The best thing about innovation is how it inspires other great ideas.  There’s a great example of that in the announcement of a new Digital Works Institute.  The Institute, which doesn’t exist yet, flows out of Boulder Digital Works which was created to educate a new generation of digital creatives.  So how did the DWI come into being?  

Kip Voytek

A national contest to launch a new concept for an advertising agency, was won by Kip Voytek and his better idea — to create a virtual “thought-leadership center.”  Okay, ignore the jargon and read on.  He wants to create a national institute in digital arts and sciences with workshops, classes and other educational activities.  As he put it, “Perhaps the biggest challenge our industry is facing today is the huge dearth of digital talent and future leaders.  The most effective digital leaders are collaborative with a broad base of skills, which is hard to find and even harder to cultivate.”

Well, that sounds a little surprising.  So what’s behind it all?  In the old advertising world paradigm, an art director would team with a copy writer and together they’d develop creative concepts.  Makes sense: words + pictures, and you’ve got what you need.  Except now there’s the whole digital experience of how we encounter and interact with stuff on the web, on our phones, on our tablets, and so on.  Not to mention social networking and all the grouping sites/activities.  And I’m sure you can add your own examples of how the digital world is transforming how we interact with it and each other.

But what is the skill base needed to understand, interface and thrive in this new world order?  Well, it’s about old world stuff like entrepreneurship, marketing, people skills, words and pix.  And new world stuff, meaning computer skills, website design, knowing a variety of software and the like.  Plus imagination, creativity and the ability to think inside and outside the box.  But few people have such broad ability or even exposure to this business-techie-artsy mashup of skills.  Which is the raison d’etre for the Digital Works Institute.

I’d like to draw a parallel to my experience as a film and video editor.  For me, being mesmerized by the power of pictures, I was drawn to editing by a fascination with telling stories in a visual medium.  I saw pictures as more potent than words and over time I learned the language of speaking in images.  Which meant I learned pacing, finding the right order of shots to create scenes, choosing the right images to convey the story, knowing when to extend the moment, when to shorten it, and so on.  Ultimately I could tell a sequence was well-edited if I could turn off the sound and still “get” what was happening from the visuals.  

But after I mastered my craft, my wife Sharon said that if I wanted to continue to grow, I had to start thinking like a producer.  What she meant was I had to expand my thinking beyond how to tell a story.  I had to understand what the client was trying to accomplish, what message they were trying to deliver, who the audience was, and what action was called for.  I had to learn how to help them get what they wanted.  And also think about the viewer and where they were coming from.  And ultimately create something that would reach out to them and move them to action.  

And answering these questions became the essential first step, whether I was creating a 30 second political commercial, a 60 minute PBS documentary, an artist profile for the Smithsonian or a marketing/image piece for a corporate client.  Answering these questions helped me create a virtual roadmap to where we were headed.  And then I could start making choices in shaping and structuring the piece.  

So I developed a whole package of skills: technical, creative, business, entrepreneurial, and communication.  I learned how to ask the right questions and listen to the answers.  And all of that gave me the insight and flexibility to work on a wide range of projects.  

And something similar is behind a place like Boulder Digital Works.  And soon, the Digital works Institute.  And if you want to get a better sense of what they’re doing, check out BDW’s website.  And most Wednesdays at 5 pm (MST) you can visit their virtual classroom and listen to industry experts talk about the next big thing.