Global Development Opportunities for Leaders Working in Arts, Screen, and Creative Sectors

Janis Claxton – Reflections on ICE at Xindanwei

Janis Claxton has just completed her placement with Xindanwei. Read on for an insight into her experiences there….

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The first two months of my ICE fellowship came to an exciting closure with the Audi App Jam, the premier event of Ask Lab, Liu Yan‘s new innovative start-up. I arrived at Xindanwei the first day of Ask Lab and became a core team member of this initiative designed to connect corporations, NGO’s, communities, and organisations with the vast pool of talent in ‘hacking’, design, and marketing at events such as Audi App Jam.

Sponsored by Audi China, the lab set out to draw together experts to pitch ideas and produce prototypes for interactive Smart Phone Apps for Audi China.  Through Xindanwei and Liu Yan’s vast networks including the network of Xinchejian (China’s first ‘Hackers Space’ that was birthed out of Xindanwei), talented competitors from Shanghai and other regions, came together at the glorious Hult Business School for Friday night pitches.

In something of a Dragons Den style I was the lucky MC as 21 innovators pitched to an audience of fellow competitors, senior directors from Audi China and Germany, and our prestigious mentors (including a jolly fat guy called Tiny Fool who is some kind of iPhone App guru!). Six ideas were eventually chosen, teams formed, a few disgruntled punters departed, but most stayed for two days of prototyping using the Design Thinking Process with mentors including Liu Yan, David Li from Xinchejian and 2 fabulous prototypers and designers from IDEO Shanghai.

Definitely the most interesting pitch of the night was called Sex In Car, an App designed to help users find the places to go for sex in their cars, the best seat positions and even tools to enhance the experience! Including photo posting options, this brilliant pitch went down a treat but alas was not deemed good for the Audi image!

With prize money from Audi, 3 winning teams are now extending their work to a useable App and on July 5, Audi judges will decide if they offer any of the teams contracts to fully produce their Apps. (Ask Lab contracts protect the IP of the makers if Audi and the teams don’t come to an agreement – Liu Yan is all about the artists!)

So WHAT a learning curve! Seems a far cry from the world of creating, teaching and producing dance but it has definitely been a highly creative process at all levels. Perhaps the biggest lesson has been the confirmation of how transferable and effective my 30 years of accumulated skills in the arts can be and the importance and parallels of the role and potential for greater contribution from artists across sectors and society. One example is the Design Thinking Process, a wonderfully systemized creative process used internationally by top design outfits. A brief dissection of this process (which I gave a talk about at IDEO Shanghai) reveals the meat and bones of every sincere choreographic venture. We choreographers are using, and know deeply, the same process that was used to design the first laptop, the first Apple Mouse and a myriad of other great innovations.

Whilst validation of transferable skills has been very useful, the new learning’s  working with this team lead by the formidable Liu Yan, have been vast and are continually unraveling. It has been an extraordinary opportunity to stand behind such a strong female leader and support her vision and methodologies. Liu Yan’s ability to diverge and enter a realm of seemingly unrealistic creative possibilities, initially threw my ingrained ‘suffering artist syndrome’ into a tail spin. I began to realize that the thin tightrope of survival in the arts I have walked for 30 years, had been drawn so tight that all I could do was look down, desperately hoping the thread would not snap. My wound and bound survival muscles had become so accustomed to being poised against falling that it took a while to realize that the virtues and usefulness of my convergent thinking abilities, also held me paralysed in limiting patterns. At times I had to struggle against my incessant need to structure ideas and processes. I watched in awe as Liu Yan allowed my skills to flow and made the utmost use of all the positive aspects whilst prodding and sometimes pushing me in directions less comfortable. I slowly learnt to let go and trust a new level of team work as Liu Yan and I entered a playful and sometimes absurd interplay of divergence and convergence that proved as fruitful as it was amusing.

Structuring the App Jam was a lot of fun, similar yet far less desperate in feeling than working in dance, and all within a highly creative, stimulating and productive environment. Working with Liu Yan has opened my eyes to many parallel, merging and cross-fertilising people and worlds including Start-ups, incubators, co-working, Hackers Space, App development, 3D printing, Internet of Things, and more.

I will spend the last month of ICE focusing on the world of new technology including a project with David Li and Xinchejian where we intend to take my dance and maths education work into the realm of sensors and a potential App. I will also visit Wuxi Sensor Park a leading IOT hotspot and hopefully set up some links between Shenzhen and Edinburgh in line with a newly signed MoU for an International Creative Industry Incubation Center.

My world has definitely changed. The rope I walk straddles far wider terrain. It is now a slack wire from which I can look in many more interesting directions than just down.

Right now – on the tarmac at Shenzhen airport waiting to fly up into the blue skies!

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