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Phil Terry and Cathy Salit

Session I and II: Steal This Workshop

Phil Terry is fighting the good fight. CEO of Creative Good, Terry believes in the distinguished right of every Web user to feel pampered, protected, and praised. And he works hard with major companies like Gateway, Kozmo.com, and Expedia to bring customers an unparalleled degree of respect and regard.

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But Creative Good is not just any old “put the customer first” consulting firm. This e-commerce company thrives on teaching as well as technology, artistry as well as e-commerce. Creative Good’s business model, according to Terry, revolves around five key principles: creativity, courage, compassion, culture, and connections. First and foremost, he says, is creativity, which is sparked in part by Cathy Salit‘s theatrical training company, Performance of a Lifetime. Every six weeks, Creative Good shuts down its office for one day in order to create theatrical performances and communicate openly with Performance of a Lifetime.

Improvisational theater, Salit said during her joint session with Terry, brings out the natural-born performer in everyone and creates an environment where ideas are embraced rather than criticized. In a world where rules often dominate and suffocate, Salit says Performance of a Lifetime helps companies compile and communicate their internal “stories” to the outside world by forcing participants to play off each other’s ideas and by encouraging a little “collective brilliance.”

Following their RealTime session, Terry and Salit spoke with Fast Company about the importance of environment, theater, and customer opinions:

Why are you here at RealTime Orlando?

Terry: I’ve been a friend of Fast Company for a while and I felt the RealTime theme of creativity was very important. We need to reinvent how we work and how people and companies develop in the new economy if we are going to be successful. Creativity is a large part of that development.

Salit: We wanted to build an interactive workshop that allowed people to experience the feeling of creating something together — creating a collective creativity. In particular, we wanted to do it here with Fast Company at RealTime because the people who come to RealTime are very open to innovation, new ideas, and breaking the rules.

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Creativity is a risky venture, and while there is a large appetite for creativity in business today, there also remain many contexts that discourage people from breaking out and trying new things. RealTime is a wonderful environment where people are willing and happy to think outside the box.

Where do great ideas come from?

Terry: I actually think that’s the wrong question. The right question is: How do you create? Creativity does not typically come from one great idea or an individual concentration. It comes from social interaction. We have been able to build Creative Good without funding or any of the typical startup essentials. We have become very successful — great clients, great recruits, great press, great conferences — because we have focused on building relationship and on doing the five Cs: creativity, courage, compassion, culture, and connections.

Salit: We must teach people how to create environments for creativity. We were talking in our sessions about the fact that most environments are not conducive to risk-taking or speaking out. Often, people feel as they are not being heard because they don’t know how to participate in the existing environment. It’s essential that we focus on creating environments that take everyone into account, and that grow the whole group and allow great ideas to emerge from everywhere.

If companies lift up only the most outspoken and the most brilliant, they will undermine their capacity to implement any brilliant ideas. You can have the best-laid plans, but if you don’t have people who feel invested in the idea — people who own it, understand it, and contribute to it — then that plan will go nowhere. If your entire staff doesn’t believe in an idea, they will neglect to build off that idea and make it truly impact the marketplace.

What message do you hope to convey to RealTime participants?

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Terry: There are significant mistakes being made in e-business, and literally billions of dollars are being left on the table now by failing companies. And it doesn’t need to happen. There are some basic principles concerning human relationships that companies are neglecting. If companies began creating Web sites that are truly customer friendly, and stop worrying about the hype, the marketing, and the technology, they will make millions more dollars and become a great deal more successful.

Salit: We all have a natural ability to perform, create, or improvise. We are born with this capacity. We can access that capacity if we create environments in which it is possible to break out and perform as someone other than who we are. Theater can sometimes be a helpful tool in getting people to stretch outside their normal boundaries and explore creativity.

In addition, people must learn to improvise listening. Be very attentive to your surroundings, and put the onus on yourself to create from what others are saying. Stop thinking that you have to come up with the great idea, and start believing that, by working together, we can create something that never existed before. Therein lies the nexus of creativity.

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