Lessons in Creativity from DevLearn 2018

Whether your job description or title includes words like training, eLearning, instructional design, talent, safety, or performance, we all need to be creative in our jobs, specifically when creating training content. The sessions I attended at DevLearn 2018 were especially inspiring so I thought I would share my observations and lessons learned.


Huge success can come from humble beginnings.

The first keynote was Julie Snyder, the producer of the Serial podcast. She spent most of her time talking about the first season of the podcast and how she got it up and running. (If you haven’t heard the full series, you can listen here.) She was smart and funny and her success story is fascinating. She used words like moxie and zeitgeist.

The detail that struck me was this wildly successful and viral podcast had a very modest beginning. They recorded in Sarah Koenig’s basement. Sarah was the narrator and reporter of the podcast and Julie’s partner in the project. Julie showed a picture of the simple set with a couch, coffee table, microphone, and some pillows in a small, cramped space. She joked that they had to pause the recording when the kids flushed the toilet upstairs!

To the avid listeners (including myself), the content in the weekly chapters was absolutely captivating. The interviews, the unanswered questions, the gaps in the evidence, the tone of the storytelling, and the weekly cliffhangers kept us hooked, or obsessed in some cases! The basement did not matter. The content did.

They set a reasonable goal of 300,000 downloads. They reached this goal in just five days. They had 5 million downloads after six weeks. She spoke about wanting everyone involved to be as human as possible. To be authentic. To check and recheck their sources and be 100% dedicated to their reporting. To allow Sarah to be vulnerable and admit uncertainty.

Lesson: Apparently, basements can be inspiring. You don’t need a giant budget if you tell an authentic story. (Sidebar: I feel like many remarkable entrepreneurial stories begin with “it started in my basement” or “it started in my garage,” including ej4!)


Can Chewbacca bring world peace?

Lynda Barry is a cartoonist, author, and teacher. When the 62-year-old walked out on stage in a Chewbacca shirt, I imagine a wave of smiles flowed through the audience as people noticed. She told the story of a time she forgot she was wearing the Wookiee and everyone she encountered was nice, gave her a thumbs up, and was openly friendly towards her. She suspected that not everyone who connected with her was of the same political or religious beliefs, but everyone came together and was nice and friendly over a Wookiee!

She spoke about how images imprint in our memory. Her shirt reminded me that Star Wars (A New Hope) was my first PG movie. I was 11. I loved the strong and feisty Princess Leia and collected the baseball-like cards that featured scenes from the movie. In a matter of seconds, the image on her shirt triggered some very happy memories from my childhood.

I love her quote: “Stories and images have transformational capabilities.” It reinforces why I love what ej4 offers to our clients with our unique style of training videos. Our vision is to ignite employees’ potential. Each training video has its own story and set of images that are designed to change behavior and help improve the skill of your employees. They are not all Chewbacca-esque but, as we say in ej4 marketing, they are everything but ordinary.

Lesson: A creative shirt can spread joy. The world needs more joy. And remember Lynda’s quote: “Stories and images have transformational capabilities.” I believe this applies to the training you deliver to your employees.


Don’t ignore the digital devices attached to your wrists.

Dictonary.com defines “digit” as a noun: a finger or toe. And the seventh through tenth definitions of the adjective “digital” all relate to the digit or finger. Lynda spoke at length about the inspiration she receives from writing with her hands using a pen, pencil, or paintbrush rather than a computer.

She showed numerous pictures of our human handprints in art dating back thousands of years. From handprints in ancient caves to hand art created by kindergarteners, our hands are the tools responsible for building, creating, and communicating. How interesting would Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel be without the hands?

Could the devices that were built to improve our productivity actually be hindering our creativity? Lynda mimicked the motion of operating your phone with just your thumbs. Don’t let the potential of your hands be reduced to the tapping of your thumbs.

I suggest you follow her on Tumblr: The Nearsighted Monkey. One of my favorite and creatively inspiring posts is the Syllabus written for the students in her comics class; it will give you a taste of her wit, humor, and personality.

Lesson: Put down the device and pick up a gel pen, crayon, or pencil, and doodle, draw, and write.

So, the next time you are brainstorming for a new idea, put on your favorite pop culture t-shirt and go to your basement with a blank sketchbook and some metallic gel pens (my favorite). Start doodling cubes, flowers, and spider webs. Write your stream of consciousness with no judgment. Let the ideas flow. The good and the bad. Let me know how it goes!

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