The Fetch Blog

Curated reads and events for professionals

Coffee talk: Denise Jacobs, creativity evangelist and speaker — September 14, 2015

Coffee talk: Denise Jacobs, creativity evangelist and speaker

Denise Jacobs is a teacher, author and powerful speaker who will discuss processes and techniques for dramatically enhanced creative productivity at this year’s Sydney-based Web Directions Conference. While talking with Denise about her inspiring professional journey, we learned how to overcome speaking fears and procrastination. Read on for her tricks and story about finding her true passion.

How did you get to where you are today?

It feels like a long story, but I started making handmade soap in 1997 to get back in touch with my own creativity. My friends really liked it, and people kept asking if I sold it. At first, I found it baffling and kept saying, ‘no, no, no!’. But when people started asking what was in it, I started offering to teach them how to make it themselves. I had two small classes of about five people each at my house.

From there, I started teaching at an adult extension school. I discovered that I really loved teaching! Though I was working in the web industry on project management projects, I found myself without the passion I felt when helping people. I was knowledgeable about web stuff and had built some experience teaching, so I thought I’d combine them to teach web classes at Seattle Central College. About five years later, that job ended and I coincidentally went to my first web conference. I saw Molly Holzschlag, an open web evangelist, speak. What we were doing was so similar – but she was speaking in front of thousands. I instantly knew I wanted to do the same.

About four years later, I finally broke into the web speaking circuit. I had just authored my first book, The CSS Detective Guide, and it gave me the confidence to pursue opportunities. I took it by storm, applying everywhere, building a reputation as a good speaker. Now I get invited, which is a dream come true!

When did you realize that you had an ability to help others be creative and produce great work? 

It totally came from teaching. Through the soap classes, I realized that I was good at explaining, at helping people learn about the things they found interesting. Once I started at Seattle Central Community College, I knew I had found something that I was passionate about and wanted to do more of.

Today, you’re an accomplished public speaker. What tips do you have those with fear of getting up in front of people?

Two things. The first is to know that if you have one more piece of information to share than someone in the audience already knows, then you are helping. I find that people are afraid to speak because they feel like they don’t have anything new to offer. Remember, the lens of your experience is unique and people always need reminders. You are valuable!

The second piece of advice I can offer is to remember that people are rooting for you. Attendees aren’t sitting and casting an evil eye – they’re there to learn and be entertained. Think about this when you get in front of people. Know that everyone is supporting you.

You’re a featured speaker at the upcoming Web Directions conference. What’s special about this event? What are you most excited about?

I met one of the founders of Web Directions, John Allsop, at SXSW in 2006. I had long admired his work and used it in my classes, and he proved to be one of the best people I met! I’ve been wanting to speak at Web Directions for years, and was finally invited to do so this year.

Sydney, Australia: home of the 2015 Web Directions Conference

I’m also really excited to go to Australia – I’ve never been – and a lot of my industry friends like Hannah Donovan and Daniel Burka are taking part. The crowd is sure to be amazing, and I know it’s going to be a great time.

A frequent traveler, how do you stay connected when moving around? How do you stay focused?

To stay connected, I make a conscious effort to see people I know when I travel. This includes friends, or in new places, digital contacts. Connecting with people makes places more feel meaningful for me. One thing I like to do is shop for groceries wherever I go – it’s an everyday, self-care thing. Restaurants feel less grounded.

For staying focused, I concentrate on the thing that is in front of me. If I can, I don’t think about things that are too far out. I use an email auto responder with my upcoming schedule, Calendly for meetings, and airline apps like Tripit to help take care of little details.

What was your proudest, professional moment?

This past June, I was the closing keynote at a conference in Columbus, OH (an hour from where I was born/grew up). It was the first time I was able to have my Mother at a conference. As if that wasn’t enough, my 91 year old Grandfather also came from Detroit to hear me speak, and friends from my hometown, including my favorite high school teacher, were also in the audience.

This was one of my best speeches as I was really on and felt an amazing connection with the audience.

I had structured my talk in a way that helped me really speak to technical attendees, and made it a point to tie in the opening keynote with several other earlier talks from the conference. I was so honored to receive a standing ovation from that crowd, and in awe over audience feedback. It was a really special, magical milestone in my career.

How do you maintain work/life balance?

I bracket my time carefully when I’m home, and make myself stop working by using alarms. I deliberately don’t work on weekends. I also recently decided to start imposing a ‘mandatory beach day’ for myself after each work trip. This comes after a recent four-day staycation in Palm Beach (my backyard) which left me asking myself, “why don’t I do this all the time?!”

How can someone overcome procrastination to be more productive?

Instead of focusing on doing the task, trying just getting ready to do it. Open your app or document, get your notes together, maybe jot down a couple of ideas. By just getting ready, you may be inspired to do it. Another trick to try is the Pomodoro technique — block off a small amount of time for the thing you don’t want to do, knowing you only have to work on it for a limited time. You’ll be surprised how easily it can kick you into gear!

What, if any, events/workshops/classes do you regularly attend or recommend?

I can’t recommend Improv classes enough. Not only do they teach you how to be creative, but they’re great for building self-trust. They also help you realize that you don’t always need to plan ahead, how to collaborate and rely on others.

BATS in San Francisco offers classes, along with IO in Chicago and Gotham City in New York City. Find a place and go!

Where can we find you online?

My website, Facebook page, and Twitter are all good places to keep up with me.

Last, how do you like your coffee?

I actually prefer a chai tea latte with soymilk over coffee (chai tea is the best!), but if I get a coffee it’s usually a decaf almond milk latte.

Event Review: Wellington Lux Festival — June 30, 2013

Event Review: Wellington Lux Festival

As part of the Wellington Lux Festival Symposium spanning 22/23 June, Katherine Field and Pepper Curry attended both days and reported back to The Fetch on all the terrific art they interacted with.

Photo credit: Katherine Field
Photo credit: Katherine Field

Last weekend marked the second instalment of the WGTN Lux Festival, celebrating creativity at the interaction of light, space and technology. The festival was plagued by the recent storm in Wellington but fought the odds, with almost all of the artists managing to install these outdoor pieces.

A Symposium occupied the central two days of the four-day event and was a fascinating insight into the creative, scientific and mad minds of the artists – most of whom had pieces dotted around the city for the festival. Twelve artists and a panel discussion entertained an intimate, engaged audience in the Wellington City Gallery over the two days.

Ruairi Glynn from the UK, was a heavyweight addition to the Symposium. His interactive kinetic installations have been exhibited in such esteemed institutions as Centre Pompidou and The Tate Modern. His artwork unfortunately didn’t feature in the festival here, but he was a passionate and engaging speaker. Glynn shared his unending enthusiasm for his projects that create organic and playful human experiences using artificial intelligence and robotics.

A highlight from the first day of the Symposium was also the poetic and humorous tale of experimentation and failure delivered by local lighting designer/artist, Marcus McShane. He spoke about his journey from building solar racecars and land yachts from a young age, to his current frustrating project. The hurricane-force weather of last week plagued (and postponed) the installation of McShane’s permanent artwork in Opera House Lane which was to debut during the Festival.

Day Two of the Symposium featured five more engaging speakers. There seemed to be a recurring theme of playful and complex digital projects inspired by the natural world. Design the Future’s Social Firefly, Antony Nevin’s BELUGA and Pierre Proske’s Blink were three beautiful pieces in the festival that worked with animal interaction in interesting ways.

Lux Lit Tree 2013 Kimchi and Chips
Photo credit: Katherine Field

Elliot Woods from Seoul-based art and design studio, Kimchi and Chips was a standout in his presentation. In 45 minutes he took us through the relatively complex processes that have informed their work, which left some of the less technologically minded audience members barely keeping up. To over-simplify, the duo have explored such concepts as the aesthetics of error, 2D vs. 3D sight, and have a system which creates the emulsion of digital light in physical space. Their enchanting installation in Frank Kitts Park, Lit Tree 2013 goes beyond ‘traditional’ projection-mapping, and illuminates a tree with light that is volumetric and also able to be manipulated.

As a final session, all the participating artists formed a panel. The discussion ventured though topics on the subtleties of true interactive art, negotiating audience expectation, analogue vs. digital experience, and driving creativity by constraints. Rachael Rakena, (co-creator of the beautiful Aniwaniwa from 2007 Venice Biennale) then became the main focus of the discussion, with many of the questions directed at how she copes with the often negative reaction to her provocative artworks such as Haka Peep Show from the Rugby World Cup.

Photo credit: Katherine Field
Photo credit: Katherine Field

The Symposium was an insightful journey into the processes and inspirations of the talented exhibiting artists. Thankfully, the weather cleared for the final two evenings of the festival, to allow a number of Wellingtonians like us to explore the actual installations under the light of a super-moon – most armed with cameras, tripods and many woollen layers!

About our Ambassadors // Katherine Field is one helluva busy lady. In between holding down the fort as the Community Manager at the BizDojo, she is also back at university and helping to coordinate Startup Weekend Wellington. Find her on twitter as @kathfromwelly

Pepper Curry is an illustrator, zine publisher (Press Zine), and audio-visual performer with Subterranean Mountaintop Seaside. She lives in Brooklyn, Wellington, and can be found helping to facilitate greatness at the BizDojo, Monday thru Friday. 

Event Review: Participation is the new consumption — June 10, 2013

Event Review: Participation is the new consumption

As part of the Vivid Ideas festival, community ambassador Mark Woodrow went along to the Participatory Revolution, an event inspired by Michelle Williams, connector, collaborator and  founder of Ideaction.

Panel discusses big Vivid Ideas
Panel discusses big Vivid Ideas on participation

“There is the same power in our phones as what took humans to the moon.” Michelle Williams inspires passion in us all to join the revolution in opening the half day conference at the MCA in Sydney, 27 May.

“This is the era of creativity. Participation the new consumption.”

It’s not what we consume, it’s how we participate

Greenpeace CEO David Ritter defined their early vision with blunt clarity in quoting David McTaggart  “We have to get our world into 21st C in one piece. Fuck everything else.” Greenpeace works by active participation. The latest campaign targets the horrendous damage by plastics on bird life. Two thirds of Australian sea birds are choking on a stomach full of plastic. You can participate by not purchasing from a multinational like Coca-Cola, which shows no interest in recycling. And watch the compelling ad that was censored by mainstream Australian media.

“Greenpeace’s mission hasn’t changed  but now there are many more options for activism.The action items on the menu for social change have expanded in the rich opportunities contained in digital age.”

Participatory democracy and citizen centricity

‘Social media is just a part of a broader cultural change’ according to self proclaimed geek and open data advocate Pia Waugh.  Gov 2.0 means 3 key things:

1. open data, 2. participatory democracy, 3. citizen centricity.

It is good to have Pia representing the thoughtful application of technology in government and promoting that as citizens we should all be central participants. “For two years, we’ve had more people engaging with government online than through any other medium”, says Pia.

Learning to be a citizen scholar

James Arvanitakis is the lecturer you wish you had at University, winning a Prime Minister’s award for being the most popular Australian lecturer in 2012. He advocates participatory education where we trade knowledge to attract students – we need more citizen scholars, as “Students aren’t empty vessels”.

Like newspapers, James believes the model for traditional university education is outdated. Studies show that attention in lectures goes downhill from 12 minutes. James overcomes this by interacting before, during & after lectures with downloads, and interacting on Facebook.

“Knowledge is like a big picnic. If we all bring something & contribute it will be awesome. We need to get students ready for jobs that don’t exist”

Dan Ilic (Very funny MC), Michelle Williams (Amazing Curator), Mark Woodrow (Fetching)
Dan Ilic (Very funny MC), Michelle Williams (Amazing Curator), Mark Woodrow (Fetching)

Know your sense of purpose

People are interested in doing the right thing and changing the conversation, according to Paul Bennett, Creative Director at renowned design firm IDEO. But to truly participate we need little less conversation, a little more action. Paul recommends we:

1. Have a higher purpose. ‘Know your sense of purpose’, but it needs to be integral, “Purpose is not a layer that you just add on top”.

2. Make stuff. ‘Less talking more doing’ is what leads to human centered design.

3. Be transparent about success & failure. Leap forward into growth rather than step back into safety.

4. Play well with others – collaborate. Assume the good.  “If you care about solving problems, you can’t try and own the solution”

The rule at IDEO is that everybody is in it for everybody. Incredibly IDEO puts everything online. You can see it all, download it. frameworks , designs etc. According to Paul:

“Burning eyes are the business eyes of the future”

The Maker Movement

Yammers Steve Hopkins is all about eliminating silos.  “How you make things is as important as what you make”. Makers are true participants and they are on a different schedule. For a further insight read Paul Graham’s Maker’s Schedule versus Manager’s Schedule

For projects to work, Steve’s suggest’s the Yammer formula:

“Two to ten people in a team for between 2 to 10 weeks. Never longer”

For Ian Lyons, the ‘maker movement’ is increasingly creating value. Ian makes drones (pilot-less flying machines) and suggests you investigate over funded projects on crowd funding platforms,  such as KickStarter. These are a great source of market research. Collaboration is the key – find a community that will help you build what you want. There are great Australians ‘Maker Spaces’ including  Robots & Dinosaurs, Ozberry Pi, Ninja Blocks and Dorkbot. These vibrant, creative communities that provides access to tools, software, space, ideas and support. As do #coworking spaces. You just need to search them out to participate.

The time is now. Reward collaboration over competition. Join the participatory revolution. Vive la révolution!

About our Ambassador // Mark Woodrow. Prefers the more informal self-appointed title of No1 Fetch Fan.  Runs a design and communication consultancy, The Galaxy. Resides at Hub Sydney. On the NSW Board of International Assoc of Business Communicators. You can connect with Mark on Twitter @markwoodrow


Interview: SF Local, Rena Tom of Makeshift Society — May 12, 2013

Interview: SF Local, Rena Tom of Makeshift Society

This week Eliza interviews retail strategist and Makeshift Society founder, Rena Tom. Follow Rena on Twitter via @rena_tom.


Last year you founded the Makeshift Society, a coworking space located in the beautiful Hayes Valley. What goes into the day-to-day of running a coworking space ?

There are far more details when managing a coworking space than you’d think! Besides making sure the place is clean and stocked with supplies, you also need to make sure the social and emotional needs of people are met. Even if most folks are on their laptops, they are here because they are craving a certain level of interaction and connection with others. Monitoring the space is important, as the vibe differs every single day.

Besides this, there is the usual administrative support, and lots of blogging and social media, which is our marketing strategy right now. Word of mouth and familiarizing potential members with Makeshift through images of the space and current members has worked wonders.

Calling the Makeshift Society “a clubhouse for creatives” calls upon vestiges of childhood creativity while also eliciting the notion of exclusivity. What inspired you to describe the Makeshift Society this way?  

From the get-go, we wanted to emphasize play. Play is such an important component of creativity, as is permission to act. Creating a place where members feel like they have ownership to experiment, talk to people and get feedback is what we’re all about.

We figure that people already know how to work! We just try to make them feel comfortable enough to make mistakes. They might *not* make mistakes but they won’t know until they try.

As far as exclusivity goes, we aren’t, actually; we don’t maintain a waiting list and we don’t “curate” the membership mix. However, people who believe in and embrace our mission tend to get what we’re all about very quickly. We’ve been lucky that the Society membership largely self-selects and yet is still quite diverse. Our main difference from other coworking spaces is that the activities are geared toward freelancers. This is partly because we are a small space with all flex seating which works better for freelancers rather than teams, and partly because those are the people I’ve worked with in the past, so I understand their needs the best.

Rena at Makeshift Society
Rena at Makeshift Society

You founded Rare Device in New York City in 2005.  What lessons from that experience would you share with aspiring business owners? 

That was a great time to open a store, and NYC is just the place to get great exposure and learn fast. I would just say that if you have a great idea, just do it. I mitigated risk by taking on an extremely small space and giving myself a deadline to “make it”. Slow and steady growth is also not a bad thing to aspire to, especially if you are new to the business.

For a seasoned veteran, you can take on more risk, but if you are entering a field that you have no experience in, you don’t need to shoot for the moon – you need to learn the ropes. When you feel comfortable with that, *then* you can go big.

When you opened the San Francisco location in 2007 did you notice any drastic differences between starting a business on the West Coast vs. the East Coast? 

The main thing I learned is that it’s harder to get traditional press outside of New York. However, blogs and social media have started to become much more of a factor for successful retail, and that definitely helps level the playing field. I also learned that New York is far more trend-driven and less price point conscious, and that California was even more story-driven and concerned about the provenance of a product – but that also reflects the shift in values overall over the years. The recession really threw a wrench into the works but the recovery seems to be moving retail along nicely again.

Rena at Rare Device
Rena at Rare Device

Word in the Twitter-sphere is that you’re looking to open a Makeshift Society in Brooklyn. What influenced that decision?   

Demand and momentum. I think the time is right to bring our kind of coworking to Brooklyn, which is just so creative and has a great work ethic as well. It also makes sense because of real estate. Most people are in tiny apartments and can’t afford studio space or office space, and yet trying to meet and network at bars or similar places is loud and unsatisfying. The people I’ve talked to want a low-pressure environment where you can work or have a conversation or take a class. There are a lot of people who fly back and forth between SF and NYC, also, and expanding the network and having reciprocal membership will be awesome. We’re actively pursuing a space right now, and need to start fundraising. So far everyone I’ve spoken to has been very positive about the idea.

What was the last thing that inspired you on the streets of San Francisco? 

Let’s see. I have a fondness for survey marks.  You’ll find them sprinkled throughout my Instagram feed; I can’t stop myself from photographing them. I like that they are a secret language in plain sight. They offer clues about major, impactful things happening to our streets and sidewalks, but most people don’t even see them anymore. The online world is important but I am obviously a proponent of the built, offline world as well 🙂

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About our contributor // Eliza Dropkin is a lover of live music, good food, and beautiful places. Connect with her on Twitter via @elizadropkin.

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