November 5, 2014

Crossover of possibility: Neal Sales-Griffin at 34th CreativeMornings in Chicago

One person. Many roles. Neal Sales-Griffin shared his diverse, intersecting fields of interest in his talk at the 34th gathering of the Chicago-CreativeMornings community, whose October theme was “Crossover.” Griffin’s personal experience spans a number of areas: video games, music, investment banking, venture capital, and consulting. In his life, Neal has crossed over into many disciplines, having their distinct language and tools.

One of his significant crossovers was diving into software design and development. Its language: Ruby. Its tools: apps and infrastructure of the Web. Like he had done before with other disciplines, Neal immersed himself. The difference this time was the grand effect of possibility he observed and witnessed. “Digital,” let alone “being digital,” is a term that is bandied about a lot. Such descriptors have an exotic air. They pan the landscape and point up, to an aerial reality of transmissions and waves. The natural metaphor of the cloud has been claimed, poetically and productively, as an ideal to engage. In his talk, Neal dispensed with digital fanfare. His take on the Web, with its languages and tools, was straightforward, without any sneezes about innovation, no big-data cheers. Instead of a buzzwordy algorithm, a timeless driver of allegory was shared, simply and directly: Happiness. He proudly repeated, “My happiness is not derived from money. It’s from helping people.”

It’s easy to tout technology’s wares. But it’s hard to steer technology toward people’s actual long-term understanding and use of it. In finding out how to code and navigate the circumstances surrounding the Web’s languages and tools, particularly its influence on people, Neal turned his learning experience into one for others. This, in turn, became his source of happiness. If there’s one clear variable—crossing over from one chapter of life to another, from one set of certainties (whatever the type) to another, it’s happiness.

The brave set of possibilities that Neal desired to help make for others evolved into The Starter League, where people who want to make Webapps to help solve a problem they care about—learn how to design, code, and ship an idea, from start to Web-based reality. Neal, with his co-founder Mike McGee, found a way by creating a structure and space for people to learn and practice the pliable medium of the Web toward something meaningful to them.

When Neal acknowledged those (below) who currently completed a course of classes at The Starter League, it was a monumental portrait of crossover. Each participant in The Starter League made a change in order to bring about change to a specific slice of living, whether it’s finding great gifts for loved ones to keeping track of what’s happening with close friends.

Joining The Starter League is a commitment to intensive learning-and-doing. Rigorously applying the pursuit of a dream to the grindstone, over a period of months. Crossing over from one quality of life to another takes continuous effort, which Neal made and keeps advancing, as The Starter League has recently expanded to being supplemented with the launch of The Starter School, which provides a program to make a Webapp as the seed for a business.

Neal’s persistent self-discovery and effort toward realizing The Starter League speaks to the longing for happiness, specifically a happiness felt when making something—that article, that book, that drawing, that film, and so on—and putting it out there, for other people to potentially reap a level of benefit from it. Seeing this capacity to feel happy beyond oneself, and contributing to other people’s experience of happiness is truly epic. As designer and “Design Matters” podcast host Debbie Millman believes, “If you want to offer something to the world, then it’s important that you help others do that too.”(1)

Out of anything that assumes the factor of “scalability” pertaining to the language and tools of the Web, Neal demonstrates something that is worth scaling: Help—it scales. Its hearth is the family, cascading into living and working, forward into areas in-between. Throughout, when a level of help is given, a degree of happiness is felt. People can have such motives and act on them.

A critical bond, for survival, is composed of help and happiness. I felt this to be the kernel of Neal’s insistence, concerning his co-founding of The Starter League and The Starter School, that “It’s more than just learning how to code. Not a code movement.” Giving help and happiness, facilitating their cause and effect, are innate objectives. To Neal, help and happiness comprise a natural investment that compounds in satisfaction.

The Web is heralded as an equal-equity medium. It is open to learn and apply to a dream. Neal knows the Web in a way that is accessible to everyone. A bridge-builder, not a gatekeeper. From my interviews with makers, Neal greatly persists in creating a fulfilling pattern of people taking their creative medium of choice and helping others to behold it, furthermore, benefit from it, whether it’s woodworking, improvisational comedy, designer-career advice, parenthood, and numerous other specialties.

Crossover essentially means a change, in dictionary-speak, a change in “category.” Neal, through his efforts of The Starter League and The Starter School, is not expanding people’s categories. He’s expanding their possibilities. Crossover within reach.

(1) From episode “How to Create Meaningful Work” (October 20, 2014), an interview by William Channer with Debbie Millman.

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Big thanks: to The Department of Design at Leo Burnett—for hosting—Braintree, and Basecamp, for sponsoring Chicago CreativeMornings #34; to organizer Kim Knoll and operations manager Kyle Eertmoed of Knoed Creative, who spoke at Chicago CreativeMornings #7, and to the Chicago CreativeMornings crew—Benjamin Derico, Talia Eisenberg, Chris Gallevo, Keith Mandley, Neftali Morales, all—for their volunteer work in making CreativeMornings happen in Chicago.

Especially big thanks: to Tina Roth Eisenberg—Swissmiss—for inventing CreativeMornings in 2008. The fifth chapter was launched in Chicago, June 2011—my write-up and photos.

Read more about the people who make the Chicago chapter of CreativeMornings possible.

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My coverage: view more photos of 34th CreativeMornings in Chicago; read more CreativeMornings write-ups.

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2011 was Chicago CreativeMornings’ debut year. Download the entire collection of selected insights.

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