What I've Been Watching and Reading

As 2012 draws to a close, I thought I'd take the opportunity to share a handful of the articles, books, shows, conversations and documentaries that informed, inspired and entertained me throughout the year. I hope that a few are also informative, inspiring and entertaining for you.

Elon Musk in Coversation

2012 was a standout year for entrepreneur Elon Musk. After rocky, touch-and-go starts, his three California-based companies--Space X, Tesla, and Solar City--all hit major milestones. If, like I, you are fascinated by him, then this July conversation with Pando Daily founder Sarah Lacy is worthwhile viewing. He's shockingly accomplished--and incredibly understated. A nice combination.

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New York Fashion Week Grows Up

There has been a whole lot of sexy going on in New York this past week. That's normal, for this time of year. Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, which began last Thursday, wraps up today. And while the après Labor Day fashion buzz is nothing unusual, what has struck me this go round is that the transition people have anticipated for ages has finally happened: New York Fashion Week has grown up.

Maybe it was the move from Bryant Park to Lincoln Center two years ago. Maybe it was the seasoning of a crop of talented younger designers--ProenzaAlexanderJasonZac--filling in behind the old guard--RalphDonnaCarolinaOscar--creating a solid platform for a new guard--WesReedthe OlsensSophie. Maybe it is the culmination of six years of tending and nurturing of the CFDA by wise, multi-term President, Diane von Furstenberg. Whatever the reason, this was not a hit-or-miss New York Fashion Week. One collection after another was fabulous. Sexy was dialed-up to 10. 

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Christo in Colorado

For five decades artist Christo has been inspiring and infuriating, uniting and dividing communities large and small, urban and rural, around the globe.

Last Friday, nineteen years after he and his wife and collaborator, Jeanne-Claude (who passed away in late 2009), conceived of their proposed Colorado project Over the River, it came one step closer to fruition. The Colorado State Land Board approved two land leases necessary to allow the project to move forward. As with his other works over the years, Over the River will be a temporary installation--5.9 miles of shimmering fabric panels suspended above the Arkansas River in south-central Colorado for a two week stretch--if all goes as planned, in August 2014.

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Five Go-To Reads on the Creative Process

Elizabeth Streb is an extreme choreographer, MacArthur Foundation Fellow and the visionary behind the Streb Lab for Action Mechanics. Behance's 99% recently published a brief, but terrific, interview with her entitled On Taking Big Risks and the Power of ActionHer thinking brought to mind the article that I am republishing here, one of the very first that I wrote, on the lessons that artists' creative processes hold for business innovators.

Innovation--the creation of a product or process that is radically new, unique and different--is the holy grail in today's business world. What many of those who beat its drum rarely mention is that the path to true innovation is rooted in pure creativity. To innovate brilliantly requires facing down the deepest challenges of the creative process: high anxiety, ambiguity, seemingly impassable roadblocks, even failure.

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London is Calling

Last week, London, Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester burned. This week, as the UK cleans up and takes stock, a list of companies, organizations and individuals who should or could be tapped as partners to address the underlying issues and discontent that sparked the flames.

This is a mix-and-match set of resources. In the spirit of BMW Guggenheim Lab and Intel and Vice Magazine's Creators Project, companies at the top of the list can team with individuals and organizations further down to create innovative, community-building, problem-solving events and venues in affected areas. Other models to leverage: pop-up stores and Panera Cares. Importantly: for big thinkers, there's the potential to create programs that travel, using London as a launch pad, moving on from there to work with youth in cities around the globe.

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Taking it to the Streets

Today the Guggenheim Museum kicks off a six year commitment to catalyzing conversations on 21st century urban environments: BMW Guggenheim Lab.

Over the course of the Lab's life, three commissioned structures will travel to nine cities around the globe. Teams of programmatic curators in each will draw together artists, scientists, economists, architects, political leaders, environmentalists, musicians, educators and others to lead discussions on local development and growth issues.

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Get Out and Play


Stuart Brown champions play. Doctor, psychiatrist, founder of the National Institute for Play, I first learned about his work when he appeared in conversation with Krista Tippett and Paul Holdengräber several years ago at the New York Public Library.

Since then he's been a featured speaker at a TED-sponsored conference on play, published a book--Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul, and regularly co-teaches a Fast-Company-featured class--From Play to Innovation--with IDEO's Brendan Boyle at Stanford's d. school. At the same time, in the spirit of that d. school class, play has become something of a trending topic for companies seeking to catalyze creativity and original thinking in their employees and workplaces, and it continues, as always, to be a subject of passionate consideration in parenting.

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Hacking the City

Michael Bloomberg gets hacking. In a 1995 profile of Bloomberg, the company, Fast Company wrote:

His theory is simple: shove lots of well-paid young upstarts (2,200 employees, average age 31) together in a small space for long hours, give them the best equipment possible, and you'll get magic.

It's fitting, then, that in his role as Mayor of New York he pushed early to engage developers to address the city's, its citizens' and its visitors' needs. Under his leadership, over the last two years New York has opened up its databases and run two contests--Big Apps--challenging developers to use the data to create apps--desktop or mobile--to make the city more usable, livable, lively.

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Considering Alexander McQueen

Yesterday I went to the Met to see the Alexander McQueen retrospective Savage Beauty. I thought I might beat the crowds by going first thing on a Tuesday morning. No such luck. One of the guards on duty told me that it's never not packed, every day from open to close. The exhibit has broken Met attendance records, been extended by a week and surely could go even longer than its currently scheduled run through August 7th. Suffice it to say--there's a reason it's drawing crowds. Just go.

Curated by Andrew Bolton of the Met's Costume Institute and designed in conjunction with long-time McQueen collaborators Joseph Bennett, Sam Gainsbury and John Gosling, the exhibit is exquisite, not just because it offers the opportunity to view McQueen's stunning pieces at a pace, but also because it does so with the same level of craft, care and love that he devoted to his work. It must have cost a bomb to produce--each of the eight rooms is a separately produced high-end showcase, beautifully lit and soundtracked, helping to compensate--as much as humanly possible--for the cheek-to-jowl crowds.

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DIY with Kaiser Chiefs

Clever, smart, attention-grabbing. So goes last Friday's unexpected release of the new album from Brit indie pop group Kaiser Chiefs.

Taking a page from the likes of NikeiD, Converse and Timbuk2, The Future is Medieval was issued on the Kaiser Chiefs' own web site, and it's customizable--there are 20 songs to choose from, select your 10 favorites in an order of your making, create your own cover art, download for £7.50. After you download, a page is created for your album, and you can share it. If others buy it, you get to keep £1.00. They're calling it a bespoke album.

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Meet Mobius One

Meet Mobius One. I'm a little bit in love with this sassy little car. Never mind the fact that it happens to be the prototype for a feel-good durable, functional, affordable car for the African middle class consumer. It's just feisty.

Mobius One may be tiny, but manufacturer Mobius Motors' ambitions are anything but. It estimates that the African transport market is $60 billion. It wants to play a role in transforming and refining that market--and, in the process of doing so to generate $2 billion in revenues by 2020.

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Promote Peace

If you are a film, television or documentary producer with projects in far flung corners of the globe and you don't yet know about the UN's Creative Community Outreach Initiative (CCOI), you should. This tiny but effective four person team provides creatives with access to UN facilities, film and photo archives, experts and even field resources and contacts via the UN's offices around the world.

Established by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2009, Ban recognized the benefits that might accrue to the UN from proactively reaching out to those most passionate about storytelling. Introduce them to a trove of untold human interest narratives, capture their imagination, help them to accomplish their professional goals successfully, and thereby further the UN's own--to promote peace and a better future. It was a savvy move from a big bureaucracy, very much in keeping with the times, reflecting a fresh, collaborative mindset--in strong contrast to the No Trespassing stance the UN has historically held toward the entertainment industry.

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Exacting Detail

I absolutely love the windows of E.R. Butler & Co.. Really, to call these windows is to do them a disservice. Located on the north side of Prince Street between Lafayette and Mulberry, they are four vitrines, tall, deep, grand, used over the last three years to great effect to showcase the work of high-end, indie accessory, jewelry and furniture designers such as Ted Muehling, Philip Crangi, Wendy Stevens and Chris Lehreke.

The displays are always dramatic. And the windows have an air of mystery. Incongruously embossed in gold at their base is “E.R. Butler & Co. | Manufacturers”. There is no immediately discernable relationship between display content and proprietor name. Manufacturers of what?

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Love Life

Ayse Birsel is a designer, a Turkish designer. In tandem with her Senegalese husband, Bibi Seck, she runs award winning studio Birsel + Seck. They've created products for Hermann Miller, Target, Hasbro and Johnson & Johnson and were among the designers featured in Patricia Moroso's colorful and celebrated M'Afrique salon at the 2009 Milan furniture fair. In May last year they participated in Headspace, a symposium on scent sponsored by SEED Magazine, Parsons and MoMA.

Birsel + Seck's trademark design process is an innovation tool they call Deconstruction + Reconstruction--break stuff down, let it get messy, put it back together again, even better than you found it. Ayse has road-tested Deconstruction + Reconstruction not only in her work, but also in her life, and she is using it as the framework for a workshop, Design the Life you Love, to teach others to stir things up, give their perspective a good shake, move things forward.

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Girl Power

First Natalie Massenet, now Arianna Huffington. In less than twelve months' time, two super fabulous female entrepreneurs have inked high-profile, multimillion dollar deals for the companies they founded, using the internet as their launch pad. Natalie started online luxury retailer Net-a-Porter in London in 2000. Arianna, of course, founded eponymous news aggregator Huffington Post in 2005.

Both women are game changers who began from scratch, trusted instinct in the face of adamant naysayers and have personally netted millions as a result. Natalie pocketed $75 million in April 2010 when Richemont bought out the portion of Net-a-Porter it did not yet own for $530 million. Figures have not been made public in the Aol-Huffington Post transaction, but based on the Company's investor base and reported valuations of earlier rounds, Arianna will likely take home somewhere between $15 and $50 million cash and stock in the $315 million deal. She also is said to have a multi-million dollar annual contract to stay on and run Aol's collected news services.

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Fashion Forward

Late last week Prada announced plans to go public. Rumors had been swirling about an IPO for most of 2010--actually, for most of the past decade. The new twist to the tales told last year was that the Company had decided to list on the Hong Kong stock exchange. And that is, in fact, what it plans to do. This move is either brilliant--or sheer, high-stakes lunacy.

Prada has always been more modern, more futuristic and more willing to take risks--aesthetically, strategically and financially--than other luxury companies. There have been some ill-considered acquisitions and the burden, at times, of an overly leveraged balance sheet. On the whole, however, Miuccia Prada and her CEO husband, Patrizio Bertelli, have done a masterful job of staying relevant and at the forefront of luxury and fashion, while growing Prada from $450,000 in sales, when they took over the company from her family in 1978, to well over $2 billion in annual revenues today.

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Tidying Up

This past weekend Monocle magazine's much-anticipated television show for Bloomberg premiered with the airing of the first two of six episodes on Saturday and Sunday.

If you are not yet familiar with Monocle, since its 2007 launch much has been written about it and its globetrotting founder, Tyler Brûlé, including two love letters last year from Business Week and New York Magazine.

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Irrational Exuberance

Earlier this month the window display at Sicis on Broome Street in Soho caught my eye, as it often does. Only this time it was, as I wrote when I posted a picture of it on Twitter, ridonculous--beyond. It was a bathtub--in the form of a gold, mosaic, high-heel platform pump. I loved it for its sheer craziness--who came up with this thing? And then--decided to go ahead and make it?!

And, in fact, it was beautiful. Sicis' mosaic workmanship is always exquisite. The detail on this wacky bathtub was no exception. Since then Sicis has cropped up two more times--and both times it's been for another exuberant product or collaboration. A week ago the India Art Summit was held in New Delhi. A friend posted pictures on Facebook. One of the standout items in her photo album--for its sheer fun factor--was a vibrantly decorated Nano (pictured above). Turns out--it was, as the license plate says, a Sicis production--on behalf of Singapore-based, British-Indian artist Ketna Patel.

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Future Perfect

What will the world look like in 2050? This is the question at the heart of Drivers of Change, a terrific planning and brainstorming device created by the Foresight and Innovation team of the London-based engineering firm Arup.

Packaged in a sturdy, bright box, Drivers of Change is 175 cards posing pointed, forward-looking questions and delivering quick hits of data on energy, waste, climate change, water, demographics, urbanization and poverty. Each topic is broken down into five areas of inquiry, with five cards each exploring social, technological, economic, environmental and political issues specific to the subject at hand. If this sounds like it has the potential to be overwhelming or depressing--or simplistic, it's anything but.

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Catalyzing Creativity

Innovation--the creation of a product or process that is radically new, unique and different--is the holy grail in today's business world. What many of those who beat its drum rarely mention is that the path to true innovation is rooted in pure creativity. To innovate brilliantly requires facing down the deepest challenges of the creative process: high anxiety, ambiguity, seemingly impassable roadblocks, even failure.

Although the business world has tried to translate creative processes into business-speak, I still find artists the best guides on navigating and channeling creativity effectively. Their processes are rooted in tolerating, working with and even valuing uncertainty and failure. Their lessons carry great weight for those seeking to understand and catalyze creativity in the business world--to innovate brilliantly.

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