Alaskan Artist - Elise Tomlinson
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11/27/2007: "Creativity in Business"

When I was first approached to lecture at a workshop on creativity in business, I politely declined. I didn't think I had anything much to offer in that area. I'm hardly the model of a good business woman.

But the woman setting the thing up for the Alaska Small Business Administration talked me into it. She said that she had actually found and read postings on my site before moving to Juneau with her husband and that she'd found it helpful. That the session was more about "creativity" than good business practices anyway. We talked about a few vague possibilities and I said "I'll do it!

I mean, it wasn't going to be held until the end of November and that was a lifetime away. Only, it's now just 3 days away. And I'm realizing that "creativity" isn't the easiest thing to define. There will be 20 people attending this workshop, all small business owners, none of them artists as far as I know. Some of them have service based businesses. Some have websites and some do not.


I feel really stuck. I'm not sure how to make the best use of these people's time. I can talk to them about my experiences with having a blog (though I have been a bit neglectful lately) and why they might consider starting one. I can talk about the things I do to generate ideas (mostly by visiting other people's sites or asking you guys for input). I just don't know.

The woman setting it up said if I could show them some other business sites that were creative or innovative in some way that would be great, I just suddenly can't think of any.

So, I am basically begging for any help from the blogosphere. Have mercy on me. And if you can think of anything interesting I might include in this session that would be fantastic. Anything at all. Just brainstorm if you like I'm open to all suggestions. Just remember the theme is creativity in business and it's not geared towards artists. So, how about it? I have a little over an hour to fill and I'd like for it to be useful for them. Thanks in advance for any ideas you might share.

Replies: 15 Comments

on Tuesday, November 27th, holly said

OK, I left a long, rambling response at my place, but I don't think it will do you much good. Here are some small businesses that have good websites:
(LB Stant Investments. Nice and calming. Easy on the eyes)

(Portland OR Real Estate lady. That you can search neighborhoods from the bar on the left and then go to the map and see where they are is wonderful and fun to use):

(My fave bike shop! Good design, although it could use some warmth):

(My pal Lara. Her merch is beautiful like her site. She is an extremely successful business woman):

OK, now some bad ones.

(My other fave bike shop. Website gives me a panic attack):

(Portland broker. Makes my blood pressure rise. How do you use this site?!?):

(Real Estate. I think. Or flashing lights and animated gifs, the endless home page. See, whoever designed this thought they were being creative. They weren't):

(Decorative furniture. Unattractive site, endless scrolling, poor photography, when you click the link to a different area, it appears that nothing happens-- you have to scroll down to see that the photos are different. The site and the product do not go together at all):

Erm. I hoped that's a little bit of help. I'm one for getting a discussion going with your group. I'd write more, but I'm about to fall asleep at my desk!

on Tuesday, November 27th, Monica Gallagher said


Saw Kelly & fam over Thanksgiving, and she mentioned you, so I had to revisit your fab website.

Here's my $.02 about what I value about the creativity of the small not-for-profit business I've worked for since '01--they define their mission largely by values, not a finite set of tasks/services. This gives the staff a lot of room to grow and maneuver.

The mission is to provide "volunteer and professional services to assist elders to remain in their homes with independence, dignity and choice." That has meant finding homes for pet cockatiels, reliable roofers, and home health aides.

It's not just the work itself that should be creative--the HR and personnel policies need to creatively address employees' real lives. I was allowed to bring nursing babies to board meetings--maybe a small thing in more accepting Alaska, but a HUGE perk here in the more conservative Midwest.

My salary and benefits are very modest, but they haven't had to rehire my position since 2001 because they creatively pursue their mission and support their staff.

I think the small business owners attending will be blessed by your authenticity and creativity. I'm inspired every time I visit your site.

--Michaela's little sister

on Tuesday, November 27th, dad said

:P find something that works and inprove on it ;)

on Tuesday, November 27th, Elise said

Hi Holly,
I know how busy you are so thanks a million for your response! Those websites are excellent examples of what to do, and what not to do. Holy crap, those are some *ugly* websites!

I'm also looking for small businesses that have blogs...creative uses of blogs.

And Monica, thanks for giving me a different way of thinking about "creativity"...that's a really good point. I think of creativity in a visual or artistic way but there are a lot of other ways to be creative in business.

And dad, not as easy as it sounds! (but thanks)

One thing you've all proven is a point I'd like to make about having blogs, that you create a network of friends who can brainstorm problems with you to find solutions you couldn't find on your own. Whether it's advice on a painting, or how to come up with examples for a workshop on creativity!
You guys are the best!

on Wednesday, November 28th,">julie said

Hi Elise! I had heard about this seminar and I was trying to figure out when and where (now I know who!)

I was wanting to attend to get ideas on how to market myself as a designer... and artist, so that is something you definitely have expertise in :D I think navigating and using blogs, websites and social networking to promote business is really the focus these days.

Well, if I am able to come... I will see you there! Good luck :)

on Wednesday, November 28th,">julie said

Hi again... I forgot to say, that everyone seems to have an etsy shop these days, and although that is mostly for arts and crafts people can find sites that can help them sell their wares, etc. And, what about "guerilla marketing"- (what I think of when I think of "guerrilla marketing, right or wrong) giving away free "swag" that people can take away that advertises your business in a low-key way.

Just some suggestions!

on Wednesday, November 28th, Elise said

Hi Julie,
They still have 2 or 3 spots open I think. It's this friday, I think from 9-5, but my bit is only from 10:45-noon (I think). There are other people that are going to be doing more hands on stuff that sounds pretty interesting.

It's through the U.S. Small Business Administration, a contact person is Amy Lea at 586-8714 or by email at Amy.Lea "at"

btw, I feel silly asking but which Julie is this? I know several in Juneau and you've never signed with your last name.

And thanks for the suggestions too, they really want this to be focused on "creativity" and that can go in soooo many directions.

on Wednesday, November 28th, Daniel North said

Sorry about the slow reply, I have been pretty much wiped-out mentally this week with the upcoming opening (60 paintings, what the hell was I thinking)... but if I follow your question than this can go two ways:

Business are actually interested in arts involvement (image enhancement) which means stuff like sponsoring openings at galleries and scholarships for children's summer art classes; hosting art rental programs and establishing business retreats for their employees at galleries and sculpture parks.

Or... theory two... which means this really has little to do with artists and your talk should deal more with teaching people to think outside the box... which also means your screwed, cause teaching general "creativity" to "bean counters" is a bitch... pop in Andy Goldworthy's "River and Tides" DVD to teach them how to "think outside the box" and hide behind the coffee carafe.

on Wednesday, November 28th, Elise said

Hi Daniel,
I'm almost positive it's not scenario #1...these are "small" and sometimes non-profit business people not likely in the position to sponsor arts related events, though I love that idea.

It is more likely #2, and yes, I never realized how difficult teaching "creativity" would be. In some ways it's probably as Holly said on her blog, that it's something people have or they don't...but I think even the least creative person in the room can recognize a novel approach to a problem that someone else has implemented, and be able to replicate it to some degree for their own purposes.

That might be the tactic I use, I don't know...I'm still undecided.

Oh, and 60 paintings? In case you were wondering, you *are* crazy!

on Thursday, November 29th, Howard said

Sorry I didn't get back to you sooner Elise, but I have scratching my brain and can't come up with an easy answer. It's such a business attitude to think creativity is something that can be packaged up in a nice box and sold. It reminds me of my creative process class way back in school. The course was four months long though. I have no idea how you cram that into a couple of hours.

on Thursday, November 29th, Elise said

You had a class on the creative process? Wow, I would have loved something like that. But you're totally right of course, it's not something that can easily be taught because it's more of a lifestyle, a way of seeing seemingly ordinary things and seeing beyond them to their potential for something else (a story, song, painting, sculputure).

It's looking at problems and trying to think of a new way of approaching them, it's ingenuity at it's core.

But, if you can't teach that (at least not in a day) then maybe I can teach them some ways to find out what kinds of creative things other people in the same business are doing. Show them how to build and modify other people's creativity into something all their own.

Well, at least in one aspect, the online environment. Like window shopping at your competitor's shop, only you can look at shops all over the world and synthesize your favorite bits to create something all your own.

hmmm, even this seems like too much for a little over an hour, but maybe it will get them thinking and looking more.

Anyway, thanks for commenting! Do you remember the name of the text book you used for your "creative process" class? I'm also putting together a bibliography of additional reading for them.

on Thursday, November 29th, Dio said

Hi Elise,

sorry I didn't get back earlier - been up to my eyes in decorating and house moving stuff. Back in 2002 I did a year's corporate creativity related stuff with the BBC - it was partially business related as well as with a mind to creative output as well.

I did an initial course with these people - What If!?. The course was a creativity course. I went into it quite snotty, thinking I was an artist, what did they need to tell me about creativity? Ha!

I was proved very wrong. They run a creativity course aimed at developing ideas from new product lines to TV programmes and the like. They basically have a tool set that they train you to use to develop creative ideas in a focused and exciting way. It sounds corny, but it works a treat, in fact it was that course that got me up and painting again, as well as developing a whole range of TV programme pitches and stuff like that.

It's especially relative to business as so many of them don't set time aside to be creative. Simple exercises applied in a focused manner is a great way of coming up with new and unique business ideas - but it's very hard to get people who are not used to being creative to let go and get into the flow of it.

I rambling a bit now, but take a look at that What If site - there may be some stuff of use on there. Also, found out one of my colleagues who run the training for the BBC used what she'd learnt to go and join the What If company, and then set up her own creative consultancy with some other people she'd worked with. There's a bit about that here. Not sure if that helps much - it's really an area I could ramble on about for ages but I'm not sure if it would help you.

on Thursday, November 29th, Elise said

Hi Dio,
thanks for the lead. I'll check it out. I've been having a great time surfing around looking at innovative and creative sites out there.

I've been in a bit of a creative slump myself, I've let this blog slide, I haven't updated my painting galleries online in awhile, I haven't been painting either, so a side benefit of thinking of this problem of how to present "creativity in business" is that I'm getting totally jazzed myself at all the possibilities.

I mentioned the presentation to an ed prof out here at the university whre I work and it turns out he knows a lot about "visual literacy" and had some excellent suggestions as well.

I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed and like you, could ramble on for ages about everything I've been discovering but unfortunately, I'm very limited in time and scope.

Anyway, I'll check those sites out for sure...thanks so much for stopping by!

on Friday, November 30th, erik sommer said

when my webmaster and i set about designing my site we both agreed that less is definitely more. in today's culture of abundance it is nice to create something that remains calm yet succeeds in displaying my artwork and visual language.


on Friday, November 30th, Elise said

Hi Erik,
thanks for sharing your website! It's really beautiful. I agree that sometimes less is more, though I've never been very good at that!