What an entrepreneur can teach us about public sector communications

Jeff Freeland Nelson, a local Twin Cities entrepreneur, took hard-earned lessons from his former career in public affairs and service and built his company, Play From Scratch, with a simple mission in mind: raise kids who are creators. Play from Scratch believes that “creative kids become adults who thrive” and seeks to inspire families through open-ended, problem-solving play with sustainable materials.

Government communicators can learn from Jeff’s crossover expertise in the public and non-profit sectors, public leadership, and education that have led to Play From Scratch’s innovative approach to business and playtime. Here’s an overview of the company’s key tenets and how you might be able to take his lessons and turn them into government magic:

1. Find Raw Materials

Play From Scratch encourages families to use recyclable materials like newspaper, boxes, cardboard tubes and tape as raw materials for playing. Communicators in government organizations with limited resources (and who isn’t?) can apply the same mindset. You should identify basic resources and information that may be taken for granted around your department or office. Then tease out creative ways to invigorate and transform that content.

Source: Uploaded by user via :: Play From Scratch /:: on Pinterest

2. Create a Challenge

How do you tease out ways to be more creative? Create a challenge! Creative people are motivated by challenging problems. Play From Scratch drives enthusiasm and inspiration through fresh ideas for kids like a “Go Creative” card game or building giant cardboard structures. Adults can jump start their imagination by adding challenging elements to project initiatives and organizational goals. Putting a goal out there that is bigger than anything ever tried before inspires innovation and motivation.

3. Build Big Ideas

Jeff built a toy company by expanding on the idea that the world is full of exciting challenges and available resources that make solving problems fun. Government communicators with a mindset of “go big or go home” open up a whole new level of opportunity. Highly successful campaigns such as the CDC’s Zombie Apocalypse campaign, which we just talked about in our last post, are brought to life through agencies willing to seek out interesting challenges; looking for ways to build those ideas into something bigger; and identifying what makes the idea resonate and “stick” with the public. This doesn’t mean that you have to max out your limited budget, though. Jeff’s company is built on reusable cardboard, boxes and newspapers — the stuff most people toss out at the end of the day. Don’t underestimate how big you can go using the small stuff. Leverage sparks of creativity by noting out-of-the-box ideas as they come to mind and working in teams to stretch the limit of what is considered possible.

4. Share What You’ve Created

Play From Scratch encourages families to share imaginative experiences with neighbors and friends. Their website offers many channels for sharing online, including using social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube. Their perspective is that sharing what you’ve created with others fuels creativity and only helps people learn from each other. Social media and the web have made sharing efforts and accomplishments easier and more fun than ever. New and existing social channels can be used as a forum to talk about big ideas, what has worked, and what doesn’t work. The knowledge gained from trying something new and asking for public input – whether the idea is successful or not – can only help the next time around.

5. Recycle Raw Materials and Start Over

“Raw” materials don’t have to be brand new. Just like kids playing castle can re-use couch cushions over and over again to build new forts, communicators can break down existing content to digestible pieces. Smaller components broken out from previously created content can be used to brainstorm new ways to use the material. Communicators can use previous successes as a foundation to tackle new challenges, build big ideas from the ground up, and create content that helps you meet your organization’s mission goals in an innovative and engaging way.

Want to hear more? You’re in luck. Jeff will be joining us as the keynote speaker for the Minnesota stop on our Digital Communications Tour.

Register now to join more than 100 of your colleagues from around the state – the event is free for all government employees!

Original post on Reach the Public.

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Andrew Krzmarzick

I love this! Inspired to find creative ways to use stuff around the house with my son. 🙂

On the application front, back in 2000 I knew a former CIA guy who took his public sector experience and applied it by working at first as a volunteer then as a full-time teacher and IT guru for a local high school. He pieced together an extraordinary “cloud computing system” way back then by getting free government surplus computers, gutting them and building a server farm where he loaded apps and such. Staff and teachers could access them from anywhere via Citrix. Again, he did everything with recycled technology. Genius.

Mary Yang

Thanks, Andy! Isn’t it a great idea? I have seen so many of my nieces and nephews spend hours playing with a box instead of the toy inside.

I’ll be blogging about Jeff’s keynote in a couple of weeks, so I’ll post my thoughts on GovLoop. Keep an eye out!