Returning to Our Roots: Fueling Collaborative Creativity

Returning to Our Roots: Fueling Collaborative Creativity

We are dreaming bigger than ever before, and beginning to think about a physical manifestation of our brand in downtown Durham. Why? To understand where we're going as a company, the best place to learn is our history.

Thus far, 2016 has been a year of returning to what made Trestles great in the first place. We are dreaming bigger than ever before, and beginning to think about a physical manifestation of our brand in downtown Durham. Why?

To understand where we’re going as a company, the best place to learn is our history. 

A Brief History

Trestles was formed around a hypothesis that “creativity works best in the context of community, rather than isolation.” Rebecca and Catherine, our co-founders, tested this hypothesis in Washington, DC, through a series of 8 pilot offerings. Our pilots explored the following objectives:

  • To prototype various social constructs and leadership structures to discern which ones work best in: a) Unplanned, spontaneous collaborations; b) Planned, but not task-related collaborations; c) Planned, task-related collaborations.
  • To find and build tools for measuring engagement and productivity in collaborative activities.
  • To discern what prompts stimulate group creativity when the focus is interdisciplinary collaboration.
  • To test and explore the role that prior social relationships play in creating and fostering a small collaborative group.
  • To learn which interpersonal dynamics tend to affect the outcome of a collaboration.

At the first ever Trestles gathering, founder Rebecca pulled together a small cohort of friends and acquaintances to imagine the possibilities for an entity like Trestles. This gathering happened in an intimate space, over a meal. No coincidence, if you know Trestles now. It was at this gathering that Catherine first bought into the Trestles thesis and henceforth joined the Trestles team.

Our first gathering
Our first gathering

Over the next several weeks, we dreamed with our community through salons, workshops, and community mapping interactions. We ran lots of sessions, failed many times and learned a ton. Towards the end of our pilots, we were invited to facilitate a community mapping activity at the last ever DC Week, a gathering that was once put on by iStrategyLabs. This activity was a “second prototype” of an activity we ran weeks prior in Catherine’s living room. The DC Week publicity helped us explode in the DC community, and we met a number of folks that we now consider great friends and comrades. A few months later, after realizing that maybe we had something powerful on our hands, Catherine and Rebecca unveiled Trestles officially at Social Media Week 2013, inviting folks to interact with each other through a prototyping training and four-day prototyping challenge.

Map Your Creativity display at DC Week After Party
Map Your Creativity display at DC Week After Party

Our Early Lessons: Moving Towards Heuristics

If you’re curious to see more of what we learned through our pilots, Here are a few nuggets from the early days. We originally entitled these “heuristics,” and they have served as our rules of thumb in conducting workshops, client sessions, and small gatherings, with little change.

  • While it may seem trite, the word creative is a loaded term and it should be used with caution. In branding an organization or movement, some people will love the term “creatives” while others will balk that it boxes them in or overlooks the creativity inherent in all human beings. Richard Florida might be right that creative cities are the wave of the future, but not everyone wants to hear it put into those terms.
  • Making something becomes a way for people to feel engaged and invested. There is almost no better way to get people out of their heads than asking them to ‘create a conversation piece’ or build something simple that captures their ideas.
  • While they are unlikely to do it themselves, our community members want others to help them blur the boundaries between work and play. The best activities will make work feel like a game or a competition, rather than a set of tasks. Even if it’s a workshop or brainstorming activity, play should be a key facet of the provided agenda.
  • Although they tend to run late themselves, most users do not want to take part in things where late-comers are continually disturbing the flow. A successful movement must find a way to accomodate the tight schedules of folks while respecting the time of those who show up consistently and promptly.
  • Our users crave spaces for interdisciplinarity. They want to meet and engage with professionals from other disciplines. If they work in science, they might crave opportunities to engage with the arts community. If they work in tech entrepreneurship, they might be looking for a musician to befriend. Ying meets yang should be the norm rather than the exception.
  • Our users want someone else to take the lead. They like big ideas and are willing to be a part of them, but they don’t want to do the legwork necessary to make them happen.
  • Trestles’ users are looking for opportunities to be part of a deep, invested community. Far too often, they find themselves plugging into work-related activities after work but would rather engage in something that feels more like a campfire than a cocktail hour.
  • Trestles community members want help visualizing their ideas. They like the notion of sketching and diagramming as a way to get information out of their heads but feel unequipped to create visuals on their own.
Moodboards with two of our early personas, Diana and Damian
Moodboards with two of our early personas, Diana and Damian

Today’s Trestles emerged from these early explorations, and it is a different kind of design firm because of its roots in collaboration. In 2016, we want to return to what made us great at the beginning, and it wasn’t formalized service offerings or brilliant minds: it was a spirit of learning, of a bias towards action, of welcoming strangers. Moreso, we want to lean into the idea of “The Trestles,” a collective of creators, innovators, and doers who are poised to change the world and enabled to do so through creative activation.

In late March, we will be hosting an exclusive gathering in downtown Durham that will function as a relaunch of the Trestles network concept in North Carolina. It will be bold, and it will be bleeding edge. Want to join us? Use the contact form below and tell us about you!

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