Independent But Not Alone

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How do communities like Neol enable us to pursue our passions?

It all began with a fixation. 

Kerem Alper, co-founder of Neol, has spent years seeking to answer this question:

How do we enable creatives of different backgrounds, skill sets, and experiences to do impactful work? What would that system look like?

His first answer to the challenge came with ATÖLYE, a community centered design company. But as our world is constantly changing, he recognized that our systems of work need to constantly change as well. This is where Neol comes in.

Neol is a creative community that is “an empowerer of individuals,” Kerem shared. It is a community-based connection space that bridges the exact needs of clients to the direct skills of our multidimensional creatives. With these bridges, we tackle significant issues in the world like climate change, inclusion, and human rights. 

As an act of building these bridges, our Neol community gathered together on May 10th for our 5th Creative Sparks Event. Joining us to share his expertise, Tim Brown, the Co-Chair at IDEO and Vice-Chair at kyu Collective, shared his heart and depth of experience. He shared how community can create adaptable and diverse teams that are capable of solving complex problems efficiently. 

In the same heart as Kerem, Tim has always fixated on the future of design and creativity. With over 30 years of design experience and leadership, he lives in a unique vantage point over the development of our current design systems. Similar to Kerem, he recognizes the ways that our creativity has been hampered by them. 

Learning from Tim’s perspective, Kerem’s guidance, and all of our Neolians who joined in, we discussed the real value that spaces like Neol create, simultaneously experiencing them by being together. We felt the glow of our community, the inspiration of creative leadership, and the possibilities of our impactful future. Alongside creatives zooming in from all around the world, we began with one main question:

Creativity grows through collectives

To illustrate how impactful a community can be, Tim shared a story with us about his early working life. As Tim began his career, design was more of a solo craft than a “team sport.” Rather than connecting to the broad expertise within our world, he was trained to view problems mainly from the design perspective. But at some point, he began to work for a company in San Francisco that was pursuing design differently. 

Here, Tim had the chance to work with a wide variety of professionals, each carrying unique experiences, training, and backgrounds. From psychologists to computer scientists—human-centric approaches to techies—these connections helped Tim realize a crucial component of his future career: That “design could be a collective effort where the sum was by far greater than all the parts.” 

By compiling so many vibrant minds, he discovered that multidimensional perspectives give us the opportunity to create more expansive solutions, at a faster pace, and with more enjoyment. Rather than struggling alone, Tim was able to lean on the expertise that surrounded him, opening the opportunity for both connection and productivity; allowing him to have broader perspectives that cultivate holistic answers.

We are allowed to be experts

Many creatives feel an intense push to do everything because they feel alone. Because of that, we tend to turn into everywhere-all-at-once generalists. By being in a community of experts, we are free to pour into our own creativity and passions, instead of having to do everything alone. 

Mick McConnell, CEO of Design Bridge and Partners, opened up about this in our conversation. He shared that a space like Neol “allows us to be experts, instead of having to do everything alone as generalists.” Tim’s experience showed how true that is. In his new working environment, he had the chance to lean on the expertise of other professionals, which enabled him to pursue his own passion as a designer, while gathering skills and ideas from the experts around him.

Mick also added that a community atmosphere allows us to “give the credit to the people who have done the work…as community members that we’ve collaborated with rather than freelancers.” By building our network of connected creatives, we are equalized, given voices to share the expertise that we are proud of building.

We are independent but not alone

Within this network of collaboration, we solve problems as expert individuals with unique skills, personal stories, and valuable experience. We have choices and freedom, yet we are not alone. 

One of our Neolians, Lindsey Mosby, joined the conversation. She is in the process of leaving a full-time position to become an independent creative again. Through this process she realized that she needs both freedom and community. She wants to be truly productive towards the projects she is personally passionate about without having to do it all alone. 

“Independent but not alone,” we called it.

As soon as she shared, our entire zoom chat exploded in agreement. We all crave freedom within a community. Each one of us wants the space to work on things we care about with people who care just as deeply. 

“Those four words really summarize what we are trying to build,” Kerem agreed. Our core goal with Neol is to allow creatives the independence to choose their work mindfully with the support of teams who are also choosing their work mindfully—shoulder to shoulder solving the complex and overwhelming challenges in our world.

Flexibility is our future

The reality is: our world is in an ever-changing tornado state. It’s chaos. Everyday we have to adapt to new ideas, developments, and problems, while still striving to make an impact. In order to succeed, we need systems that support this malleability and we need a network of creatives to step in where the real challenges are. This flexibility is created through the gathering of multidimensional minds, empowering us to work as individuals within a collective towards our passions.

In his recent post on our blog (you can read it here), Tim writes that “Design, and creativity more broadly, must continually evolve as our human condition evolves.” As Charles Darwin famously wrote in Origin of Species, “it's not the strongest or most intelligent of the species that survives but the one that's most adaptable to change.” Our survival as humans, creatives, businesses, and societies relies upon that one skill: our ability to adapt. In order to thrive, we have to create systems of working that have the ability to adapt to the ever-changing environment around us.

Adding on, Kerem shared that “there is so much uncertainty about where the needs are going to be,” so we are fortunate that Neol is “not bound by any rigid structures” like the traditional creative agency. We have the freedom to build custom collaborations within our community designed specifically for each challenge that we come across. 

Imagine it like the Avengers: specific experts paired together in order to save our world. Only instead of mechanical suits, attackers from space, and science gone wrong, we have Figma, Slack, and ChatGPT. It may sound amusing, but is it that far from the truth? If we can build a community of passionate creatives and enable them to do real work that they care about, it may very well look like saving pieces of our world and creating a better one.

We want the freedom to “DO”

Not only do we want to do work we care about with like minded creatives, we also want to actually be productive, actually do the work, not just ideate, plan, and meet internally. At this point in her career, Lindsay shared that she needs the freedom to “just DO the work.” Everyone in the Zoom began to nod emphatically. Instead of piles of bureaucracy stopping us from productivity, we want to zero in on our tasks and do what we care about.

“I just want to focus as much of my time as possible on work that will have an impact,”Tim added, reflecting that internal meetings “get in the way of creativity.” By removing the hierarchy and bureaucracy of traditional agencies, we create space for more productivity and heightened creativity.

What does it take to unlock multidimensional leadership?

In Tim’s article, What is next for design?, he digs into the ways that we equip creative leaders to do the best work of their lives, building the future of design. One of the most fundamental needs is trust. 

“What we're trying to do with Neol is begin to build that trust,” Kerem shared. By aligning with longstanding creative leaders throughout the professional world, learning from their expertise and allowing them to guide developing professionals, we are cultivating a trustworthy community of creatives. So that “whenever there is an opportunity for…creative leaders from the Neol community to go make a difference somewhere, they'll be incredibly well equipped to do so.”

We are still enthralled by our time together with Tim Brown, inspired to pursue a community of people who are driven, motivated, and passionate about the future of creativity. As this community grows, our trust, impact, and passion grows along with it. If you are a creative who is excited to be independent but not alone, to actually do work that you care about in a space that is flexible and trustworthy, become a Neolian today! You will not want to miss our creatively inspiring future events and meet-ups!

P.S. The most important question in the zoom call was where Tim’s shoes are from. Tim got his shoes from Brandblack, a style brand working to find a natural harmony between technology and humanity through their products. Go check them out!

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