Lessons from Hopscotch 2016

Written by | October 27, 2016 | Posted in News & Culture, Process

Long before the temperatures started to shift and a single Halloween costume hit the shelf, Raleigh, North Carolina, hosted its sixth Hopscotch Music Festival. And for the second year, hosted its younger sibling The Hopscotch Design Festival, which extended the event to a community of graphic designers, technologists, architects, makers, thinkers, and entrepreneurs.

Events like these continue to highlight the growth and maturity of the design community in the Triangle and are a great place to meet new people, stretch your personal comfort zone, and explore new perspectives. Ideally, those of us lucky enough to attend, were able to truly listen, hear, and understand. Although I wasn’t able to attend the entire conference, I did hear more than ten speakers including those on panels, lightning talks, and the keynotes.

Now this is where the rubber hits the road—applying what you’ve learned to your work and life week after week. This is the promise, expressed or implied, to every conference goer, you will return from the quest with the wisdom of the sage, now able to conquer the dragon (a.k.a. project/client/problem) with clarity, creativity, and a dash of clairvoyance. Good luck!

Many ideas that were presented at Hopscotch continue to percolate in my mind. I’d like to share just a few that especially resonated with me.

The best thing I remember

Dan Heath, a fellow at Duke CASE, and co-author of many popular books including Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, kicked off the festival with the keynote. He easily captivated the audience with stories about a trip to Disneyland, a quirky hotel, a first day of work, and a graduation ceremony.

Heath spoke about key factors that can foster a memorable experience, any experience. He got the entire room involved in a real-time exercise to test the concept—true experiential learning. Although he asked us not to share his specific illustrations, because he is finishing a book on the subject, the big picture is open to all. Thoughtfully consider the entire user experience with an emotional lens. This is vastly applicable to my work, particularly as it relates to the project flow for our clients. We can ask ourselves, “What will our clients take away from this meeting, interaction, communication?” “How can we personalize this experience for them?” “How can we let them know that we value them.” “How can we present our authentic selves?”

Hold onto your hats: Kids are good for you

If you’ve ever attended a CreativeMornings breakfast (and you should) you already know something about Tina Roth Eisenberg. She is the founder of this tremendously successful, international event series, she’s also a designer, a business owner, an entrepreneur, a mother, a maker, a thought leader, and an all-around-amazing person! I’ve followed her blog Swiss Miss for years and was thrilled to hear her speak about, “Ten Lessons to Her Younger Self.” I’d like to share them all, because they were that good, but I’ll select a favorite.

According to Eisenberg, “Kids are good for you (and your career).” Believe it or not, this is the first time in my professional career that I have ever heard such a thing stated so boldly. In my experience coming up as a designer in the Silicon Valley in the late 1990s, early 2000s, nothing in the design community could have been more blasphemous. From design studios to start-ups, there was a clear emphasis on working hard and long hours as necessary—and it was always necessary. This was not especially conducive to a parent-friendly environment. Now Eisenberg has turned this on its head!

I loved hearing something I have learned by experience, seldom by example. Kids can teach us to be more patient, flexible, and wise with our time and energy, which can translate immediately into our professional lives. And our professional lives can inform ways for us to be better parents, such as using management techniques, tools of delegation, encouraging flexibility, and supporting the skills of each individual. She also spoke about her personal experience of a burst of creativity and entrepreneurial energy during her pregnancies and her resolve to drop all the bullshit and set priorities in her life. Amen.

90 Seconds to a more creative day

Brooke Belk, a talented, local writer, shared her love of the marriage of creativity and meditation. She cited many studies that point to a connection between the focused attention needed in creative problem solving and the practice of meditation.

She then walked us through a 90 second meditation exercise. Belk asked us to follow a few simple steps, which you can try too:

  • Set a timer for 90 seconds.
  • Clear your hands and sit up straight with your feet on the floor.
  • Close your eyes, if you are comfortable doing so.
  • Take a deep breath in and exhale.
  • Focus your attention on your breathing.
  • As things come into your mind, allow them to come into view then set the thought aside. (This is not a brainstorming session; so don’t worry about losing a good idea.)
  • Continue to focus on how it feels to breathe fully and move each thought that wanders in to the side.
  • When your time is up, open your eyes and get back to work.

This seemingly small exercise has been huge. I’ve continued to use this tool since the festival. Although, I had naturally developed a similar response to stressful situations and deadlines, it was fun to hear that there is evidence to support that taking a few minutes to meditate, even in the broadest definition, can shore up a creative day at the office. Go science, oh, and thousands of years of civilization!

Failure is the secret sauce

Our closing speaker left us with an amazing story of failure. It’s true, Debbie Millman, the extremely successful designer, brand strategist, author, artist, AIGA President emeritus, and host of the ten-year running podcast Design Matters, spoke for an hour detailing every failure along her path. I was so proud of the way she spared no gory detail of rejection, unpreparedness, personality conflict, cyber bullying, and more rejection. And of course, how they ultimately led her to success after success. There was no lack of hard work along the way, but she only spent a few minutes on that—she focused on the most difficult bits.

Perhaps after interviewing nearly every luminary in our contemporary design world she has the best perspective. People love to share success and hold their heroes up, but Millman gleaned the need to share the true tale of a rocky road, because let’s face it—all of us will experience setbacks and rejection and that’s okay. Millman showed us a picture of heartache and perseverance, in equal parts. Her experience illuminates a path for every designer just getting started, changing career focus, starting a new job, or launching a business. Hell, if she could navigate that quagmire, I can too and so can you!

Many thanks to Ray and the team at Cuberis for sending me to Hopscotch. I hope that everyone makes plans to attend in 2017.