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Field Report from the Creativity Bootcamp in New York: ‘Event of Enormous Value’

Promoting creativity and innovation is one of the ten strategic priorities defined by the Bertelsmann Executive Board for the years ahead. The Creativity Bootcamp is an important tool that will help fulfil this objective. Employees from all divisions come together for this creativity competition developed by Bertelsmann University, to quickly generate ideas for new products or services and underpin them with realistic business models. After twice being held in Berlin, the creativity competition was recently hosted in New York for the first time. 

One of the 41 participants was David Zimmer of Penguin Random House. He wrote a personal field report from his first Creativity Bootcamp for us:

„Last week’s Bertelsmann University Creativity Bootcamp brought together a diverse group of 41 colleagues from across the world of Bertelsmann, including 20 Penguin Random House people as well as employees from such companies as arvato Bertelsmann, BMG, Gruner + Jahr, and RTL Group, for intensive, focused and productive work in New York City for the better part of three days, November 2-4. Everything took place at MEET on Chrystie, a contemporary, multi-service loft space built for creative strategy and business development sessions on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

Eight ideas for the teams to work on

The Bootcamp got rolling with 41 individual 60-second business-idea pitches, which all participants had prepared in advance, pertaining to such topics as the next generation of video (virtual and augmented reality), content creation (immersive, trans-media), the future of advertising (mobile, social, data-driven) and conversational e-commerce. After the pitches, participants picked three ideas for which they wanted to be a potential team member. The eight ideas with the highest number of votes were selected to be developed into full business plans. Bootcampers were subsequently divided into eight groups of four to six, tasked with developing 7-minute presentations that would effectively sell their proposed business models to the jury. My group, Team 6, worked on Storé, a platform for custom merchandise using book jacket art.

From Wednesday late afternoon through Friday morning, the teams worked together in “virtual bunkers,” individual alcoves equipped with smart boards, post-it notes and digital connections, using a suggested multi-faceted canvas, to refine their product ideas into viable businesses. Team members were assigned roles such as numbers cruncher, market researcher, product guru and stage lover. They were also encouraged to get valuable feedback from such Bootcamp coaches as Alison Rich, VP, Publishing Innovation Development, Penguin Random House; Jens Uehlecke, Managing Director, Greenhouse Innovation Lab; and Simon Meyborg, Senior Technologist, Greenhouse Innovation Lab. In addition, five creative art designers from Penguin Random House were on-call to help enhance the teams’ presentation design elements.

And the winner is… the book-recommending chatbot

Early afternoon on Friday, the eight teams presented their 7-minute pitches to five jurors: Jens-Uwe Bornemann, SVP, Digital Europe Fremantle Media; Urs Cete, Managing Partner, BDMI; Nina von Moltke, EVP, Digital Publishing Development & Author Platforms, Penguin Random House; Marcel Reichart, EVP, Digital Development and Partnerships, Bertelsmann; and Teddy Citrin from Greycroft (a VC fund specializing in media).

After consulting for about 20 minutes, the judges announced their favorites. One was “Edition,” customized and curated literary collections for homes, hotels and other spaces. Another was Penguin Random House University, a PRH alternative to NYU and Columbia publishing courses. Our own project Storé also got high praise from the judges, which we were of course very happy about. But the judges ultimately awarded top honors to Penguin Perfect Picks, a reader-centric chatbot, a kind of digital Penguin Hotline 2.0.

Hopeful about turning it into a real project

World globes were given to the top-team members: Saskia Martin, Project Manager, Development, RTL Group; Sara Dayton from Penguin Young Readers; Casey Blue Jamesof the Penguin Publishing Group; Amber Smith of Arvato Systems; and Katherine McCahillof Penguin Random House. Ms. Dayton, who originated the idea, said, “I am very hopeful that we’ll be able to turn Penguin Picks into a real project. There is definitely work to be done refining the idea and taking into account feedback from the jurors, but it was gratifying to hear that it fits well with initiatives happening elsewhere in PRH and in other Bertelsmann divisions. And it was especially exciting to hear from the VC juror, Teddy Citrin, that the idea is something that could actually get funded by startup investors.”

Of course we all shared our impressions, and the feedback was positive down the line. Many spoke of a “fantastic” or “outstanding” experience. There was special praise for the creative start-up feel of the event, the many ideas for the workaday business routine, and the opportunity to get to know colleagues from other parts of the Bertelsmann world. People also expressed their happiness at working for a company that so values creativity and innovation. For me and my Penguin Random House colleagues, the Creativity Bootcamp had enormous value, and I think it’s safe to say that the participants from the other divisions would agree.” (benet)

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