Learning to Re-Engage the Creative Leader Within
Pratt Institute’s Catalyst and Unsettled, International Program in Ireland
28 Creative Minds | 6 Days | One Remarkable Journey
Issue 16 Summer 2018
Monica Hoyle, Jonathan Kalan, Leslie Kirschenbaum and Maren Maier
Unsettled: Designing a journey that deepens creative enterprise leadership
Jonathan Kalan is co-founder and CEO of Unsettled, a company that runs immersive co-working retreats around the world for people who believe that feeling a bit “unsettled” is good for change, innovation, and discovery. Unsettled’s shared workspace, workshops, communal events, and access to local expertise and adventures enable, participants, to build new relationships, find new perspectives, and grow personally and professionally in some of the world’s most inspiring destinations. In less than two years, Unsettled has led nearly 1,000 people from 65 countries on ‘Unsettled’ journeys, yielding everything from new business perspectives and partnerships to wholesale career changes and a tightly knit global community that continues to collaborate across cultural and organizational boundaries.
At Unsettled, we fundamentally believe that being a leader in today’s creative economy starts with embracing the unknown, and being comfortable with being uncomfortable. We are an incubator and accelerator for how we as humans deal with transition, uncertainty, and change in an increasingly uncertain world. If we can commit to change – of place, perspective, of routine – as a constant in our lives, then we enable ourselves to pursue life as a process rather than a destination, and thus see greater possibilities of where that process can lead us. After all, it is in times of transition, travel, and movement when we feel most alive, inspired, and receptive to the people and ideas that spark growth and enable us to thrive; personally, professionally, and creatively.
Our experiences are designed to inspire new thinking and explore new possibilities by structuring a way for people to break out of their routines. This March, we went into unchartered waters to co-create a unique learning journey across Ireland with twenty-two of Pratt Institute’s alumni and current students. In partnership with Pratt Institute’s Creative Enterprise Leadership graduate programs in Design Management and Arts and Cultural Management, we combined the Pratt experience-based curriculum with Unsettled’s experiential methods to co-create an environment based on experimentation, play, and discovery meant to challenge the participants’ status quo.
For one week, participants met with creative leaders in the Irish creative economy to stimulate new perspectives, and took part in leadership exercises to unlock new potential in their own creative leadership journeys. Beyond the workshops and more “structured” sessions, it was enlightening to observe creative leaders from across the spectrum – CEOs, independent artists, corporate innovators and project managers – converse in ways that enabled them to share their greatest challenges and toughest decisions, and find collective inspiration and support to answer that ever-present question of “what next?” The conversations that happened in the “in between” spaces – the informal opportunities to dig deeper on a walk, a bus ride, over a shared meal – allowed all of us to be vulnerable as leaders and learn from others. We explored our Catalyst theme of “what drives your thrive” and learned more about how to catalyze thriving in our own organizations.
For Unsettled, this experience was the beginning of something much bigger. We see tremendous value in curating experiences for groups that already share a common bond, and running meaningful experiences in shorter timeframes. For our company to thrive, we must edge ourselves beyond what we’re comfortable with, and constantly adapt our own models to push the boundaries of how we define transformational shared experiences.
Regular change of place, perspective or routine enables leaders to stay more receptive to people and ideas that spark growth and thriving. What we learned in Ireland: a nation’s unified creative approach drawing upon its arts and culture can both enrich and enliven.
Unsettling into Ireland
Like most of us who signed up for this trip, I didn’t know what to expect. We were given an unfinished itinerary, and Dr. McBride, who led the journey, prepared us for a quest “to share what you know, ask for what you need, and pack your sense of humor along with a pair of wellington boots.” So I landed in Dublin to meet the other twenty-eight participants for leadership workshops and muddy treks. Yet, as we made our way from the airport, news was rapidly spreading about an impending blizzard they were calling “The Beast from the East”. While mostly strangers, the unforeseen circumstances quickly shaped a deepening sense of comradery and encouraged exploration of new perspectives and possibilities.
As we ventured to Connemarra and Galway in western Ireland, our journey began with a search for what drove us here. Each of us were asked to articulate what we were struggling with and working towards in our own creative leadership journey. In initial reflective exercises, we began to explore how we might define and design thriving for ourselves, for our organizations and communities, and for our world as a whole.
We used the rugged Connemarra landscape, a cast of Irish characters, and the unpredictable weather to help us unsettle out of our comfort zones and into our creative depths to answer the question: “What truly drives our thrive?”
Our time in western Ireland gave us a glimpse at how intimately the role of creativity and enterprising spirit helped to shape the lives of the locals we met. I was touched by the deep Irish zeal for storytelling and creative expression, as well as the great pride in sharing their cultural resources more globally. Poets, musicians, farmers, designers and innkeepers were not only undeterred by the century old family struggles, famines, and economic hardships; they were determined to thrive in spite of it, and live for the greater good of their nation. They wanted people to see Ireland as wonder–full as they see it, seeing beyond the superficial to embrace a more wild and precious existence. By “diving into their thrive,” we each opened new pathways to explore and revive a similar determination in ourselves.
As our bus, the only vehicle on the treacherous roads, made it back from the Connemarra countryside hours after the curfew set by the government, our journey seemed a metaphor for the questions we were sharing. In our own lives, the road was uncertain. But together, on our bus, we were no longer alone on the road.
Haddington House, our Dublin home, became our fortress in the storm. Our group settled in for two full days of workshops where we worked through exercises on individual and enterprise leadership. As everyone journeyed inward, I found space to reconnect with my ultimate passion – encouraging youth and children to think critically and lead through the arts. I explored my own “values triangle,” learned how to leverage my unique personality characteristics, strengthened my sense of entrepreneurial courage, and embraced the inevitability of unsettling on the journey toward my goal.
The storm broke the next morning, our last day. We made our way with limited transportation into Dublin center. The Little Museum provided us with a private tour showcasing the city’s history. Off to lunch at Pepper Pot where we foodies delighted in homemade, organic fare as we discussed the role of food based business in creative economies. We walked off the Victoria spongecake as we traveled thru the Powerscourt, a hub of creative entrepreneurship.
Our collective farewell dinner was reflective and joyful. Served at an intimate family restaurant, we closed the night with an unplanned guest serenading us with an old Irish ballad. In his deep brogue, he sang a traditional Irish song called Willie McBride. With each word the group witnessed a truly unique Irish moment of storytelling and ‘ceoil’. The owner later recounted to us that this ‘stranger’ was a regular at the restaurant, recovering from cancer, and using his voice to act as a form of therapy in his ongoing fight. What a fitting and wonderful way to close out our learning journey, unsettling, healing and thriving together among strangers and among friends.
Brexit will present yet another challenge to creative enterprise on an island divided. But Ireland is united in its creative approach drawing upon its arts and culture to both enrich and enliven.
STRATEGIES IN ACTION:
>> LEAD in as you lead out.
>> REFLECT to enable action.
>> RESIST the temptation of ‘holy certainty’.
>> REACH for the stranger who can become a friend.
Co-authored by Ireland staff and attendees:
Monica Hoyle, Arts and Cultural Management, class of 2018; Jonathan Kalan, Co-founder and CEO of Unsettled;Leslie Kirschenbaum and Maren Maier, Catalyst leadership
“EVERY SUCCESSFUL INNOVATION REQUIRES A READY TEAM.”
Thank you to our:
Intrepid Ireland adventurers and faculty leaders for leading and learning and for the laughter and the joy. Learning partner, Unsettled. They took a risk with us and we with them and what a learning we co-curated!. Chinedu Maduagwu, Maria Joshe, Leslie Kirschenbaum, Maren Maier, Kieran Fell and Orla Mc Donagh, our guide on the ground. Your discipline and art shaped some small certainty.
Our special thanks to: Maria Soares, leader of Pratt’s Education Abroad and International Partnerships, whose experience guided and grounded. Her enthusiasm for innovation encouraged the heart and enabled this journey.
And to Ireland, for enduring and thriving. Ireland, she so deeply knows that all who wander are indeed not lost.