Ruth Milligan posed the following questions to David Staley to catch up on his idea of Universitas, an idea that he brought to life after TEDxColumbus: What’s Next? in 2010.
Has Universitas met or exceeded your expectations? If so, how?
Very much exceeded. My TEDx talk was an idea, a vision for the city of Columbus. You, Ruth, suggested I end my talk with a call to action, to urge the audience to join me in “connecting the creatives and innovators of the city.” I was gratified that 75 people at that event signed up and nearly 200 in total have wanted to be a part of this movement. Still amazed that, almost two years later, people still wish to gather…
Have you seen any ideas transformed out of a Universitas gathering?
Not as many as I’d like. I think individuals benefit, but no identifiable collective creativity has occurred. Though, Kim Kiehl [COSI Senior Vice President & Chief Operating and Strategy Officer] recently told me that it’s the highlight of her month.
Of course, at Reader’s Roundtable Kim Kiehl did mention that COSI’s recent Art & Science Day was inspired by Universitas…. In any case, any insights into what it might take to make “identifiable collective creativity” happen?
I have joked that Universitas is the opposite of eHarmony, by which I mean that we do not wish to connect those who are compatible, we seek to connect those who are…well, contracompatible is the term we have been using. I have also been using the example of “Steve Jobs’ bathrooms” as another analogy. At Pixar, Jobs designed the space with only one set of bathrooms. He did this to assure that everyone in the company would at some stage have to congregate in the same location—the engineers and computer programmers and the artists and the animators would all be forced together. New and unexpected ideas emerge when these the contracompatible are connected. Universitas is an attempt to architect such a contracompatible space.
What has been one of your favorite Universitas moments?
In September 2011, Chef Bryan Loveless brought in 20 ingredients and, without the benefit of a set recipe, invited the Universitas group to “make something special to eat.” We could only use the ingredients at hand and whatever dish we created had to have an emotional theme attached to it. The evening was the brainchild of Chef Loveless and Rob Sullivan, from PNC bank. I loved the idea of a collaboration between a chef and a banker; that is the essence of Universitas, I think. The evening was an unqualified success: a room full of artists, designers, entrepreneurs, and educators connected together to become chefs. And ev
erything we made that evening was delicious.
Where do you see Universitas headed next? I’d love to replicate that idea each month: I would want to bring together two very different people, from different backgrounds or occupations or outlooks on life and have them co-curate an event. The essence of Universitas is serendipitous connections, connecting people who wouldn’t ordinarily be connected, to see what kind of new ideas happen.
How can someone keep up with what is happening with Universitas?
Join our email list for sure. (Send David a note at: firstname.lastname@example.org) Also, were on Twitter: http://twitter.com/cbusuniversitas
In looking back now, would you give the same TEDxColumbus talk today that you gave in 2010?
Absolutely, yes. In fact, I am more committed than ever to the idea of curating environments that foster creativity and innovation. Cities the size and density of Columbus make for an especially fertile environment.