Sometimes creativity sparks where you least expect it. For Gina Bianchini, it happened when a third-grade teacher reached out through a Twitter chat and told her that she would love to find somewhere she could meet other teachers in dual language classrooms, so they could swap experiences and knowledge.
“That was my aha moment,” Bianchini tells Fast Company. “We have every possible media available, yet we haven’t solved this big, glaring, amazing opportunity in front of us.”
That ability to connect people with similar, niche interests was the genesis of Mightybell. The “smarter social network” launched in beta in 2012 with a cadre of corporate users such as Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, American Express, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations, and quickly grew to 450 other communities. Now it’s open to the general public with the same aim: to connect people who should know each other to help them collaborate.
Along the way, Bianchini confesses, there have been plenty of “dark moments” when she questioned whether Mightybell’s solution to help others tap the power of peers is worthy. “I hear people all the time ask if we really need another social network,” she says. “So I ask myself regularly: are we pushing the world forward? Are we working on something that needs to exist?”
Bianchini’s answer is an unequivocal yes. Like the unexpected spark that generated the idea for Mightybell in the first place, what regularly inspires that level of passion isn’t found where most go to fuel their creativity. Forget the sunshine and rainbows, says Bianchini, even though she loves to go on hikes. And skip the scouring of Pinterest boards and Instagram feeds, despite the dopamine hit that comes from that “heightened sense of reality when everything is beautiful.”
Instead, Bianchini contends, she’s best able to tap her own creativity when she senses that people are frustrated. “The power of adversity and understanding the challenges in front of you, I found, generates so much greater and faster creativity because you actually know what you are trying to solve,” she posits.
To encourage the solutions, Bianchini takes two distinctly different paths to inspiration.
One is to continue to tap the wisdom of communities. Working with online communities for a decade, in particular running Ning, which she says grew to 300,000 active niche social networks visited by 90 million people per month, Bianchini underscores, “I have seen everything, and it is absolutely what inspires me.” Now, she says, she checks in to different groups on Mightybell and seeing “so many amazing people contributing [their] expertise” validates her theory that even though it’s 2014, we are still just on the cusp of a golden age of social media.
But we’re not there yet. That’s why her second tactic to unlock creativity is to focus on solutions, not tasks. First thing in the morning, “I don’t open my phone,” she confesses, laughing. A shower, coffee, and getting to the office to quickly check email get Bianchini’s wheels turning. Then, before anyone else comes in, she pulls out a sheet of white paper and starts writing.
“I’ll try to tackle one question coming back to that challenge that is keeping me up at night,” she explains. Then she’ll jot down 20 ideas. “When I articulate and outline overall goals before the day starts, I am in such a better place in terms of interacting with other people and I’m much more creative throughout the day,” she observes.
Nothing gets decided in a vacuum at Mightybell. Bianchini says she loves to collaborate with her team and to that end they hold a meeting every Friday afternoon to inspire people to keep thinking over the weekend. “We lay out what are we hearing and what are our greatest challenges are,” Bianchini says. She’ll put an idea out there because, “Different points of view are incredibly important.”
And while she’s up for Saturday night fun as much as the next person, Bianchini’s more about work/life mission rather than work/life balance. Mulling ideas over the weekend allows her to determine which solutions stick and which wash out. “We are not looking to rush decisions, but to tackle big meaty questions to propel us forward.”