Indy 5×5 Presentations: Make Indy

We’re at the second of Make 5×5 – four events designed to fund and celebrate ideas and innovation in Indianapolis.

Five presenters have five slides and 5 minutes to explain their vision for a project that would make Indianapolis a better place. The audience votes, and the winner gets $10,000 dollars to make their project a reality. I’ll update this post with more about the projects and the winner in the morning, when I’m not typing on my iPhone and drinking awesome wine from my all-time favorite beverage maker, New Day Meadery.

At the first event, I met and volunteered to help out one of the presenters, Lori Leaumont, with her Girls Stories project, which we’re working on now.

Looking forward to seeing this second event; one of the presenters is planning a local publishing project.

The event was held at Indianapolis Fabrications, a business that does fabrication and design work on the near east side. Its a cool space where they keep the materials that People for Urban Progress like the fabric from the Hoosier Dome and all of the fabric from the Superbowl banners, which gets made into items for sale that help fund projects. We were all about exploring the IndyFab space until we got yelled at for touching one of the projects.

Indy Pub Co-op, Brandon Scaaf
This was a plan to create a small not-for-profit publishing house in a storefront on the east side of town, where young people could go to publish their stories and see how they became finished works by participating through the whole publishing process. Stephanie and I were both not keen on the project after we heard the proposal – there’s a distribution aspect to publishing that seemed to be missing from the plan.


Making Gardens Grow: The mobile garden + grow with IndyGo pilot project by Dawn Kroh of Green3 Studio
This was an idea to put a garden on the back of a flat-bed truck and move it around town, with volunteers coming to work on the garden at various locations. I wasn’t sure whether it was also supposed to sell the food? I didn’t feel like the plan was completely clear.


“Tinkertown: an innovative space for creating, making, inventing, manufacturing and educating” by Jaron Garrett of Dreamapolis
This was the most well-thought out idea, and probably the one that will succeed as a functional project. It’s basically an idea to create an art space for people to come and created whatever project they are interested in building – fashion, digital, building – you’d bring in your idea and use the tools from the space to create it, from start to finish. They’d also do training on all sorts of design and creation tools, and certification programs.

Very cool idea, and it seems like it already has a solid plan in place, which was one of the reasons why we didn’t back it – they wanted the $10,000 for a feasibility study, not for the project itself. I felt that if they only thing the community was getting was a study done, it might not be the best use of the money.

Tinker Town

“Urban Alley Infill: embracing the space in between” by Kyle Perry of PROJECTiONE
This project was an idea of selecting an alley space somewhere in town and creating an art sculpture/lighting project that would hang in the alley and make the space more visually appealing and lit at night so alleys would be a place of transit. It’s an interesting idea, but the sculpture they proposed wasn’t at all visually appealing to me. And they seemed to talk down about the state of design in Indianapolis, which in a really cool design renewal right now, so that didn’t sit right. And the other thing that bugged me was that the project was being proposed by a business that really seemed to have all the funds they needed to create this. So why did they need the $10,000?

Urban Alley Infill

“The Cool Bus” by Kirstin Northenscold of WORD ON THE STREET
This project proposal was for a reworked school bus that would become a literary center for kids, where they can go to get help writing stories and be given books to read, and it would move from one neighborhood to another to reach kids in urban neighborhoods. They planned to obtain books free from libraries and bookstores and give them to kids.

The Cool Bus

This idea – if it were executed differently – would be interesting. For one thing, the title of the project “The Cool Bus” – that’s kinda dumb. No one is going to think a reading and writing bus is “The Cool Bus.” And the designs for the bus interior were really pretty terrible- squares of primary colors. It was like being trapped in a kindergarten toy box. If it were a bus redone like this, we’d be getting somewhere:

Pirate ship

Book exchange

Either of those would be a cool bus. In the end, we did vote for the cool bus, but neither of us were particularly thrilled with any of the presentations.

And the winner turned out to be The Cool Bus. I hope it doesn’t suck.

Sponsors of the event:


In all, I wasn’t as impressed by this even as we were by some of the presentations at the first event held at big car gallery.

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Brainstorming and Groupthink

From the New Yorker – Groupthink: The brainstorming myth, by Jonah Lehrer

In the late nineteen-forties, Alex Osborn, a partner in the advertising agency B.B.D.O., decided to write a book in which he shared his creative secrets…. His book “Your Creative Power” was published in 1948. An amalgam of pop science and business anecdote, it became a surprise best-seller. Osborn promised that, by following his advice, the typical reader could double his creative output…

But Osborn’s most celebrated idea was the one discussed in Chapter 33, “How to Organize a Squad to Create Ideas.” When a group works together, he wrote, the members should engage in a “brainstorm,” which means “using the brain to storm a creative problem—and doing so in commando fashion, with each stormer attacking the same objective.” For Osborn, brainstorming was central to B.B.D.O.’s success. Osborn described, for instance, how the technique inspired a group of ten admen to come up with eighty-seven ideas for a new drugstore in ninety minutes, or nearly an idea per minute. The brainstorm had turned his employees into imagination machines.

The book outlined the essential rules of a successful brainstorming session. The most important of these, Osborn said—the thing that distinguishes brainstorming from other types of group activity—was the absence of criticism and negative feedback. If people were worried that their ideas might be ridiculed by the group, the process would fail. “Creativity is so delicate a flower that praise tends to make it bloom while discouragement often nips it in the bud,” he wrote. “Forget quality; aim now to get a quantity of answers. When you’re through, your sheet of paper may be so full of ridiculous nonsense that you’ll be disgusted. Never mind. You’re loosening up your unfettered imagination—making your mind deliver.” Brainstorming enshrined a no-judgments approach to holding a meeting.

The trouble with the absence of criticism was that it doesn’t work – groups working together to solve problems come up with fewer solutions than individuals working alone. But what does work with groups? Critique does. A group can come up with better, more creative solutions if ideas are criticized and evaluated and discarded if they aren’t used. Challenges to our thought process cause us to reevaluate our ideas and take us off in new directions.

According to Nemeth, dissent stimulates new ideas because it encourages us to engage more fully with the work of others and to reassess our viewpoints. “There’s this Pollyannaish notion that the most important thing to do when working together is stay positive and get along, to not hurt anyone’s feelings,” she says. “Well, that’s just wrong. Maybe debate is going to be less pleasant, but it will always be more productive. True creativity requires some trade-offs.”

Another factor that helps open the door to mass group creativity is the makeup of the group itself. Brian Uzzi began studying what ideal teams should look like by studying teams responsible for creating Broadway Musicals. He picked a particularly successful period of Broadway shows and analyzed their creative teams:

Uzzi wanted to understand how the relationships of these team members affected the product. Was it better to have a group composed of close friends who had worked together before? Or did strangers make better theatre? He undertook a study of every musical produced on Broadway between 1945 and 1989. To get a full list of collaborators, he sometimes had to track down dusty old Playbills in theatre basements. He spent years analyzing the teams behind four hundred and seventy-four productions, and charted the relationships of thousands of artists, from Cole Porter to Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Uzzi found that the people who worked on Broadway were part of a social network with lots of interconnections: it didn’t take many links to get from the librettist of “Guys and Dolls” to the choreographer of “Cats.” Uzzi devised a way to quantify the density of these connections, a figure he called Q. If musicals were being developed by teams of artists that had worked together several times before—a common practice, because Broadway producers see “incumbent teams” as less risky—those musicals would have an extremely high Q. A musical created by a team of strangers would have a low Q.

He discovered that having a low Q was bad, but having a really high Q wasn’t the most successful configuration of a team either. It took having mostly incumbent members with a few new folks to challenge their thinking to keep interactions from becoming stale.

Another important component of creative thinking on teams is space and how it’s arranged. Physical proximity matters to group interactions, and having creative teams run into one another and interact in a casual way sparks lots of creative ideas. Steve Jobs understood that concept and continually reworked the architecture of Apple to generate those sorts of spontaneous interactions among his employees.

And a famous lab building at M.I.T – Building 20 – was ground zero for some of the most successful scientific and cultural collaborations in American history, simply because it had a ramshackle design that encouraged creative thought – researchers could rearrange their space they way they wanted and routinely knocked out walls and rebuild their labs if needed – and the building’s convoluted layout meant that researchers from wildly divergent teams ran into one another in the hallways, formed friendships and triggered intellectual thought outside of their area of expertise.

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