leadership

I Love My Job: Kendra DeBree

Based in New Jersey, Kendra DeBree works as the Business Development Director at Durga Tree International, a non-profit organization whose mission is to support and empower non-profits that work to end human slavery all over the world. Kendra spoke with us about her transition to the non-profit field, what she does at Durga Tree, and her advice for millenials. Keep reading to find out more about her story and experience! i love my job kendra

Hi Kendra! How are you doing?

My day is very busy. I’m seizing the day, I feel like I got three hours of sleep because sometimes you get creative in the middle of the night and you write things down. So that’s what was happening to me and now I’m running on pure adrenaline. You know, as a business development director of a non-profit, I have my hands in like 50 different places, so it’s always re-evaluating and re-prioritizing what needs to happen, and when. I was at a convention over the weekend where I made some really solid contacts, so it’s important to follow up with those contacts before they lose sight. You get them excited but don’t talk to them for too long in between, and before you know it, you may lose them. 

What were you doing before Durga Tree?

I was a manager for a little while but I always thought, “I’m only doing this because it pays the bills and I’m getting exposure.” I always knew that I wanted to run my own business and I’ve always been the type of person who always needs to have a job. I was supporting myself through school and working at night. I managed my first Pier 1 Imports when I was 19 and I had no idea what I was doing. They just kind of threw me in, so you know, through the years you just build certain skills and expertise.

On joining the non-profit field:

I have a degree in business management, but non-profit work was something I had never previously considered. You know, when you think non-profit, you think, “Oh, well that won’t make me any money.” I was in my 20s so I was all about making money. The only difference between a for-profit and a non-profit business is that at the end of the year, the extra funds don’t go into the pockets of shareholders, of the executives that aren’t necessarily doing the day-to-day. They’re hard-working people [at Durga Tree]. It goes back into program funding for the next year. It’s a business!

After I had my daughter, Emma, who just turned two last month, I was like, “Okay, I haven’t been working retail for nine-plus months now” and I thought, “I can’t go back.” If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do something amazing now. It just so happens that my very best friend’s Aunt and Uncle started this non-profit years ago. I heard about it, but I never really took the time because when you’re in your 20s, you’re not really thinking about this stuff or caring about it. As soon as I turned 30 and became a mom, my priorities changed and I just started thinking about things differently. You see the world differently; you realize how small your world really is.

How did you end up with your position?

I started volunteering last year and just started learning more and more about human trafficking. I was thinking about where I am in my life and thought, “I could really take this non-profit to the next level.I essentially created this position within Durga Tree International and thought, “we could do something really big”. It turns out that they were ready to take the next steps to make that happen. We’ve raised, in two years, around $250,000 in single donations. We don’t have any grant funding or foundational funding, and that’s actually an element I’m bringing in.

My mother, growing up, worked for the Diocese of Paterson where she worked one-on-one with mentally disabled adults. It was always rewarding for me because I used to go in during the summers and do all sorts of things. I got a little taste of what rewarding work was really like.

What are you currently doing at Durga Tree?

As a business person, you’re always looking at things in a way that’s going to grow and build the organization. I’m making new, lasting contacts and impressions with businesses and individuals at the same time. I have a group of volunteers that I source, solicit and manage on a daily basis. We have a group that we call our “lotus guild”. They are essentially people who are really passionate about becoming day-to-day ambassadors. They also chair or co-chair a certain area of our business. I have someone in charge of “do it yourself” fundraisers, I have someone in charge of speaking engagements, I have someone in charge of social media. We have two large fundraising events per year. We have a gala coming up and we have a walkathon.

Tell us about what Durga Tree does. 

We pick and choose specific non-profits around the world that are all working toward the same goal. We all want to eradicate human trafficking but they’re all fighting for the same dollar. We’re bringing organizations so that they don’t have to fight. A lot of this is about planning - event planning is full-time and a lot of these non-profits don’t have the time and resources. That’s where we come in. There’s also the work of building awareness. There are a lot of anti-trafficking organizations in New Jersey where all they do is spread awareness, but we’re unique because we have a plan and we’re going to see it through. Right now we have four partners and we don’t want to take on anymore until we feel that the projects that we have are sustainable.

How Did the Organization Start?

Beth Tiger, on of our co-founders, began as a life coach. She ran “A Life Well Lived” which hosted women’s groups and talks. Her shop was committed to caring products that were made by women-owned businesses. When she started going to trade shows, she found out about trafficking and that is where she met our first partner. The company sold jewelry that was made by survivors of human trafficking. A Life Well Lived dissolved and ultimately became Durga Tree International. Now all of the proceeds made from items sold in the shop are donated toward eradicating human trafficking.

What Organizations Do You Work With?

All of the grassroots organizations that we support must fall in line with one of our branches of freedom. There are organizations that are really great at rescuing, some focus on housing, lobbying or economic empowerment.

Love 146 is awesome, we love them! We actually just went to their red gala, which was the first gala that I attended. We actually supported their creation of their school curriculum around trafficking, which they’re testing it out in Florida, Illinois and Connecticut. Throughout the world, the average trafficked age is 10 so the conversation needs to happen early. A couple of months ago, Love 146 built a women-only shelter out in the Philippines, but when I say women I also mean 10, 11 or 12-year-old girls. They just took in their youngest trafficking survivor who was age two. When you hear stuff like that you think, “who, why would you do something like that?” They also recently opened a boys-only shelter because people have asked why there isn’t a place for little boys who are being trafficked.

Another partner that we support in Guatemala (Asociación La Alianza). They have a shelter and they call it a “casa”. Girls can stay there until the age of 18. When our organization went out there, we wanted to support the babies but also to support the girls. We taught them different ways to care for their baby and that even though your baby was conceived in certain conditions, you can still love your baby. The trafficking issue is becoming a generational issue. They’re born into it, so this is all they know and then they do what they know. They don’t see other opportunities.

Another partner of ours is Truckers Against Trafficking. They are 100% based in the United States. They’re located around areas where there are airports and intercoastal highways. We support a “Freedom Rig” which is a big truck that travels around to different truck stops and educates truckers on what’s happening. They post about missing persons as well as pictures on their facebook. All of these truckers tap in and actually about once per week, they help save a girl and bring her home.

We also support an organization (Good Shepherd Academy) that works in West Cameroon, Africa. What happens there is that many children have to walk five-plus miles to school and on that walk they are taken and then sacrificed for their organs. What we’re trying to do right now is get $25,000 to support the guards that look out for the children as they go to school.

What else are you currently involved in?

I was recently hired as a consultant to help with a window cleaning and pressure washing association. I’ve been in retail for over 10 years and managed hundreds of different types of people, so my friend reached out to me a couple months ago to help out with this 500+ event.

Her advice for millennials:

I felt that I was in an industry that I didn’t really belong in and that I was meant to do something more. I was seriously job-hunting and networking, but I got a tip from a friend and volunteer. Once you start giving back and not thinking about yourself you realize that the more you give, the more you get in return. The moment you let go and when you start doing things that aren’t typical for you, you never know who you’ll meet through a volunteer experience.

Who Would Play You in a Movie About Your Life?

That’s so funny - my friends were just talking about this! Who did we decide on…I think Rachel McAdams.

What is your favorite social media platform?

Facebook is my favorite because I know it so well. I love following Clinton Kelly because I love the show “What Not To Wear”.

 

Thank you so much, Kendra, for sharing your story and insights! We had a great time talking to you.

Leading by Example: A Mentor-Mentee Success Story

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"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader." - John Quincy Adams

Mentor: Shaunna

I’m knowledgeable, but not an expert and do not consider myself one. I have been a mentor and a mentee and I try to use my leadership skills daily. You may have read previous posts of mine how I found my niche, my passion in the non-profit/foundation sector. Since then I have been able to utilize a lot of my skill sets learned from my mentor, my boss. The past 2 months, I have had the privilege to mentor a summer intern at the Foundation I work at. Even before she started, just looking at Jennifer Nativo's resume, she had shown enthusiasm and passion for the non-profit sector. When she started, just on her first day she proved knowledgeable and had more than enough skill sets for the job, she was also eager to take on any task, with guidance at first. Her interests and passions were similar to mine and we just clicked. Even several years apart in age, I could see myself in her and knew she has potential for great things.

So what does this back-story have to do with leadership? It has to do by leading by example. Since the first day I was able to sit with Jenn and teach her our database and grant funding process. I was also able to work with her on creating press releases, social media posts, preparing reports and making sure she understood the ins and outs of the Foundation. Three things I took into account while working with Jenn:

  1.  Be an example. I, personally, am a visual learner and I am very aware not everyone learns the same, however when mentoring and leading Jenn to help her be successful, I tried explain everything visually so she could understand everything fully. I made sure to sit with her at her desk and work on the computer and show examples or demonstrate any task or correction.
  2.  Be a resource. I love reading so any time I come across an article, a blog post, a book I ALWAYS share it with colleagues and friends who I think it will be useful to. I started doing this with Jenn. I’d say once a week or sometimes a few times a week I’d send her something, usually relating to millennial’s that will be resourceful to her. ( This is actually how I got her connected to The Niche Movement & got her reading the blog J )
  3.  Always listen.  Even though this is listed as number three, this is one of the most important things I took into account, to stop and listen. If it is listening to a question, an idea or just taking the time to listen to Jenn’s insights and thoughts, before taking action or reacting.

These were something my boss did with me when I first started and to be able to pass along this knowledge to Jenn has been a great opportunity for the both of us. Additionally, I always made sure to take time out of my day to make sure she was on track or understood the why, what and how to a task and to be available for questions. As Jenn continues and finishes school, I made sure to let her know to continue to keep in contact and any help I can be as she continues her path to finding her niche, to just give me a call.

A mentor/mentee relationship is a two–way street.

So how did my efforts, leading by example, benefit Jenn? I asked her to share her story. Jen is a small town girl from New Jersey who loves bumming at the beach, eating, and traveling. She is a Junior at Fairfield University majoring in business management with a minor in French. Jenn loves volunteering her time for others and therefore wears her heart on her sleeve. Nonetheless, she is a driven person and wants to become a boss one day! Connect with Jenn on LinkedIn!


Mentee: Jenn

Working for a nonprofit foundation requires skills and taking on responsibilities that are in no way a shortage of the expertise needed to run a corporate business.

Over the past two months about, I’ve had the fortune of interning for The Provident Bank Foundation, a private nonprofit foundation located in New Jersey that taught me how business ethics, professionalism and passion all drive an individual's success in his or her career. My supervisors, Jane Kurek, Executive Director and Shaunna Murphy, Foundation Associate, who also became my mentors, opened my eyes to the not-for-profit sector in a way that has shaped my perspective not only on the nonprofit world, but the "real" world in general. Taking in a first-time intern like me, there is no doubt they had plenty to show me.

Jane and Shaunna welcomed me with enthusiasm and tons of different tasks. I was writing press releases, managing the Foundation database, and jumping right into grant application reviews. Before I could realize the impact this experience had on me, I was sealing letters of approval and delivering them to their recipients- making an impact that touched lives other than my own. I was truly humbled.

Overall, my experience gave me a few pointers about working for a foundation:

  1. Take advantage of your resources. Nonprofit work is all about networking. Talk to as many people as you can, exchange business cards, and reach out- you never know what someone can do for you or what you can do for them.
  2. Be curious. There is no such thing as a stupid question, but there is such thing as dumb silence. Do plenty of research because there is so much involved in funding besides wanting to help. Making an important decision requires doing a background check and asking all of the important questions.
  3. Prioritize. Being a funder requires a good multi-tasker and decision maker. Especially depending on the size of the foundation, reviewing applications and doing the research takes time. Meet the deadlines and stay organized.
  4. Be memorable, and remember everything. As said earlier, working for a not-for-profit comes with expanding your network of connections. As essential as it is to talk to everyone that you can, always remember who you're talking to, and make them remember you, too.
  5. Make sure it's something you're passionate about. This goes for any career you find yourself in, but in particular, if you find it rewarding to do good for others and be a community leader, then working for a nonprofit foundation might peak your interest.

"I am on the road to finding my niche. Trying something new has opened my eyes up to the endless opportunities that await." -Jenn Nativo

 

See What Sticks: Innovation Lessons from Eddie Murphy

innovation nm postAt nearly 29 years old, there aren't many things I can say I've been doing reliably for twenty years. But one of them is, "watch Saturday Night Live." Each Saturday around 11:25, my whole family gathered in the living room (sometimes playing Scrabble too, sometimes not), and we laughed together. The Marfos are a funny family, and memories like this always serve as a good reminder of that fact.

So I dove into Live From New York, the 2002 anthology of the show with the same fervor and excitement with which someone might explore their own family history. I expected to learn more about the interpersonal relationships between clast members, the frenetic pace and schedule of the writing, and the experiences of several hosts during their "tours of duty" in Studio 8H. But I also learned something exceptional about what hard work and team play can get you.

I've always had a difficult time balancing impulses to innovate and creating, with the need to be able to "fit" into a corporate, hierarchical structure. The more I foster the former side of my personality, the harder complying with the latter seems to be. But I've learned from several years of practice: you earn the ride to bend the rules when you spend time following and learning within them. SNL has had no greater beneficiary of this strategy than Eddie Murphy.

Brought on during Lorne Michaels' five-year absence as showrunner, Eddie Murphy proved a bright talent from the start, but struggled from underutilization (in large part because the showrunners in place had little experience with comedy). Though he was young (hardly twenty), he worked hard to get noticed and contributed strongly to the success of the fill cast. As we know, he went on to become one of the show's most successful alumni, with franchises such as Beverly Hills Cop, The Nutty Professor, and Shrek to his name, as well as a notable dramatic turn in Dreamgirls.

So what can we learn from Eddie Murphy's meteoric rise, even during what was considered a time of creative crisis for the show?

Work Hard. One of my current favorite motivational quotes is, "The dream is free. The hustle costs extra." It's not Shakespeare, but it gets the point across: wanting anything of significance requires hard work. Eddie Murphy wanted to be successful, and everyone on the show knew it. Talent coordinator Neil Levy noticed an interesting relic of Murphy's desire: bathroom graffiti saying "Eddie Murphy, No. 1." The more success he gained on the show, and eventually in movies, the bigger the words got. He erased, he wrote larger, he switched to pen. That belief in his talent extended to the full-time writers, who spent the most time with him:

All you had to do with eddie at that time was be a real good stenographer. Because you'd get him in the office and he'd have the character down, and he'd have the voice down and then if you had a good ear, you could figure it out and give him the stuff right back and he would just kick ass.

Lesson: dreams don't work unless you do. And even when he wasn't his very happiest, Murphy put in the time and energy to earn the camera time. Most would say it paid off!

Create Strong Alliances. Part of Eddie's rise to reliable utility player didn't come until he found the right writers to partner with. David Sheffield and Barry Blaustein. After a strong start transforming a random idea of Sheffield's into a sketch that, as he put it, "jumped off screen," they kept the relationship going-a relationship that spawned iconic characters like Buckwheat and Mr. Robinson.

But his dedication to creating strong characters didn't end with himself. Having spent time feeling underused on the show, he stood up in the writers room for castmates who were feeling the same way. Even as his starpower rose, cast members like Brad Hall remember him for his commitment to ensuring it wasn't all about him.

Lesson: who are the people around you that have the blend of talent and personality to elevate your work? Seek out these people, ally yourself, and create a product where you all can shine. Then, find the people who need you in a role to elevate their work, and do that too.

Then, Push. Once you've done the hard work to get established and learned the organization, and added value for those around you, then you can start to bend some established rules. Some organizations, the more attentive ones that will recognize this in you, may help you in that bending of the rules. In Murphy's final year as a cast member, he was being wooed away with major movie deals and film shoots. But as a strong producer and collaborator, NBC brass wanted to keep him. So he was offered an unprecedented deal to work on only half the season, filling in gaps with pre-recorded segments that would stretch his presence. Additionally, he remains the only cast member to serve as host in the same season that he was a cast member, taking over the role after a previously scheduled host backed out.

Lesson: once your value is proven, you can start to gently buck the norms that have been set for you in your role. as long as you can prove that value to the organization.

Another one of my favorite work-fueling quotes is, "Work hard and be nice to people." My desire to balance a challenging and creative work schedule, while appreciating the people that help me make it happen, strongly informs my definition of success. While Eddie Murphy's returns to SNL are infrequent, he truly does credit and appreciate the show's role in his stardom. And it was that combination of work, collaboration, and gratitude that helped him break free from the show's standard operating procedure- and could do the same for you!

The Myth of the Stage

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When I got accepted to present my ideas at TEDxFSU this year, I was thrilled! My first thought was "oh my gosh they like my idea!" followed quickly by the terrifying, earth shattering doubt. "They're going to find out I'm a fake!" Why was this the first (well, almost first) thought to pop into my brain when something good happened? I call it the Myth of the Stage, and it's a big part of why we accept far less for our selves than we truly deserve.

So here is the Myth: The person on stage is right. The person on stage knows what they are talking about, and their ideas are valid.

Maybe this myth comes from our early days in a traditional classroom setting, listening to an all-knowing teacher. Maybe it comes from watching movies and documentaries. Wherever it comes from, you know you feel it in your mind. It's the same little part of you that says it's valid to pay over $100 to watch someone play an instrument onstage at Lincoln Center, when it's not worth giving a dollar  to the man riffing on the guitar on a street corner. They both add music to our lives, right? But one is on a stage.

So this myth lives inside us, and it's part of what holds us back. If we are not on the stage, how do we know if we're valid? How do we know if we belong on stage? We can  wait for someone to pick us. An employer, a casting director, a conference coordinor, can decide you are worth something and put you out there for the world to see. You shouldn't leave it up to them, though!

Here are my three reasons it's important to find your stage and start singing:

1. The Stage is Everywhere: Now more than ever you have the chance to set up your soap box, climb on up, and spread your message! You no longer have to wait for an editor to publish your ideas - just start a blog! You don't have to wait for a T.V. station to broadcast your idea - make your own video. In the age of the internet it is easier than ever before to connect with an audience. They might not all love you (there are trolls under every bridge, of course), but the more you share, the more you will find people who connect with what you are saying.

2. Most People Won't Bet on an Unknown There are those risk-takers out there who thrive on the thrill of something new and unknown, but in general, the people making the decisions about who gets hired, who gets on the stage, and who gets in front of the camera got their jobs by consistenty choosing correctly. Now, in a time where there are more people to hire than ever, these "pickers" are under a lot of pressure to make the right choice. Knowing you already have an audience you've connected with makes it easier for them to bet on you. If you're a band just starting out, booking agents want to know how many tickets you can sell. The same applies now for hiring agents, editors, and everything else! So just start doing what you do, build up a loyal base, and then you can get "picked" if you still want to.

3. Your Message Matters! If you have an idea, a passion, or a creation to share that seems totally out of the blue, chances are it's even more important than you think. It's hard to be the first one to try something new. You could fail, and you could end up looking stupid. But if it's something truly new, why would you want to hide it away? Can you imagine where we would be if Thomas Edison decided that an electric light was too risky? Or that people wouldn't be interested? Inspiration comes for a reason, and by keeping your idea to yourself, you're depriving the world of something that could be truly, truly awesome.

There are many more reasons than this to share your message, but next time you doubt yourself, remember The Myth of the Stage is just that: A myth.

See What Sticks: How Good Notes Take You to Infinity and Beyond

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note taking, pixar, creativity inc, amma marfo, student affairs, feedback Hi everyone, Amma Marfo here. Two quick things about me that you’ll need to know before we begin:

(1) I am a reader. I am a library-loving, constant tome-carrying, unapologetic bibliophile. (2) If there’s anyone you will meet who can connect what she’s reading to the world around her, it’s me.

 

As such, I want to dedicate my time in this space to sharing with you what I’m reading, and how it could inform a budding professional’s daily life. 

I am a sucker for a good read on creativity. These are the books that energize me in my day-to-day work, the ones that help me look at daily problems from a new perspective, the ideas that reassure me that my quirky take on my life aren't as isolating as they might seem. And in that reading, there are a few companies that are constantly referenced as being "the gold standard" for creatives. You've heard of these places- Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Disney/Pixar. So when people started recommending Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull (president of Pixar Animation), I knew I had to add it to my reading list. And sure enough, it was a wonderful read that provided me with many tips and tricks that I'm eager to employ in my own life. But the one I want to share here today, is the seventh tenet of their 7 Core principles: Give good notes.

Feedback is a funny thing. When you're new to a work environment, it is simultaneously necessary and absolutely terrifying because so much of our self-worth and vision of success is tied up in our being great. However, when you're more established and in greater need of it, it's harder to get because people "below" you in the organization may fear giving it. This pair of factors, combined with people who are largely non-confrontational by nature, and we're left with either empty and nonspecific platitudes, or emotionally-charged criticism that may overstep the boundaries of work. Pixar has worked for years to create a feedback system devoid of those two scourges of honest feedback, through what they call their "Braintrust," or a group of directors and advisors that watch rough cuts of films as they come together and provide the feedback needed to transform these sketches into the blockbusters we know and love like Toy Story or Finding Nemo.

Catmull eloquently addresses the fear of failure that comes with sharing a new idea in Creativity, Inc.:

From a very early age, the message is drilled into our heads: Failure is bad; failure means you didn't study or prepare; failure means you slacked off or- worse!- aren't smart enough to begin with. Thus, failure is something to be ashamed of. This perception lives on long into adulthood, even in people who have learned to parrot the oft-repeated ideas about the upside of failure [...] And yet, even as they nod their heads in agreement, many readers [...] still have the emotional reaction that they had as children. They just can't help it. That early experience of shame is too deep-seated to erase. (emphasis added)

I believe that Catmull used the word shame in the final sentence intentionally, and for an interesting reason. Helping scholar Brené Brown makes a clear distinction between guilt (a bad feeling that results from a bad action) and shame (a bad feeling that results from being a bad person). Too often, mistakes or missteps are framed to make us feel shame, when we should really feel guilt. Guilt, in most cases, comes from a temporary state, where shame is designed to come from a more permanent one. But our ideas aren't us, and the failure of an idea shouldn't be equated to us being failures. Pixar's "brain trust" was designed to divorce the two and truly concentrate on developing ideas without shaming the idea's developers. They do this by embracing candor, believing in iteration, and leaving freedom of solution. If you inject these tenets into your feedback-giving process, you're more likely to create space for development without creating offense or judgment.

Embracing Candor: Catmull is quick to point out that most ideas suck at the beginning. More to the point, he says most Pixar movies suck when the first ideas are shared. The sooner this is embraced, the better. Few ideas are perfect on the first pass; even if they appear to be, as they develop problems will start to surface. Being able to speak up to refine the ideas, without criticizing the person or people presenting them, is a gift to anyone invested in making the idea work. And when we smooth over flaws with "Great work!" or "It's...good!" we rob people of the ability to make their ideas the best they could be. Anyone invested in creating a good product (as the thousands of people who work at Pixar undoubtedly are) needs candor, or their work will go toward a less than stellar idea. Nobody wants that.

Believe in Iteration: I have written previously about how general praise, devoid of customization or specificity, isn't particularly helpful and at its worst can be patronizing. A necessary element of this is being able to give actionable criticism. Telling somebody what they've done wrong isn't particularly helpful if there's no way for them to improve upon it. I tell the students I work with often, "I can't do anything about 'this sucks.'" But if I know more about the experience they're struggling with, what the problem is, and what they'd prefer to see, I can work with something of a road map in front of me, as opposed to the veritable game of Marco Polo that the phrase "this sucks" is providing. When you give feedback, give it in such a way that the person receiving this information can realistically go back and try again with some idea of what needs to be fixed. 

Allow for Freedom of Solution: With that said, your feedback doesn't always have to provide the solution within it; in fact, Pixar believes that the power of the Braintrust's feedback is that they don't prescribe a solution for the problems they identify. In fact, the director and his staff don't even have to address the notes that are given in these meetings. I believe that this is the strongest element of the Braintrust. The key part of the concept is that second word: trust. When we bring people on to a team, we have to trust that they know what they're doing and that they arrived in their positions for a reason. So if problems present themselves, we have to trust that they have the expertise and judgment to attack these issues and come to a feasible solution. There have been times that this strategy has failed at Pixar, and they do have mechanisms to address that. But for the most part, the people who come in with ideas are equipped to solve their own problems, if given the space and faith to do so. Think similarly of the people you work with.

Most of our ideas will not garner the audience that those of Ed Catmull and his team do. But they are just as deserving of a respectful and constructive process by which to develop them. Anyone interested in a feedback process that is (literally) award-winning should check out Creativity, Inc for some of the best reading on creativity, and how to productively harness it, I've done this year.