Summit to intersect community development and creative problem solving

This year’s Creative Milwaukee @ Work Summit, presented by Creative Alliance Milwaukee, will leverage the talents of the region’s creative class to impact three of Milwaukee’s top economic and community development projects.

Those projects encompass the development of land at 4th Street and Wisconsin Avenue, the direction of the startup hub known as The Commons, and progress of the Greater Together Challenge.

For the past three years, Creative Alliance Milwaukee, a nonprofit that aims to grow Milwaukee’s creative clusters, has held an annual summit to highlight how creatives can, are and could contribute to the vitality of the city.

Last year’s event, which drew a capacity crowd, explored the creative processes of Milwaukee thought leaders like Lincoln Fowler of Colectivo, Ken Leinbach of the Urban Ecology Center, and Mark Clements of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

Attendees were also challenged to think broadly about their visions for Milwaukee and ask “What if?” in regard to the community issues they found most pressing.

This year’s summit, which will be held Friday, Oct. 24, will build on conversations from last year as attendees collaborate with a cross sector of creative professionals and discuss how to forge ahead with 4th and Wisconsin, The Commons and the Greater Together Challenge.

The day will unfold around the concept of creative problem solving, which is defined as “approaching a problem or a challenge in an imaginative and innovative way,” said Maggie Jacobus, president and executive director of Creative Alliance Milwaukee.

Creative problem solving starts with “problem definition,” in which stakeholders take time to determine the root of the problem needing to be solved.

Often, companies, organizations and individuals jump into action mode on issues without fully understanding the heart of those issues, according to Jacobus.

We are a “very action-oriented” society, she said, and one bursting with creativity.

“So our tendency is to start creating solutions right away, which can be great and fun…but it’s usually not the most productive way to start,” Jacobus said.

“You can’t come up with effective solutions without truly understanding the problem you’re solving for,” Jacobus said.

Once a problem is clearly identified, the creative problem solving process evolves into “solutioning,” which “then sets a course of action,” according to Jacobus.

The steps behind creative problem solving will be laid out at the Creative Milwaukee @ Work Summit with a morning presentation by event emcee Emily Callaghan, director of innovation learning at Johnson Controls, Inc.

Those steps will be colored by real-life examples as 12 speakers  from a range of professions and backgrounds expand on their own experiences using the problem solving approach.

After also being briefed on the status quo and the problem definition of 4th and Wisconsin, The Commons and the Greater Together Challenge, attendees will take the afternoon to break into workshops and apply specific solutioning techniques to the issues at the center of each project.

In the case of 4th and Wisconsin, Creative Alliance Milwaukee has spent much of the past year working with the nonprofit Wisconsin Avenue Milwaukee Development Corp. Limited Liability Co., or WAM DC LLC, to strategize ways to revitalize that site and ultimately inspire greater revitalization downtown.

Creative Alliance Milwaukee launched its problem definition process for the site, which primarily serves as a parking lot, during a creative placemaking forum at Turner Hall in April. Following analysis of the site and surveys conducted to gauge public perception, it has determined that the solution for the future use of the site must address four quadrants – people, place investment and moving pieces. With these four focus areas front and center, the project’s solutioning phase will roll out at the summit.

The solutions harnessed at the summit will form the basis of the ideas that Creative Alliance Milwaukee presents to WAM DC at a later date. Ideas fleshed out for The Commons will be presented to Startup Milwaukee and Innovation in Milwaukee (MiKE), and ideas explored for The Greater Together Challenge will serve as the basis of a future campaign, Jacobus said.

Jacobus emphasizes that the summit will cater to all professionals as “creative problem solving is a tool that can be used for innovation and value creation in every industry.”

It will be particularly valuable to companies and organizations interested in diversifying their employee retention efforts, Jacobus said.

“As a retention tool, this is the conference to send your new hires to keep them engaged and excited about the community in which they live,” she said.

The Creative Milwaukee @ Work Summit, which BizTimes Media is sponsoring, will run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Oct. 24 at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, located at 1721 W. Canal St. in Milwaukee.

Tickets cost $175, and a limited number of scholarships are available for attendees. Specials are also available for tickets bought in bulk and for event volunteers.

For details on the day’s lineup of events or to register, visit

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