Saturday, May 10, 2014

Out of the Box: Infect our system with creativity

Rockford Register Star Guest Column

By Ron Clewer

I believe everything happens for a reason. About a month ago I agreed to write this column about learning, innovation and creativity to celebrate May as “Out of the Box” month hosted by Rockford Lutheran. Prior to agreeing, I was chosen to attend an Executive Leadership Institute with the Alliance for Children and Families. The two-year program aims to grow high quality, human services executive leaders. I didn’t know I would spend my first six days focused on learning, innovation and creativity. The timing is perfect as I sit in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan writing this column.

Over the last few days, my cohort has intensively focused on the concept of innovation. What is it? How does it occur? When is it most effective? We know innovation comes with risk. The more innovative, the more risk. Stasis, or a period of inactivity is also risky; however most of us have been taught to think it’s “safe.” Should we live our lives as “safe” not looking for new ways, ideas or opportunities to grow?

Do we reward creativity or do we look down on it? Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” Think about it. Our children start out living creative lives. Purple dragons. Invisible friends. Fairy tales. Coloring pigs blue — pigs that may or may not drive black fire trucks. It’s not long before we say, Honey, pigs aren’t blue and they cannot drive. Fire trucks aren’t black and there are no such things as fairy tales — except under 398.2 in the library. We teach them to think about “real,” and we take their crayons away.

Some argue that innovation is creativity, and some may argue that creativity is not necessarily innovative. Why are we arguing?

Good work is about spirit that leads to greatness. Our city was founded with greatness by innovators, by creatives, by designers, by makers. Our history shows this, but at some point we settled with stasis. Yes, that’s a pretty broad statement, but I think we can all agree with it.

I believe that we need to infect our system with creativity and celebrate it, and we need to reward innovation. We need innovation, and we need creativity to reverse the conditions present in our community. Disagree? Consider, creativity is the No. 1 desirable attribute for leaders, says an IBM Global CEO study 2013.

Thankfully, there are many innovative drivers currently underway in Rockford. Rockford Housing Authority is leading an innovative approach to help residents grow creative enterprises. RPS205 is piloting a craft entrepreneurship program. Both programs are partnered with Etsy, an online sales outlet platform and the Rockford Etsy team. These partnerships are so innovative that New York, Dallas and Chicago are replicating this work.

These are the types of events that will be highlighted in Rockford Lutheran’s Out of the Box month-long celebration of creativity and innovation. Out of the Box is a coordinated series of events spotlighting creative efforts in our region that celebrate innovation and drive collaboration for the greater good. Take some time to return to your own creative space or celebrate others!

Rockford has been and will again be a great, creative place to invent and to make thanks to these and other innovative efforts.

For more information on events, please visit

Ron Clewer is CEO for the Rockford Housing Authority

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