This Big City

How will the Creative Economy MA help me achieve my long-term career goals?

May 15, 2010
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Goal.

When I graduate from Sustainable Communities and the Creative Economy, I want to work within sustainable urbanism. ‘What’s that?’ I hear you ask. Well, I don’t really know what it IS, but I know what it CAN BE, and I believe Douglas Farr sums it up perfectly in his 2008 book ‘Sustainable Urbanism – Urban Design with Nature’ (p.28):

Sustainable urbanism draws attention to the enormous opportunity to redesign the built environment in a manner that supports a higher quality of life and promotes a healthy and sustainable American lifestyle.

I’m hoping to take a slightly more global view of the sustainable urbanism arena, but other than that, I believe what Farr believes, that sustainable urbanism can rewrite the spaces we exist in, providing us with standards of living we deserve, whilst simultaneously respecting our planet’s resources.

In January, we were asked to write about our five-year plan. I simply stated I wanted to be creatively satisfied, a phrase open to interpretation even more than ‘sustainable urbanism’. However, as a result of the later stages of running our business venture, Hold the Front Pages, I have learned the potential that being more specific with your goals brings. This became apparent through our discussions with newspapers, website coders, and potential investors – they really want to see a clear vision in order to better understand you and your needs. Arden (2003, p.4) says ‘your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have’ and after the experiences of the last 8 months, I agree with him.

So whilst creative satisfaction is still my goal, I am ready to expand upon it, and whilst this expansion is speculation, by speculating on the subject area I might actually make it happen, and without the speculation, it probably never would happen.

So I’m going to present my specific goals in a very clear manner, and in five years time I’ll look back on this and be able to see whether I have achieved them, am on the way to achieving them, have failed in achieving them, or have changed my mind completely. Here they are:

  1. I want to work for a property development firm. The specific role has flexibility. Currently, I’m leaning towards the role of a Sustainability Consultant, implement sustainability features within the design of a building, but eventually, I want to move to a more senior position within a firm. I have never had the ambition to run my own business, and one thing MACE has successfully taught me is I DO NOT WANT TO RUN MY OWN BUSINESS. Whilst the experience of creating Hold the Front Pages has been wonderful, I do not believe that work should be your whole life, and from what I have seen in myself, and the behaviour of the many amazing entrepreneurs I have been lucky enough to meet over the last few months, work becomes a much more significant part of your life when you run your own business.
  2. I want to work globally. We have been lucky on MACE to have a variety of cultures on the course, and the value of this global perspective has been glaringly obvious throughout. According to Howkins (2007, p.74), globalisation emerged as a result of the American’s attempts to ‘liberalize international trade’, but as well as this, it has liberalised international cultures. I’ve been lucky enough to benefit from this liberalisation and it’s opened my eyes to the world. Hopefully, if I achieve my first goal, then perhaps the company I work for will be international, opening all kinds of doors. This is a big goal of mine, and it’s something I’m determined to make happen whilst I’m still young.
  3. I want to write about sustainable urbanism. Magazine journalism has always been a love of mine, and whilst I don’t want it as my main career, I would jump at the chance to write on the subject in addition to my main career. MACE has already helped me on my journey to achieving this goal. Encouraged by Corrine to start our Uni blogs, I also decided to start a blog related to my subject area. The purpose of this was to test ideas in advance for my dissertation, but it soon outgrew that goal. I recently received my 10,000th unique visitor, have frequently had my writing featured on the Sustainable Cities Collective website, was approached by the New York Times as research for an article, and recently started a position as Guest Writer for the American blog Green Growth Cascadia, which has a much bigger audience than mine. I hope that this success will continue and I can keep achieving this goal.

Ultimately, creating and running Hold the Front Pages has made my primary goals clearer than before. I’m passionate about print media, and magazine culture in particular, but not enough to make it my career. It’s always going to be supplementary to my main goals listed above. Whilst the experience of running my business has contributed positively to my overall employability, it is the general experience of the being on the first year of MACE that has had a bigger contribution to my overall goals. MACE has exposed me to the real world, given me confidence in my abilities, improved my communication skills, allowing me to sell my abilities to others, and filled me with energy and passion for my subject. I’m definitely going to achieve these three goals, thanks in part to my experiences on the Creative Economy MA.

Reality.

I believe it is realistic that I could achieve the three goals I have set myself in the future, but how far am I from achieving them, and what can I do to make sure they are achieved?

Firstly, it is worth noting that I won’t graduate from Sustainable Communities and the Creative Economy until 2011, so a major step in my goals becoming a reality is the passing of time. Whilst I can definitely work towards achieving my goals, it is likely that I will have to wait until I have completed my Masters before I start making significant progress in this area.

During the development of our business, I spent many hours on the phone to national newspapers and magazine publishers. These interactions were initially mixed, but what I learned from them all was how to present yourself when communicating for the first time, and how to put across your goals in a clear and relatable way. To quote Aristotle (quoted in Fletcher, A., n.d., p.439) ‘Spoken words are symbols of mental experience’ and I am grateful that my experiences on MACE have improved my ability to communicate my mental experiences. These skills were put to the test at trade fairs and events, where I had to sell our business idea to strangers. What I found was the abilities I have gained for selling Hold the Front Pages have actually translated into self-promotion abilities, made clearer by a couple of professional successes I have had over the last few months. After an interview at the Royal Institute of British Architects, I was offered an exciting internship position working with their department ‘Building Futures’. I also had a successful interview for a Building Management position with a London property firm, but unfortunately I couldn’t follow it up any further due to it being incompatible with my Masters commitments. These situations have shown me that my experiences creating and promoting Hold the Front Pages have definitely contributed positively to my future employability, and give me confidence that my goals are realistic and achievable.

What my time on Hold the Front Pages hasn’t given me though, is direct experience of my relevant industry, which I think reduces the realism of my goals. If I met an employer looking for industry experience I won’t be able to say that MACE has given me that. However, I agree with Skynner (quoted in Cleese, J. and Skynner, R.,1993, p.94) when he says work experience essentially involves ‘learning to cope with bigger systems and increasingly complex relationships’, something Hold the Front Pages has definitely given me. I believe these abilities will translate well into a variety of positions, but just in case this is not enough I have been active in pursuing additional responsibilities, such as writing on sustainable urbanism and my Internship at the Royal Institute of British Architects. Hopefully, future employers will see my successes within my Masters course as well as my additional experiences and help me make my goals a reality.

There are many other additional steps I could take in turning my goals into realities. This includes qualifying for various external qualifications, including BREEAM, CfSH, LEED, all of which essentially act as assurances for the sustainability of a venue, and whilst these would definitely make my goals more realistic and achievable, I will wait for the study of my specialism to begin before committing to these major investments.

Obstacles and Options.

The last 8 months have been full of obstacles, but thanks to the dynamic between myself, Mikaela Silva and Sam Mclintock, we have been able to consider our options and overcome them all, something I am very proud of when you consider the three major challenges we faced throughout the project:

  1. The first major obstacle came quite early on in the development of Hold the Front Pages when Ben, one of our initial team members, decided to leave the course. Whilst our team was still new, we were still a team, and his loss meant we had to rewrite our way of working. Bruce Mau was talking about design when he said this, but I believe it is an ideal metaphor for the situation we found ourselves in, an: ‘Integrated System: When everything is connected to everything else, for better or for worse, everything matters’ (2004, p.129). Ben brought a different set of skills to the team, particularly access to technical assistance, and we were worried that this absence would affect every element of our team, stopping us from achieving our ambitions with the service. We had three options at this stage, including creating a new business idea, giving up completely, or moving forward as planned, absorbing Ben’s responsibilities.
  2. Another major obstacle was generating commitment towards the project from the print publications. We were faced with the dilemma of either approaching the organisations early on to gauge interest but without a product, or forming the product and then approaching the organisations, risking wasted time. Even now, I am unsure over which is the better option, but we opted to develop the product then approach the newspapers and magazines. We got a real mixed bag of responses, ranging from very interested to not at all, but what was very clear immediately was that these companies worked at a much slower pace to us. Unfortunately, there was little we could do about that. We had the option of leaving it with them, hoping they’d get back to us, or contacting them frequently to chase them up and risk annoying our potential partners.
  3. Our third obstacle was tackling the technical side of the business. This obstacle was a direct result of our first obstacle, as I’m sure you can tell! Initially, we were able to overcome this as I taught myself some basic coding skills and built our team website, but as we got further into the project the obstacle just grew. We had very few options when it came to solving this problem. Either we could give up altogether, teach ourselves professional level coding skills, or hire a third party to fulfil this role.

Of course, we faced small obstacles that we overcame on a daily basis, and general dilemmas too. One that always hung around in my mind (but not so much Sam and Mikaela’s) was the relevance of the idea. Was it out of date? Does the mass market even care about print media anymore? Or is this idea actually ahead of its time? Pescovitz and Wieners predicted in their 1996 book ‘Reality Check’ that by 2013 people would ‘do all their reading on screen’ (p.85). What if we were actually three years early to this particular party? Hopefully the answer to this dilemma will be revealed over the next few months!

Way Forward.

The experiences we had whilst developing Hold the Front Pages and the obstacles we faced along the way enabled us to create a stronger product, more functional team and taught valuable lessons about teamwork and business operations that I believe will benefit me as I try and achieve my career goals in the future.

This is how we were able to find the way forward with the three major obstacles we faced whilst developing the service:

  1. Essentially, whilst all three options passed through our minds when Ben left the course, we only ever really considered the final one, adjust to life without him! There was no way we were going to ditch our idea. What none of us really anticipated though, was that as a team of three the dynamic between us was stronger and we achieved a lot more. What we managed to achieve as a team of three that we hadn’t as a four-piece was something Howkins (2007, p.191) calls ‘collaborative creativity, involving an open and free discussion around a common purpose’. We were on the same page mostly, there was little conflict, and the needs of the business split well between the three of us. I believe the lessons I learned from this particular situation will be useful on my mission to achieve my future goals. It showed me that no one person is vital in a team scenario, and that people can be highly flexible with their roles and abilities when necessary. In hindsight, this experience of losing a team member showed me a broader picture of the realities of teamwork, something I consider to be very valuable.
  2. Overcoming the obstacle of resistance and slow responses from the papers and magazine required a broader approach. Whilst we initially played along with the newspapers at their pace, we soon realised that this would just take too long. We had managed to get some papers on board, so it wasn’t a total crisis, but for the others we decided to source them without permission. Using the brains of the Law department of the university, we were able to clarify our legal situation and realised that, provided we sourced the images where they had already been published online and placed a legal disclaimer on the site, we would be well enough protected legally. In hindsight, we should have thoroughly explored our legal position earlier on as it could have allowed us to launch more quickly. With the magazines, we started taking a different approach to sourcing the images. Provided we joined their affiliate schemes, we could source all manner of information about their products for use in our site, including images of their covers. This was free to use, easy to access, and allowed us the opportunity to offer subscriptions, bringing with it an income stream. I believe the reason we received some resistance from the publications about being involved in our service is because they thought we would be a substitute for their own products, and therefore, income. Britton and Worthington (2003, p.346) say that substitute products have ‘a clear impact upon market structure’, and with the whole print media industry terrified of change, I understand why there was some resistance. On the flip side of course, Lynch states that: ‘free market competition has been one element in supporting and encouraging growth’ (1997, p.42), but I guess it was just a risk that some publications did not want to take. Lucky we found a legal way to get around their lack of enthusiasm!
  3. We did strongly consider adopting the technical side of the business ourselves. I had some experience, having built our team website, and Sam also had experience of working with Flash, so there was a time when we thought that the two of us combined could have the knowledge to create the website ourselves. However, I was engrossed in a book encouraging DIY in technology at the time, and I think it influenced my thinking a little too much: ‘People are making things – and there is no stopping them. We can all vote with our ideas by bringing them into reality’ (Steffen, A., 2006, p.93). After my enthusiasm for this idea waned, coincidentally, about the same time we realised the complexity of the task, we hired a coder in India to create our site on a budget that suited us through the coding website Rentacoder. This brought with it a whole host of obstacles, predominantly related to language barriers and the issues of complex speedy communication via email, but again we resolved these through sheer will rather than any kind of breakthrough. This experience was challenging, not bad, but it definitely showed us the value of having a technical member in the team. Whilst Ben was more technical than any of us were, he was not a coder and would not have been able to solve this problem for us. Coding Hold the Front Pages made us realise that if our business was to continue, we needed to take on a fourth partner, in the form of a website coding genius. Now that MACE Year 1 is complete, we are going to actively pursue this avenue with a view to improving the website, the skills set of our team, and the profitability of our new business.

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Poster Design

April 7, 2010
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Now that the website is functioning and all that horrible negotiating with the coder is done, it’s on to the fun stuff! (If you ignore all the essays we have to write…) So we’ve been designing posters for the toilets at Kingsotn Hill. You can see my design here which ended up in the cubicles. What an honour!

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Hold-The-Front-Pages/420987950103?v=photos&ref=nf#!/photo.php?pid=12022979&id=420987950103


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And we are live!

March 28, 2010
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It’s happened. We’re live.

The beta version of our website is complete. The code understood. The pages up and running, and the future of Hold the Front Pages is looking bright!

Ok, well, I don’t know about the future, but the present is good. I’m realy happy with how the website looks. I’m not happy with the technical side of things, as the site requires more updating than we anticipated, but visually it’s great and that’s what most users will care about. I think what has been made clear over the last few weeks is that we need to take on a technical partner for the long run, we need to abandon the Issuu platform, and we need to do everything in our power to make the site automatically update. if we can do all these things then I’ll be happy. It’s going to be hard work.

We also need to focus on promotion. We’ve been luck enough to land some free advertising in the toilets of Kingston Hill campus, though I don’t expect that to achieve massive spikes in visitors to the service. But beggars can’t be choosers. We’ve also got some promotional activities planned in central london. but essentially, we need another partner, and maybe some money for promo. Mikaela met with potential investors who are interested in the service, but want to see us implement monetising elements first, so we really need to get a technical person on board to help us add these features.

So happy to finally be up and running, and let’s see what the future holds!


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Dangerously close to launching!

March 21, 2010
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The final stages of coding are oh so frustrating! The product is very very close to being finished, but just not quite ready, and what with the coder being overseas, communication is not as quick as if they were sitting next to me. It definitely makes me question whether hiring a coder overseas was the best idea. Ultimately, we had no choice as our budget as very limited, but if budget wasn’t an issue, would we have chosen a non-local coder? Probably not. But it’s not worth losing any sleep over (although I definitely am losing plenty of sleep staying up late trying to finalise the website…).


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Awards awards awards…

March 15, 2010
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Unfortunately  I missed Uni again this week. I’m moving house in 2 weeks as well as job and had to head into london to do room viewings. Thankfully I found my new home so I can put my focus back into uni again!

Hold the Front Pages is being coded as we speak and this has thrown up many challenges. I’ve spent hours doing mock ups and emailing our coder in India and its hard work, but progress is being made. It’s tough because I just don’t know anything about coding so sometimes it feels like we’re speaking different languages, and even though his English is brilliant, he phrases sentences totally different to how an english person does and this brings additional confusion… We really want it to be ready in time for the trade fair but right now there’s no guarantees it will be.

Anyways, we have some fun plans for the trade fair that i will keep tight lipped about, and we have also received some very very good news. Hold  the Front Pages is through to the semi-final of the National Varsity Pitch, and later in the month we shall be going to the competition and try to fight for a place in the final! The prize is ten grand so this is a pretty big one!


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Busy Busy Busy week

March 8, 2010
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This week has been crazy busy. So much action has been going on with our rentacoder pitch, and I have been discussing bids with the team, and also emailing the coders. I’m the most technical out of the 3 of us so I am doing the discussions and sending files and answering questions from the coder, which takes a long time. So many late nights… But the guy has been hired and he’s building the site as we speak. Tomorrow morning I am going to upload the front pages to our facebook page and start socialising HTFP!

Actually went to uni this week, and it was mildly interesting. Catherine introduced me to the idea of co-leadership, which I have decided to explore in Miguel’s essay, mostly because it ties in with something that happened on The office, one of my favourite TV shows, and I would love the opportunity to write an essay about my fav tv show. I am starting to not care about the essays though. I’m so bored of just Creative Economy, and part of me wants to just get it out the way and start my specialism. I got some super good news recently though, I have been offered an amazing Internship with the Royal Institute of British Architects in their Building Futures division as a Futurologist, so finally I will have something exciting and relevant in my life!

The Apprentice challenge was fun, it definitely showed me that Tshaped are capable of having some very interesting ideas, not just Hold the Front Pages, but again, all this teamwork and pitching is still a bit of a bore… (chocolate was awesome though). I would say my main disappointment with the course has been the lack of Economics in the Creative Economy. I studied that at school and loved it, and thought this course would at least contain a lecture on economic theory or something like that, because I think it is a really useful way of seeing the world and interpreting things.

Anyways, I don’t want to be super negative, HTFP is going great, and I am very excited about the upcoming launch, but maybe not the early mornings updating the site.

Also, I’m moving house and job this month, as well as starting my internship,  launching HTFP and writing an essay, so forgive my grumpyness.


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Bright Ideas success!

February 27, 2010
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Well, we were runners up at the Bright Ideas awards! The monies sure will come in handy, and it means we can actually pay to get our website built immediately! Sure, the grand would have been lovely, and we kind of felt like we could have got that, but no complaints at all with the runners up position! Yay! This has certainly reenergised my interest in our project, and this has been a very busy week re-contacting all the yesses and getting them to send the pages to us, and building a pitch for rent a coder to find someone to build the website. We’ve also created twitter and facebook profiles for Hold the Front Pages, and whilst the website is being built we shall  be test running the project through these forums to try out ideas and just see what happens!

Unfortunately, whilst I am super enjoying Hold the Front Pages, uni is becoming increasingly frustrating and unrewarding. I think this is probably magnified for me as being a part time student I have yet to start my specialism. As much as I am enjoying the Creative Economy and finding it valuable, the main reason I am doing this MA is my specialism, and it hasn’t even begun. And in the Creative Economy part, everything seems to be stuck on teamwork and pitching, teamwork and pitching, teamwork and pitching. Surely there is more to the Creative Economy than just that? The leadership and the creative economy section by Miguel was beyond terrible thanks to his unforgivably bad teaching ‘style’, and spending lectures discussing ‘what is creativity’ seems completely out of place. We’re all postgraduate students on a creative course, and we all have backgrounds in creativity in one way or another and have had these discussions numerous times in the past.

I want to learn some STUFF. By stuff I mean facts, data, theories, actual real read-it-in-a-book stuff. I don’t want this to be the whole course, but a portion of it would be nice.

Anyways, Bright Ideas yay!


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Waiting…

February 22, 2010
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The pace has slowed somewhat with Hold the Front Pages, not out of choice, but more out of waiting. It’s very obvious when dealing with the newspapers and magazines that they have a lot of things to do, and our project just gets added to a list, but we have only one thing to do and it’s our top priority! This is frustrating, and I doubt it will be a long term lull, but it’s frustrating none the less.

It’s hard to say how long I’ve spent working on the project this week… Website mock ups are continuing, always evolving, and back and forth emailing is still happening.

Tomorrow is the Bright Ideas event, and we are quietly confident that we will get something… but who knows what! It’s hard to tell what they are looking for but we are confident in our idea, and hopefully the high marks we got is some kind of representation!


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Results time

February 15, 2010
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Was so great to finally get some marks back after months of work, and was particularly brilliant to get the marks I did!

It’s really given me a boost and has motivated me to keep up the high scores and aim for that distinction.

On the business front, we got a yes back from the Guardian and The observer, which is great news. Will be emailing all those who have said yes so we can start receiving their front covers in preparation for launch, hopefully soon!


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Not more acting!

February 8, 2010
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After two weeks of lessons that involved role play in one way or another I was really hoping for a break from all that, but this weeks sessions with Piers were brilliant despite the role play. It really opened my eyes to what leadership truly is, and I learned more in those few hours than I did in two days of being spoken at.

On the business side of things, we have made a breakthrough with Future publishing, who told us that we can access their front covers through their affiliate scheme. We hadn’t approached any other publishers about this method, so we are going to try them all again in this manner. There is also a healthy cut of profits to be made in this manner!


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About author

Joe Peach is an Artist and Designer based in London, UK. At present, he is studying Sustainable Communities and the Creative Economy at Postgraduate level in Kingston University.

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