In our workshops, we often run an exercise “Think Like A Traveller”. Close your eyes and think about the last time you travelled to a different country, state, city or even suburb. You were expecting things to be different. You were taking in your new surroundings (it’s actually an inbuilt survival tactic). Your eyes darted faster, you listened for the unfamiliar, and you were on alert. Why? You had no preconceived ideas of what to expect.
On my recent travels to the USA for the Front End Innovation Conference, I WAS the traveller. I walked the High Line. I visited Rahway Arts District. I met with the movers and the shakers of the Creative Industries.
Stay with me. This will all tie in like a good Billy Connolly story. I hope.
Clayton M Christensen, who coined the phrase ‘disruptive innovation’, co-authored The Innovators DNA. In this book the authors write about “five discovery skills that distinguish innovative entrepreneurs and executives from ordinary managers: Associating, Questioning, Observing, Networking, and Experimenting”.
When we travel, these five discovery skills are operational. Here’s how it can work.
Walking the High Line, I couldn’t help but associate it with the truncation of the Newcastle Rail line. I questioned the concept of the High Line, the ‘why’ and ‘how’ behind its construction. The rail tracks had remained unused for twenty-five years, plants grew wild, people wanted to claim it as public space and much planning and designing resulted in the tourist attraction it is today. I observed people walking, talking, relaxing and sitting along the track. All 2.33 kilometres of it.
More observation and association followed. The ANZAC Memorial Walk had recently opened. Being an inner city dweller, I noticed the multitudes of people that were using the track early morning, late at night and all weekend. Why couldn’t Newcastle become a walking town with our own version of the High Line, ANZAC Memorial Walk, Fernleigh Track, Bathers Way and the already operating Historic and Architecture Walks.
Next, a New Jersey networking opportunity, a two-hour long conversation with Lawrence McCullough, Executive Director of the Union County Performing Arts Centre. Larry tells me he was on the founding committee of SXSW so I am automatically a fan.
Side track to Tre Borden (Creative Consultant, Sacramento) who came to Newcastle from the Vivid Festival in early June. Turns out Rahway and San Diego have a similar project happening.
Time for a bit more associating. In the last half-century, cutbacks at some big San Diego companies radically reshaped San Diego’s manufacturing sector.
Rahway was also centred on manufacturing. The post World War II decline in industry led to the closure of Rahway’s major manufacturing facilities, which led to a disrupted central business district. Any of this sounding familiar?
Rahway and San Diego are both constructing apartments for working artists – painters, musicians, dancers, actors. They plan to lure them away from major centres like New York City (where cheap rents are $4K per month) to fringe centres (it takes 20 minutes by train from Rahway to NYC) to take up residency in subsidised apartments. Rahway’s apartment block will contain sixty units. That’s sixty singles, couples or families boosting the local economy.
So imagine Newcastle Railway Station as a series of studios, art centres, cafes and galleries. The rail line is transformed into a garden, with walking and bike tracks. The old Store building is converted into apartments for artists, complementing the construction of NeW Space.
Finally experimenting. The best ideas require sharing, prototyping, testing and iterating.