Chicago and retreat: two key elements in innovation

Okay, truth be told, I missed two Expo events this week. I was so disappointed to miss them, but everyone who went reported back great things. What was I doing? I was retreating to my home country before my head was going to explode all over this lovely town I now call home. I think everyone is the better for this retreat.

While I was gone, I was reminded of two critical elements of innovation that have become clear to me over the last few years of my life: retreat and Chicago.

Retreating from the daily grind of life is ESSENTIAL for maintaining once sanity and stamina. This is true whether one is innovating or not. However, for the innovator who is constantly creating anew, retreat is especially important. Retreat allows the head space for ideas to settle. Part of innovation is the constant stirring up of convention and insertion of new ideas. This can make the head a very chaotic space. Retreat allows all of that to settle in new configurations that provide guidance and vision for forward movement.

It also just feels really good to not think for a while.

As I retreated to my home country, I absorbed time with loving friends and family – another beautiful aspect of retreat. These loved ones of mine asked me if Chicago was still the right place for me. (I think they hoped I would say, “No, I’m coming back home to be with you!”) I never hesitated to offer a resounding affirmation that this is where I belong.

You see, Chicago is one of the very best places to explore innovation. This is a can-do city, and there is always someone to help and someone to watch ANYTHING one might dream up to do. It is also a very gracious city; so long as you put your best forward, people will appreciate the effort if not the execution. This means one can stand up and try again. Chicago is also filled with some of the most creative souls in the country, and this is balanced with a practicality that I think comes from our placement in the Midwest. Creativity and practicality are beautiful partners. One gives you wings to fly while the other keeps your feet on the ground. (Yes, I stole that concept from Dolly Parton.)

As we do the business planning in these months for a laboratory space that will support the creation of new artistic work, I am absolutely resolved to the fact that this laboratory must be paired with a retreat center and must begin in Chicago. What I don’t know for sure is what are the elements of retreat that can be offered in an urban setting and integrated with the elements of a laboratory.