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One is Enough

There are wires, pieces of plastic, circuit components and other unidentifiable parts in small piles across a section of precious workspace.

I’ve labeled this Paradowski Creative’s “Area 51”. I’m not entirely sure what goes on here, but I know that the output is likely to blink, buzz and generate excited exchanges on our Slack #maker channel. My first exposure to Area 51 had me wondering What chaos is this?” “Are these billable hours?” “Could this stuff explode?” “What’s the point?”

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Not sure what's going on here, but I'm suspicious.

First, some context for my discomfort…

My specialty has been media planning strategy & insights, which for the uninitiated, can be an exacting, high pressure, tense way to earn a living. A deadline forgotten or a decimal point off can spell disaster. And when you’re spending the largest part of someone’s marketing budget those missteps aren’t soon forgotten. So, there are rules, process, order and purpose. It’s “the life” and a good fit for me.

Having worked agency side my entire career, my past experience has been that working in lockstep is all but required, with a top-down approach to culture, process and getting the work done. It looks like this:

1. Ask permission

2. Take a few steps; ask—then wait—for feedback

3. Cycle through this a few more times

4. Get approval…or not.

It’s exhausting and discouraging, with the end result being that you either get used to it and plod along uninspired or you part ways.What a waste.

And now back to Area 51, whose chief curator is a guy named Chris Schmitz. Chris joined us as a web developer in 2016, and his arrival was followed closely by our VP of Design & Interactive's thought to unleash the left brain power of the development team into right brain outcomes. You might say that played right into Chris’s hands because he has an almost uncontrollable urge to explore, build, succeed (or fail) and share.

No overthinking, no hesitation, no need for immediate business application. No sweat – just create.

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No sweat – just create. Chris Schmitz showing off a few of his many, many, many experimental projects in the Paradowski office. 

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Chris' passion for building and making stuff extends into his home life. Here, he perfects a "lemon battery" he made with his wife, Ruthie, while his daughter Lily "helps".

So, what do we have to show for it?


A full-on maker space.

Signage that lights up with specific word triggers.

A #maker slack channel.

A steady flow of 3D printing projects.

An electronic kids "matching" toy—built from scratch.


Oh, and let’s not forget his training sessions…..

TOUR A TECH SHOP
One of our designers described this visit as “initially intimidating” but quickly realized that tapping into different communities for inspiration was going to pay off. And, in the end, having real humans eager to explain all the mechanics crushed any hesitation she had going in. The exposure has already sparked big things with our design team.

INTRO TO HTML
Yes, <i>I</i> signed up and an hour later walked out of class understanding the basics and thinking, “If I had to do it all over again, I’d have been a coder.” <b>I shit you not.</b>

INTRO TO ELECTRONICS
This one had me worried. Little beads of perspiration formed on my brow as I faced the circuit board, tiny pieces of wire, glass and a simple schematic in a room full of co-workers. And I did kind of stink, but with encouragement, managed to make the right connections to light it up! Slipping it past airport security later that week in my computer bag was inadvertent (both times) and a bit alarming…

LEFT: Chris rolled out some 3D-printed Paradowski dice. RIGHT: Game on! Along with the dice, Chris helped the creative team with custom game pieces for a promotional piece. BELOW: 3D rendering for the custom, light up base Chris helped to design and create. You know, in his spare time.

With all this, my initial “what’s the point?” has kinda been squashed. And I’ve learned a thing or three:

1.

Seemingly frivolous projects can be the most direct path to a brilliant idea with practical application.

2.

Order and process, while valuable, don’t always need to be the default, because even chaos can have a greater purpose.

3.

No matter what your specialty, sticking with the familiar approach, even if it’s always served you well is just stupid. Don't be stupid.

This is a pretty significant shift for me, in recognizing that company “direction” doesn’t always come from a “director”. And, it doesn’t always take the form that I’d like--logical, tidy, measured. While that’s still a little maddening to me, I’m realizing that what makes this place a bit extraordinary, both inside and out.

So, kudos to my fellow Paradowskian Chris, who had the figurative door opened a crack and happily barged through it, letting his passion for discovery pull the most pragmatic among us (me) along with him. Proof that sometimes one is enough.

That’s not to say walking past Area 51 is easy for me now. It can still make me squirm, considering my orderly, deliberate tendencies. But I fight the urge to “straighten things up” and secretly congratulate myself on the progress made.

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