Creative Collaboration at Work: kyu Collective Canvas 2017

kyu has always set out to be a different type of collective, one driven by a unique purpose: to be a source of creativity that propels the economy and society forward. Three years since its founding, how are kyu and its member companies not only advancing this vision, but also transforming it into reality – especially through collaboration?

These were only a few key questions that over 200 kyu members and over 50 of our closest client partners explored at this year’s Collective Canvas in Montréal. Set in the spacious Arsenal Contemporary Art Gallery – also the venue for C2 Montréal – kyu’s second-annual gathering was a chance to welcome new faces and reconnect with colleagues, and moreover to spark discussions about all the ways we can work together.

“The Collective Canvas was particularly inspiring for those new members and stakeholders in kyu,” said CEO Michael Birkin. “Our philosophy, purpose, and approach shone through during the day and the reaction from those who have had limited exposure to kyu beforehand was extremely positive.”

Indeed the theme of collaboration was highlighted in various ways. During his opening remarks on the impressive 360-degree stage, Michael noted that collaboration is inherently built into kyu’s DNA. By focusing on companies that specialize in nine different yet complementary areas of expertise – ranging from branding to changing behavior to designing spaces and environments, to name only a few – kyu’s curated approach enables its member companies to develop flexible collaborations to the best advantage.

Clearly it also helps to have the best partners. The newest members were introduced, including Kelly Peters, CEO of BEworks, as well as Jonathan Carson, president of Mic media network. In another session kyu members discussed their most successful partnerships to date. For example, Deputy Executive Director Alex Pasini featured client work Sid Lee Paris has undertaken with member companies as well as with Hakuhodo; while Infrared Global CEO Robin Rusch touched on how kyu fosters a genuinely supportive environment by providing management guidance and advice.

Canvas showcased the latest exciting new developments, such as the kyu lab, a dedicated space in kyu’s New York headquarters. Also announced was “Forward Leadership,” an initiative that will empower kyu to activate and cultivate the next generation of creative leaders through gatherings, content and learning tools, and “master and apprentice” cohorts.

From Tokyo to London attendees traveled near and far but there were a few especially noteworthy guests. For the first time 50 of kyu’s closest client partners – ranging from Fortune 500 companies to non-profit and government organizations – were invited to gain a deeper understanding of kyu. During a panel discussion some even shared their personal and professional journeys as creative leaders: Krista Tippett, founder and host of On Being; Farah Golant, CEO of Girl Effect; James Brett, James Brett, recently-announced CEO of J.Crew; and Stefan Larsson, former CEO of Ralph Lauren.

“This was the first time we have brought clients fully into the tent – both metaphorically and literally. I got tremendous positive feedback from clients,” commented Keith Yamashita, Founder and Chairman of SYPartners. “They like the ambition of this; they like that we want to work differently, and that we’re trying to be a different kind of partner.”

Also among the notable guests were 30 senior members from kyu’s parent company Hakuhodo DY Holdings, including CEO Hirokazu Toda, CFO Kunihiko Sawada, and Senior Executive Corporate Officer Mitsumasa Matsuzaki. For many HDY members it was their first time not only at Canvas, but also at C2 Montréal. As Morihiko Hasebe, the Executive Creative Director at Hakuhodo, remarked: “I felt like I’ve met tons of new cousins who opened up my mind for creativity.”

Of course Canvas was not all talk and no play: In the afternoon participants broke out into interactive sessions. From small group discussions to a workshop focusing on the kyu lab, such activities encouraged building deeper relationships across the collective – the starting point of any meaningful partnership.

After Canvas concluded, a significant number of attendees stayed in Montréal to experience C2 Montréal – many for the first time. There the collective spirit was fully at work: Master classes led by BEworks, IDEO, Sid Lee, and SYPartners were high in demand and among the first to sell out.

Inspiring and insightful, the 2017 kyu Collective Canvas demonstrated that kyu has come a long way even in the last 12 months. Though to be sure collaboration is never easy, this year’s event made clear that kyu and its member companies are committed more than ever to building kyu’s long-term vision – together.

As Keith aptly sums up: “We can all serve as ambassadors of the ideas [at Canvas], rallying our colleagues back home.”

Photo courtesy of C2