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We have never tried to pretend that creativity isn’t messy or difficult. We often talk about chaos as the energy behind creativity. Without chaos, nothing new emerges.
So when you work here at Wieden+Kennedy Portland, you know what to expect. The uncertainty of trying to judge something new. The familiar pain of having to abandon ideas you love. Being comfortable that the thing you end up making is a million miles away from what you thought you were making when you started.
Turning scribbles into beautiful and provocative communications is one kind of messy creativity. Building a business from nothing is another. Since being involved with PIE, the Portland Incubator Experiment housed in the basement of W+K Portland, I’ve been lucky to experience this version of chaos and creativity.
What started as a work-space for start-ups has evolved into an incubator and a hack space. From the beginning we believed there was value in seeing what happened when start-up energy and innovation collided with W+K culture and global brands.
We just weren’t sure what form that value would take. That’s why we called it an experiment.
Over the last few months, we’ve had eight start-ups working out of PIE, refining their products, building their businesses, raising money. For each one, the trajectory has been different. All have had their fair share of creativity in action…and chaos.
David Embree, CEO of Athlete Path, a race platform that serves athletes with event discovery, registration, and results, describes the development of his company: ‘It feels orderly when you look back, but everything was happenstance.’
He always had a clear idea of what he wanted to build, but the journey there was uncertain. ‘I came in with a dream. But dreams are nebulous. They lack definition. That definition comes from the day-to-day and the day-to-day is full of mistakes and chance.’
On the day Brad Heller and Clifton B. started at PIE, they didn’t have a name for their company, and the product they thought they were building was no longer competitive.
Several months on, they have created Revisu, a communication tool that makes it easy for designers to share their work, collect feedback, and track revision history of a project. Although their product is about optimizing creativity and reducing waste during the process, their development has experienced a healthy dose of chaos:
‘We built a lot of technology that we thought people would love, but it turned out they hated it. Sometimes it’s difficult to move on when you’ve stayed up two nights making something, but you have to. All the fuck-ups helped. All the time we’ve wasted building things that don’t matter is a way of figuring out if what you’re making is right.’
The importance of being tough on your output is echoed by Cloudability’s JR Storment: ‘Our biggest mistake was not killing our assumptions fast enough.’
Matching the individual companies’ relentless improvement and alteration is part and parcel of the PIE vision. As different start-ups move through, and different brands engage, our offer evolves. Some brands have partnered with us for a season, others for a Hack Day. We’ve had W+K brands like Nike and Coke involved. And non-W+K brands like Google.
What we’re learning is that each brand works differently with PIE, and that there is no single PIE process. Just opportunity.
PIE 2011 was not PIE 2010, and 2012 will be different again. This intentional instability fuels W+K’s own creativity.
As Renny Gleeson, co-founder of PIE, puts it, ‘Entrepreneurs are a dynamic creative class and W+K can learn from them as we evolve our own creative product. You must meet consumer needs. And failure is part of this process. Failure isn’t fun, but what is true for the start-ups has proven true for PIE as well: if you come out of a program with the same idea you went in with, then you weren’t listening.’

via PSFK:
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