. Humans are emotional beings. Critique is an analytical process. It involves logic, rationality and inductive reasoning. If that was all humans needed in order to take action then the world would be a very different place. The fact is that we need more than that, we need motivation, and very very often, motivation is closely tied with emotion. And emotions are so embedded in our cognition that most of us can’t separate them. This is why emotionless characters in films and stories tend to stand out to us.
Understanding where there might be too much critique or honesty has to do with sensing where it is becoming counterproductive by demotivating someone. Helping someone understand where their idea needs additional work is great, but if it has the side-effect of leading them to give up on doing anything with their idea at all, then is it really worth it? I talk a lot about the importance of designers separating themselves from their creations. And it is hugely important, but I don’t think it’s really possible to do it completely. And I think that there are benefits to the attachment as well. Finding the balance between detachment, honesty, and motivation is not easy, and it really only comes from practice, both on the part of the recipient as well and the person or people giving the critique (and often collaborating with the recipient).
Empathy seems to be a buzzword at design and tech companies right now. Is there a right or wrong way to instill empathy in workplace culture?
The classic designer answer of “it depends” applies. The most common challenges I encounter with teams around empathy have to do with balance in one way or another. For example, empathy – typically emotional empathy – can often be a catalyst for action. When we feel pain or discomfort because of a situation someone else is in, our empathy can cause us to take action to try to improve the situation. It doesn’t sound like a bad thing on the surface, but sometimes the actions we take may end up being detrimental. Think of how many stories you know from your own past with friends and family, where someone was just trying to help but ended up making things worse. This is a situation we hear about often in health and financial industries. Emotional empathy needs to be balanced with cognitive empathy, and both need to be balanced with an understanding of the various “systems”, contexts, and constraints of a situation in order to find the most effective course of action.
Who are your mentors? How have they shaped your approach to work?
My greatest mentor outside of my parents is Jennifer Fabrizi. Jen and I worked together at MassMutual for years where she was my manager. I was pretty young, stupid and had a bit of an attitude problem, especially in my early time there. I had a tendency to get overly frustrated at business and IT partners who just couldn’t see things the way I saw them, and the processes, infrastructure, and legal hoops that made things feel like the were slower than molasses drove me crazy. Jen taught me so much about pragmatism and how to take the empathy and understanding we were so focused on for our customers and turn it inward toward our partners. There is a line she used to say to me when I would get all riled up about something and start running my mouth, “Are you adding more light or heat?” which essentially means, “Is what you’re saying (or about to say) furthering the conversation by uncovering new information or is it just adding energy without rallying moving things forward?”
What sort of magical powers do you hold in your beard?
My beard is where I keep all of my good ideas.
Happy New Year from CreativeMornings Boston!
2015 was a big year for CreativeMornings Boston - we celebrated our first birthday, hung out in some of the city’s newest spaces, took ALLOFTHEPHOTOS in the Danger Booth and ate an incalculable amount of donuts.
The team is working hard to bring the CreativeMornings community incredible events in 2016. If you have ideas, feedback or slam poetry please get at us firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris Piascik on How to Make a Donut Vomit on a Loop
Remember when Chris Piascik became the first speaker to use the theme twice in a three-word sentence? That was so real.
The CM Boston community was incredibly #blessed last month to hear from Chris on how to be a general hustler. Chris, a self-proclaimed accidental illustrator, is a published author and winner of way too many awards to list here. When he’s not creating posters for bands that don’t exist anymore, he posts his daily drawings here and teaches at Hartford Art School.
Here’s our lightning interview with our epic November speaker:
You just completed your second Kickstarter campaign. What has been the most surprising part of crowdfunding?
I’d have to say the genuine excitement people seem to have about being involved. It’s really an amazing feeling to know people out there like your work enough to put their own hard-earned money behind it.
Does your process as an illustrator differ from your process as a designer? If so, how?
At this point in my career I see myself as an illustrator, and as a result of that I am bringing my unique voice to each project whereas that isn’t always the case in design. Design aesthetics and execution are particular to each specific project, and often times the designer’s voice is not, and should not, be a part of that. I still love design and enjoy doing it for my own projects—I’m just not really designing for clients at this point.
What has been your favorite project this year? Why?
Working on a few different sets of stickers for Facebook was probably my favorite project this year. Since the stickers are used almost as emoticons it was a fun challenge to think about the story or message each sticker would express and how people might use them in conversation.
Do you ever feel competitive with other creatives? How do you deal?
I don’t know if I’d say “competitive” but I do sometimes see amazing things by other illustrators that make me want to step my game up. There’s plenty of work to go around and it never seems like I am competing directly with anyone. Seeing other great work just makes me happy to see illustration as a whole thriving.
Related: Who wins a thumb-wrestling competition between you and (previous CreativeMornings speaker) Josh LaFayette?
I asked Josh, he say’s that I would probably break his thumb. I don’t think that would be the outcome, but I do feel confident in my thumb-wrestling skills.
CHECK OUT THE FULL DANGER BOOTH ALBUM HERE!
Rock, Paper, SHOCK!
Here’s what went down at our October Creative Mornings in order of awesomeness:
- Our first speaker duo, Audrey Claire Johnson and Katie Shannon, dishing on their acclaimed web series, the K&A Show
- a boss indoor swingset
- a cut-throat rock-paper-scissors battle
- Keith’s cool YouTube playlists
We invaded Hatch Fenway for the first of three months in their new co-working space. More importantly, we met a lot of new faces and, as usual, ate way too many donuts. For those of you who couldn’t make it, or those who just couldn’t get enough of Audrey & Katie, we’ve got your lunch read on lock.
How did the two of you meet?
AC: Our planets aligned on my first legit audition in Boston for an original comedy series called “617,” which was created by Katie. I wore a criminally tight James Perse dress, and my strategy was to hoard all the printed scenes in my portfolio so the other auditioners would have less time to prep. Miraculously this worked, and I was asked to come in for a second round of casting, this time with Katie officially back from LA. I wore a fantastically inappropriate bold striped French Connection dress, and apparently did something right because I got the role. Being on such a large set as a lead was like a sweaty dream, and I trusted Katie to direct my unpolished chops into a fully developed character. Over the course of two seasons our working relationship grew, and when she approached me with the idea for “K&A” I screamed yes before she even finished her question.
KS: My first web series I did was called “617” and I was living in LA at the time when we were casting and had the tapes sent to me. I remember seeing Audrey’s audition and I knew immediately I wanted her for the role. I loved working with her on 617 and when I created K&A, I had not doubt in my mind that I wanted her to play Karly.
Are there any downsides to working with friends?
AC: No. With the restrictions of producing ultra-mega-laughably low budget projects, the personal connection and shared drive to make your work happen is priceless. Over the years working in comedy, you inevitably find your circle of creative types that nourish you. Ideas are flying around like a ball pit, someone’s excited about this sketch, so-and-so’s script is on it’s final draft, do you want to help make it happen? These people are your peers, your friends, and eventually a family of nutters who are trying to make cool shit happen in Boston.
KS: The quality of the show is so good because you are working with friends. Most of the crew have been working together for over five years now so its just a very comfortable feeling. You are all there for the right reason and that shows in the final product.
What was the last video you watched on YouTube?
AC: “Balloon Cops” by Human Giant. I was at a bar and brought it up to impress a date with my knowledge of the niches of sketch comedy. My Saturday nights are raging.
KS: Adele going undercover as an Adele impersonator
What’s next for the K&A show?
AC: I’m thinking, in this order, national tour, lifestyle brand, bid for office, HUGE scandal, rehab, movie deal, for starters. Real answer is that season 2 is just waiting on funding, we have about 15 episodes written and they are brilliant. Recently we submitted a pitch video for the Project Greenlight Digital Series competition and praying every night to our patron saints Matt and Ben that we get chosen. Also we’re sitting on a finished long format episode that may be used as a crowd funding incentive in the new year, called “Gay Camp” which was made possibly by a grant we won from the iTV Festival in Dover, Vermont. Planning to have new content out there for all our fans and haters very soon!
KS: We are in the process of editing now an episode called “Gay Camp” which I think it is the best thing we have done to date. We were fortunate enough to receive a grant from the town of Dover in Vermont and we filmed 3 days up there. We are hoping to use this episode to raise money for the rest of season 2 because it is all written and ready to go.
F*ck, marry, kill: donuts, muffin tops, breakfast tacos - go!
AC: F*ck: donuts. I was born without a sweet tooth, never EVER eat sugary breakfast. To be clear I don’t want to have sex with donuts, I want donuts to go f*ck themselves. Kill: muffin tops. After Thanksgiving which is also my birthday, I double-indulge myself every year. Also, what’s with the sweet food theme?
Marry: Breakfast Tacos! Salty breakfast option, easy to make, cheap to buy. Mine and Breakfast Taco’s wedding would be like Mary Kate Olsen and Oliver Sarkozy’s, with “bowls of cigarettes on every table.” I read that in Vanity Fair about an hour ago and can’t stop laughing.
KS: F*ck: Breakfast: Its like your sloppy one night stand. Kill: Muffin Tops: No one likes a muffin top. Marry: Donut: I could eat a glazed donut every day of my life.
Check out the trailer from their first season, which you can watch in its entirety on their YouTube channel.
We’ll be wrapping up 2015 at Hatch Fenway so be sure to mark your calendars and set your alarms for the next Creative Mornings! And we are always looking for sponsors, venues and speakers - so if you see something, SAY SOMETHING: email@example.com
Photos courtesy of Dan Powell
HANNAH CHUNG ON EMPATHY
If you didn’t get to share in the mimosas and baby donuts at our very awesome September CreativeMornings, you really missed out kid.
We crammed a bunch of old and new faces into Society of Grownups to hear designer/maker/ladyboss extraordinaire Hannah Chung speak about empathy. Hannah, co-founder of Providence-based Sproutel, has spoken at numerous conferences including Design & Emotion, TEDxSomerville, IFTF, SXSW, Big Ideas Fest, and Women@TheFrontier by Singularity University and NASA. We’ll be posting the video soon, but in the meantime, check out our lightning round with this month’s speaker:
What does your morning routine look like?
I snooze my alarm 3 times (unless I have to catch a flight) and I read Skimm emails in my bed. Then I take a shower and ready to go! I try to catch 8-9 hours of sleep so that I can power through the day without the help of coffee.
Who is the most empathetic person you know and why?
Elmo from Sesame Street. I don’t know Elmo personally, but I think it’s amazing how Elmo can show love and bring laughter to anyone who is having a bad day with his cheerfulness. I’ve seen so many clips about Elmo talking about family’s death, divorce, all those serious topics with little kids. Elmo also teaches about feelings and emotions with them too. It’s so cool how a little 3-year-old character, Elmo, can relate to so many kids from different backgrounds and give them hope. I would love to meet Elmo someday.
What was your favorite toy as a child? As an adult?
I absolutely loved my Chinese checkers set. It was one of those few toys that I didn’t feel the age difference while playing the game with my parents or other older folks (like my babysitter who was a college student). I LOVE Legos and 1000 pieces or more puzzles. I’m a nerd.
Is there any chance Jerry the Bear will become intelligent enough to take over the world?
I hope Jerry takes over the world like Elmo in a positive way. Jerry will not be a cyborg or a terminator - he’s too nice and loves kids.
What’s the most important thing you do as a maker?
I always ask for help when I don’t know things. I try to evolve my skill sets and my thought process as a maker all the time. I’m a perfectionist and I have infinite room to improve :)
ACTION IN AUGUST!
We had the best time last week at District Hall celebrating ACTION! Josh Lafayette, illustrator and pizza-lover, taught us some important lessons, including but not limited to: how to be a tornado, why hotdogs are amazing, and that it gets worse.
Before he heads to Atlanta forever, we just had to ask:
What’s your biggest motivator?
My family- and I’m not just saying that. They rule.
Favorite breakfast spot?
I really love Trident on Newbury, Clover the food truck, and Tory Row in Harvard Square (breakfast pizza!)
Favorite tattoo of yours?
That’s a very hard one. I really like the hen that I got for (my son) Henry but I really like the one I got of Lou (my wife).
What else? Thoughts on lettuce?
Iceberg is not as good as arugula.
Check out The Danger Booth gallery here!
Photos courtesy of Dan Powell.
July Recap: Collaborate
This month’s speaker, George Mumford, concentrates most of his waking hours coaching legendary athletes in the sport of self-consciousness. The Dorchester native and published author had a lot of wisdom to share with the Creative Mornings community. Here are some of our favorite takeaways from George:
When we engage in something, if we can have some fun, it enhances our cognitive functioning. - @gtmumford | #CMBos #CreativeMornings
Negative emotions hinder our ability to be present. Laughter is a great way to start out. - @gtmumford | #CMBos #CreativeMornings
How we habitually see ourselves becomes us. We need a willingness to be clear about who we are. - @gtmumford | #CMBos #CreativeMornings
We decide who we become and how we experience the world. - @gtmumford | #CMBos #CreativeMornings It’s stressful being responsible for others, not taking care of yourself.
Manage your relationships. - @gtmumford | #CMBos #CreativeMornings
Kobe, Jordan, they weren’t competing for themselves. They compete for the greater good. - @gtmumford | #CMBos #CreativeMornings
Our conscience is easily drowned out. It happens to all of us. We are afraid of peace because we have to face things. - @gtmumford | #CMBos
It’s comfortable not knowing what we are doing, we can avoid responsibility. - @gtmumford | #CMBos #CreativeMornings
1 Of the 10 things you need to do, if you take 2 and do it well, you will get 80% of the benefit. - @gtmumford | #CMBos #CreativeMornings
Learn to self-manage, understanding what to focus on and what you can archive as junk. - @gtmumford | #CMBos #CreativeMornings
GET TO KNOW GEORGE!
We nabbed George to answer some of our burning questions in a post-event lightning round.
What’s the collaboration you’re most proud of?
GM: My mind, body, heart and spirit being aligned, connected.
What’s your biggest passion outside work?
GM: Easy: love of people.
What’s something no one knows about Michael Jordan?
GM: How sensitive he is and how much he cares about others.
Who has been your biggest role model?
GM: It has been different people at different times: Buddha, Jesus Christ, JFK, Martin Luther King - my mother had pictures of all of when I was growing up. Growing up in Boston, I’ve always looked up to Bill Russell. In sports: Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Dr. J. The list goes on… It’s more about people who embody compassion and love and wisdom.
What’s your go-to breakfast?
GM: Usually the classics: scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese, english muffin and turkey bacon.
A Kirk Wallace Recap
Photo Credit Monica Justesen
Let’s take a step back to CreativeMornings/Boston June edition. It was a lovely Friday morning, the theme of the month was minimalism, and we had the talented illustrator/designer, Kirk Wallace, as our speaker. Dan and Rich from Dribbble came out to join the fun and a glorious morning was had by all.
To follow up Kirk’s talk, we wanted to give a little more insight into his process and workflow. The first thing Kirk will tell you is that he does what he does because it works for him. Take it or leave it, he’s not here to preach, but rather to share what has worked for him - a process which he says is always evolving. One thing Kirk stressed is to always keep the ball rolling. Don’t let it [your work, ideas, skills] get stale.
Process from start to finish of an illustration, from sketch to digital, textures to lighting and color correction.
With a degree in computer science, Kirk has always been meticulous and detail oriented. He looks not just at the final product, but the intricacies of what went into creating the final piece. His workflow is actually quite simple. He starts with a “horrible sketch.” The best medium for getting ideas out is pencil and paper. Although he’s drawn to fancy sketchbooks and pens, he says he usually ends up using some crappy pencil and whatever paper is around. Once he gets the idea on paper, he snaps a photo with his phone and brings the image into Photoshop to play with the levels. From there he takes the image into Illustrator to create a vector drawing. Then it’s back to Photoshop to add that gritty, organic, handmade feel. The entire process is very organized, efficient, and logical - his technology background plays a huge role in this. Design relates directly to computer science because it is all logic and solving problems. There are infinite solutions, but the skill comes in finding the best, most efficient one that cuts out the unneccesary and leaves you with a clean, seemingly effortless end product. The key to his workflow is to keep it non-destructive - to use the computer as a limitless tool. For example, using smart layers from Illustrator to Photoshop and using masks instead of erasing. Always be able to edit, know that any problem has an easy solution. Basically, he says, “you can make your computer your bitch.” Wise words, Kirk, very wise.
SO WHAT’S NEXT?
Well, it’s looking like the next logical step in the Kirk Wallace journey is animation. Pretty sweet, right? His work is rooted in storytelling (if you were at the June talk, you know what I’m talking about, if you weren’t, that’s cool, check out the story behind his “minimal” tattoo, here.) Kirk is driven by intrinsic motivation, always learning and evolving his craft. He is fascinated with the idea of bringing his illustrations to life with the inherent storyline that animation creates. As a self-taught designer/illustrator, he knows the process by which learning this new skill will take. Finding the time to learn with the detail and precision required to really hone the craft, is really the barrier to entry at this point - not to worry though, Kirk has a brute force work ethic, so I’m sure he’ll make the time. For now, he’s having fun collaborating with animators, and when the time is right, we can expect to see some Kirk Wallace original animations. And I bet they’re going to be pretty amazing. When he’s not working on commissions, working as creative director of Wagepoint, or teaching himself animation, he works on the prints for his online shop - trzown.me/store. This is what he is passionate about, this is what he makes him happy, check out the store and see for yourself.
Photo credit Zac Wolf
A brief recap on how Kirk feels a month after his talk.
The talk was awesome! Response was insane. People actually cared, they actually looked me in the eye. The fear almost instantly went away after Keith introduced me. I locked eyes with a few people in the audience and felt relieved. It felt like we were all talking together. People were nodding their heads in agreement, that validation was so important for me. It was the right demographic. The people willing to get up and come to a lecture at 8:30am on a Friday means they actually wanted to be there - to learn, listen and be inspired. It was a touching experience, everyone was on my side, it was humbling. I was surprised how interested people were in talking shop and hearing about my process. I loved using my tattoo as a catalyst for teaching a different lesson - looking at the bigger picture, it’s all about doing what you love and living the experience.
A FEW TAKEAWAYS.
Interpret these how you wish:
• Have a spine, but always be open.
• Be yourself, for yourself.
• Be human. Don’t preach. Don’t come off as more than you are. We are all amateurs. No one knows exactly what they are doing.
• The design industry shits on itself. Stay humble.
This month we have the talented Richie Stewart, of Commoner, Inc, speaking on the theme of heritage. I had the chance to sit down with Richie, and let me tell you, this guy is a treasure trove of passion and creativity. Not only is he extremely skilled at his craft, he is one of the most personable, humble, genuine guys I have ever met.
Make things look less shitty.
I asked Richie what makes him get out of bed in the morning; what makes him tick. After laughing that he had actually slept in that day and struggled to get out of bed, he tackled the question. He said there’s a lot of things that look pretty shitty in the world, his mission is to make things look, well, less shitty. He’s interested in all the details and makes sure to bring something into the world that delights the eye. You should have heard the eloquence with which he spoke about his desire for making things look better…err, “less shitty,” it was definitely inspiring.
The thing about Richie that sets him apart is that he deeply cares about making human connections. He only works with people that he jives with and throughout his process he makes sure that he understands exactly what the client wants - even when the client doesn’t know exactly what they want. He has an ability to get answers to questions that he doesn’t ask. I’m telling you, the guy has an incredible ability to understand what people want by asking, without actually asking. Crazy, I know, but it all comes down to the very real, very human, connection that he makes.
Words to live by.
Richie lives and works by his mantra of Feel strongly, Do something, Show people. When you feel strongly about something, don’t just sit on it. Go do/make/create something! And don’t keep it to yourself, show people, get the word out, get feedback. That’s pretty solid advice right there, Richie.
Richie’s talk is going to be amazing, you definitely don’t want to miss this one!