What if, Milwaukee?

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:40 am

Bright blue Post-It notes scattered throughout Discovery World on Friday sparked hundreds of new ideas about how to improve Milwaukee and the prospects of its future.

Many of those Post-It notes carried nothing more than two simple words: “What if?” Others sought to answer that question with additional questions: “What if every arts organization had a free night where people could experience the art at no cost?” “What if social services were better integrated?”

Discovery World played host to Creative Alliance Milwaukee’s second annual CreativeMilwaukee@Work Summit on Friday, as a mix of about 325 people gathered to drive momentum around ways to initiate positive change upon the city.

An equally important focus of the day was devoted to learning about ways Milwaukee has already become a better place to live, work and play, with the help of a little creativity.

Through presentations led by some of Milwaukee’s most successful and impassioned creative professionals, summit attendees gained insight into the creative processes and also grasped elements of the creative problem-solving processes behind experience design and design thinking.

These people-centered approaches to problem solving consider the needs, desires and experiences of the user above all else as they explore ideas and solutions to issues through innovative lenses.

Summit presenters, whose professions and expertise covered a spectrum of industries, invited audience members to peek behind the curtain of the creative processes they have used to leverage their business, transform the performing arts, tackle wide-scale social issues and begin finding solutions to environmental problems.

Ken Leinbach, executive director of the Urban Ecology Center, spoke of the need for creative problem solving as populations begin to face severe limitations in the planet’s resources, such as oil and food.

“I think there’s a paradigm shift in thinking and problem solving that is imperative in our society, and I think there’s shifts in behavior and there’s shifts in ways of thinking that need to happen if we’re anticipating our seventh generation away having a vibrant home,” Leinbach said. “And it’s kind of paradoxical because you almost need a more expansive mindset to be able to solve for limitations.”

That’s where the creativity comes in.

Leinbach’s creativity has launched him into the national spotlight following the strides he has made in developing the Urban Ecology Center and the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum.

An integral part of Leinbach’s creative process, and one that resounds in experiential design, is giving yourself permission to simply be creative and explore ideas in all shapes and sizes.

“Somehow in our culture, we’ve come up with a way of sort of squashing that permission – not the creativity but the permission – to be creative out of us,” Leinbach said. “And that has to change. It just has to change.”

Leinbach also spoke of his affinity for diving right into the creative process rather than taking time to think through each element of it.

“Don’t ready, aim, fire, because that means you’re trying to figure everything out before you do it and then you do it and it’s invariably screwed up,” he said. “So you’re much better off just doing it.”

Lincoln Fowler, co-owner of Milwaukee-based Colectivo Coffee and another presenter of the day, echoed Leinbach’s push to jump right into ventures knowing that risk and failure are essential parts of the process leading to success.

“We have always, I think, valued what comes out of our creative process when it is not highly structured and delineated, that instead of kind of driving it in a particular direction, I think we’ve had our most success when we react to what’s going on in the organization, what challenges we have or what opportunities that we want to get after,” Fowler said of his company.

Other presenters such as Reggie Moore, founder of Milwaukee’s Center for Youth Engagement, and keynote speaker Bob Schwartz, general manager of global design at GE Healthcare, emphasized the importance of employing empathy in experience design.

“To me when we talk about empathy, when we talk about human and people-centered or experience design, it’s really around not just studying people but really engaging them in the process of solving their own problem,” said Moore, who is currently helping facilitate a citywide effort to improve access and impact of after and out-of-school time programs for teenagers.

Throughout the day, as summit attendees learned critical components of creative processes related to experience design.

“We designed the day so that people got to experience different aspects of what goes into (experience design),” said Mark Fairbanks, cofounder of Translator, which partnered with Creative Alliance Milwaukee in organizing the day.

Besides creating personalized schedules for attendees, summit organizers welcomed creative with fresh Colectivo-brewed coffee, customized lunch for them with a salad bar containing 48 ingredients and gathered input from each person – all to reiterate experience design’s focus on the end user.

Attendee Chris Bishop, art director at Milwaukee-based DCI-Artform, ended the day feeling more connected to Milwaukee’s creative community.

“I think many of us go to a lot of creative conferences, and you get really energized, but it’s really more personal in how do you take information to make yourself better?” Bishop said. “This is one of those opportunities where you’re already at a better state. Now, how do you take your skillsets to better your community?”

BizTimes Media served as a media sponsor of this year’s summit.

Erica Breunlin is a BizTimes reporter.

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