What does it take to pick the next big trendsetter out of a crowd? How can these cultural leaders be developed? These are the problems Jason Mayden, former top Nike designer, is working on solving.
In Mayden’s case, as Mark Wilson writes in his Co.Design article “Ex-Nike Designer On How To Cultivate Tomorrow’s Top Creative Talent“, he’s repeated a common pattern by going from design house to venture capital firm. Among his roles, he’s on the lookout for dynamic young people who have already defined themselves and have diverse but complementary interests. These youth come from “middle American urban markets” but would be able to hold their own on leading college campuses. Mayden uses the term “cultural alchemists” to describe this segment.
“It’s not just coding talent. The cultural alchemists have a very specific profile,” Mayden says. “They fall between 14 and 25. They’re focused on immersive experiences, deeper engagements. They’re not people who want to pick a lane, they want to be a lane. They’re drawing from different influences. They have access to a planet. Their favorite food ranges from empanadas to sushi. Their music ranges from EDM to classical. The alchemist is a DJ, a coder, she grows a microfarm, she plays sports.”
While I concern myself with a slightly different problem set, including answers to the question What does it take for us to supercharge our own creativity and bring our work to new audiences?, I think we should add this definition of the cultural alchemist as an essential creative archetype. As creatives, we must sample broadly and deeply as we continue to discover—whether it’s a new mode or matter for our work. Sure, we may not meet the age criteria, but the call to action knows no age limit. We can continually curate ourselves to the most rarified state possible.
Photo above courtesy of Jason Mayden.