Q&A: Joel Daly, Creative Mornings DC

by Scott Kirkwood

You may not know his name, but you might recognize his face, you’ve probably read his tweets, and there’s a good chance you had a cup of coffee with him on a recent Friday morning. Joel Daly typically starts his day at the offices of Weber Shandwick, where he leads the firm’s user-experience team. But once a month, he’s the face of Washington’s “Creative Mornings,” one of 59 spin-offs of the free speaker series begun by Tina Roth Eisenberg, a.k.a. Swiss Miss. The idea? Give hundreds of locals a chance to expand their understanding of creativity by pulling up a chair and hearing from artists, designers, musicians, technology wizards, and, yes, even rocket scientists.

What prompted you to launch the D.C. chapter of Creative Mornings?
Years ago, I started following Swiss Miss on Twitter and I read her blog, so I was aware of CreativeMornings from the very early days, and thought of it as an awesome, intimate, and really inspirational activity for creatives. But it was in New York, so I sort of filed it away as something to do if I was up there for work. And it sort of fell off my radar. But a year or two later, I was talking to some friends and colleagues about how D.C. was seeing this great renaissance of events very specific to certain corners of the design industry, like tech start-ups and so on, and wouldn’t it be great if there were something that brought everyone together from these different pursuits. And why isn’t there anything like that in D.C.? And in the middle of the conversation we started thinking, “Wait, this sounds like CreativeMornings.” I remembered hearing that they had started, for lack of a better word, “franchising” the events a while back, and I just assumed there must be someone doing it in D.C., and that I’d just missed it, but I was embarrassed to discover there were 50 chapters around the world, and D.C. wasn’t on the list.

What happened next?
With the help of plenty of friends and colleagues, I went through the application process, which is fairly robust—designed to give you a chance to make your case, but also to show that you can coordinate this kind of event on a regular basis. Good intentions aren’t enough: Applicants need to show they have the community resources to actually pull it off, and really make a case, describing how you might plan your first few events, show that you can secure a venue and a speaker and so on.

I interviewed with the CreativeMornings staff via Skype, and it was great to see how excited and dedicated they were to the process. As I was waiting for the decision, I started playing it off as if I’d be fine if they went with someone else, but deep down I was thinking “God, I hope we get it.” They came back to me [in December 2012] and said, “Congratulations.”

In some of your introductions, I’ve noticed you have a bit of a chip on your shoulder when it comes to the D.C. design community. Talk about that.
I think it’s something we all deal with, and we try to pretend it doesn’t bother us, right? I have a friend and colleague who has it in for Brooklyn particularly—and hey, Brooklyn is great, there are a lot of creative people in New York with amazing resources, but there are other places that have things to offer as well. Part of our goal with Creative Mornings is to shine the spotlight on the creative work that’s being done here.

I believe that creativity may look a little different here, and that may be part of why people don’t see it as clearly. Often creativity, at its core, is about problem solving, and that can take many forms, but ultimately, you’re putting your intellect and expertise to work to either convey a feeling or an emotion, or to solve a tangible problem. I like to think that in D.C. we’re a little more practical, a little more focused on end goals, and we’re in the middle of this unique environment where the decisions we make can impact the rest of the world. You can’t say that about every decision made in every city.

How has the D.C. design community responded?
It’s mind-blowing how supportive everybody has been and how excited people are, and I can’t personally take credit for a lot of it. One of the things we lucked into with this, and I’m happy to accept it, is the work of the people who started it all–Tina and her team, and the folks from other chapters from LA to Zurich. That brand equity was just handed us with a big bow on it. Sometimes I just think about what I would’ve had to do to gather the audience we had organically on Day 1, and I can’t just can’t imagine it—we’ve been really fortunate.

What goals do you have in mind for the year ahead?
After every event, I want to hear at least a handful of people say that that event was their favorite one yet. What makes CreativeMornings unique is that different talks resonate differently with different people. If we ever get to the point where everyone loves one speaker and is tepid with another, then either we don’t have the diversity of perspectives in the audience, or we’re not bringing in diverse speakers to talk to them.

We also want to keep exploring the creative environs of the city. We started out at the Gibson Guitar Showroom, which is such a great venue, but we sort of begrudgingly recognized that we should visit some other places as well, and as a result we found great venues like nclud and 1776. I would love to get into more creative spaces in the city—museums and art galleries, and even inspirational places with no specific connection to creative work. We’re not going to ignore the typical D.C. stuff—we want to have some talks amidst the classical colonnades—but we also want to showcase D.C. as a creative collection of places and give people a new destination to discover on those Friday mornings when they’re having trouble getting out of bed.

Learn more about CreativeMornings/DC and find out about upcoming events here.

CreativeMornings/DC attendees by Jake Naughton/Sweatlodge Creative
Joel Daly by Kate Warren/GoKateShoot
William Colgrove of Threespot by Chris Svetlik
NASA Astrophysicist Dr. Amber Straughn by Lexey Swall/Grain Images




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