on January 20, 2016 Conversations About Innovation Creativity Creative Problem Solving Interviews with Innovators Design Stories

Lessons Learned on Growing a Creative Community (And The Secret to Creative Bravery)


How important is it to get outside your comfort zone?

Just ask Kevin Huynh, the former Chief Operating Officer of CreativeMornings, the breakfast lecture series for people who consider themselves creative. Each local chapter of CreativeMornings brings in engaging speakers and storytellers, all based on a monthly global theme. Past CreativeMornings speakers include Seth Godin, Ben Chestnut, Jessica Hische, Debbie Millman, Simon Sinek and David Kelley. The breakfast meetups bring together likeminded people to learn, exchange ideas and celebrate a city’s creative talent.

It’s no wonder Huynh helped CreativeMornings grow: he’s a passionate speaker, community-builder, and someone who’s found success in taking risks and getting outside his comfort zone. Huynh is currently Head of Growth at Classcraft, an education startup helping teachers engage students with learning through role-playing games. Prior to Classcraft, Huynh was the first employee at CreativeMornings, helping to scale the popular lecture series from 4 cities to 105 cities around the globe in his role as COO.

During our conversation with Huynh, he shared 4 highlights from what he learned during his CreativeMornings journey, including how getting outside your element can help you find—and do—your best work.

1. Seek out creative or passionate people to connect with.

While getting his masters, Huynh says he knew he wanted his next move to combine many passions. “I'd always been interested in design, community and tech, and after a summer of digging into that a bit more I discovered a wealth of interesting people that I wanted to learn more about.” Huynh took a risk, went outside his comfort zone, and cold emailed a long list of people who he admired professionally.

From there, he landed a gig that introduced him to the world of producing events that were packed with creative inspiration and energy. From that connection, he eventually made contact with Tina Roth Eisenberg, the Founder and CEO of CreativeMornings, Tattly, and the popular design blog, swissmiss.

Immediately, Eisenberg and Huynh connected with one another, with Huynh appreciating how design-driven and genuine Eisenberg was by nature. Despite another job offer, Huynh was inspired by Eisenberg. He decided to take a risk and move across the country to New York for the opportunity to work on building CreativeMornings alongside her. “I fell in love with it. From day one, there was just so much to dig into.”

While your chosen tactic may or may not be cold emailing, Huynh says people can discover their own authentic way of expanding their network to connect, engage and learn from others. “I’ve learned [to be] brave enough to just reach out to someone because you never know what might happen.” He says it’s important to be straightforward and candid about why you want to meet, and in many cases, people will respect your honesty and be willing to meet. “Coming from the heart with a humble perspective can go a long way,” he says.

2. When kicking off any project, set expectations early on. 

“How do you enable someone on the other side of the Earth, to understand your brand or company?"

Huynh had to answer this question when scaling the CreativeMornings community. The critical factor as they expanded was setting expectations as much as possible, says Huynh. “You should start with a solid baseline—that someone can walk in to any event around the world and feel the same vibe. But you also have to leave enough room for an organizer to experiment and make it their own.”

In practice, that meant the CreativeMornings team created a handbook as well as written agreements, which helped encourage the team to come together and have a conversation about a desired set of standards. Nothing was restrictive, but when scaling any vision, guidance helps people stick to the intended vision and purpose.

3. Give away resources…and trust.

Once they had minimal expectations to keep all cities aligned on the experience they were looking to create, Huynh focused on how he could support individual cities and organizers as much as possible. He knew there would be inevitable conflicts or issues that would arise, but he learned with a bit of trust, magic could occur.

Huynh says as leaders, we can continually ask: what do our team members need right now, and what would be useful tools that we can provide them with?

It’s a combination of seeing people’s immediate needs, and looking into the future to see what they may need to problem-solve and implement. “We showered them with resources and created all sorts of sample materials: sample branding, sample slides, anything they could use, and making sure all of the content was easily accessible,” he explains.

4. Confront your insecurities anytime you create or share.

It’s easy to get caught up in how many likes or shares you get on ideas you put out into the world, says Huynh. But when it comes to creative bravery, much of the secret is to focus what you’re truly passionate about building.

“You have to confront a lot of your own insecurities when you take on a project…Is it really about how many likes, or shares or the number of people looking at the thing? Or is it the quality of the comments that come in, or is it about the difference it makes for the end user?” Whether it’s building a community, pitching an innovative idea, or sharing a creative project, process is partially in our minds, says Huynh: “I naturally need other people to lean on during that process. Sometimes you need a collaborator, and sometimes you just need to hear a story from someone else that acknowledges the challenges you’re facing.”

Confronting insecurities can help make sure you are putting your (creative) energy towards the right endeavor. “At the end of the day you can pretty much only achieve one goal at a time,” argues Huynh. He says when optimizing what you’re working on, ask yourself, “What am I really trying to do here? “Looking back at my time with CreativeMornings, the goal was to get really well acquainted with the creative world. I may have felt outside of my element at first, but that experience has shaped who I am.”

About Kevin Huynh

As the first employee at CreativeMornings, Huynh started at CreativeMornings when it was a monthly event in just four cities. He then led the team at headquarters as COO to scale CreativeMornings to 105 chapters across 44 countries, until he left the organization in March 2015. After saying goodbye, Kevin couch-surfed around the world by staying with dozens of CreativeMornings organizers. Today, Kevin is the Head of Growth at Classcraft, an education startup that’s helping teachers make learning an adventure by transforming the classroom into an immersive role-playing game.

On Solving Complex Problems 

In the "How to Innovate...Strategically" paper, Batterii examines how and when we can all use innovation approaches such as Design Thinking and Lean Startup to innovate. Download the paper now to find out more on the principles that can help you apply your creative energy to solve problems in a new way.

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