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Insights — Research

Outside the Box: Corgan Create

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Melissa Hoelting
Associate, Assistant Director — Hugo


For Hugo, Corgan’s research and innovation team, supporting Create is a natural fit. The yearly initiative aims to foster employee’s big, forward-thinking, innovative ideas that fall outside the scope of their studio work. In 2023, our Create team – Samantha Flores, Melissa Hoelting, and Chuck Blackford – fostered 12 applicant teams from five offices to help them make their big ideas actionable. Ultimately, a jury selected three teams as finalists to further develop their ideas with funding from Hugo: a sustainability initiative to reduce Corgan’s office waste; the design of flexible, acoustically isolating, modular bench seating; and the development of cost effective, super white and super black paints to improve heat reflection and light absorption, respectively.

From March through November, Hugo supports selected teams with funding and resources to develop their ideas as well as accountability to push their project forward. The process is iterative and research-based, supporting the firm’s culture of curiosity. While the results of the projects are impressive, the process can be just as rewarding.


“Constraints can spark innovation in an interesting way”

Ingenuity is the backbone of Create, but being told “you can do anything” can often stunt a project or an idea – a blank slate with total freedom is often more challenging than having structure and restrictions. It may seem counterintuitive, but constraints can spark innovation in an interesting way by forcing teams to think outside of the box and create novel solutions. The structure of Create challenges participants to be more reactive to needs, problem solve, and tackle focused, achievable endeavors. For each team, the process cycled between discovery and exploration, tempered by hurdles along the way. As mentors, we aim to help each group see their hurdles as opportunities for improvement and redirection to a better solution.

“Failures can sometimes be celebrated”

For any ambitious project, failure along the way is part of the process. These setbacks can kick you down – but they can also be the turning point to turn the project into something great. As an example, the 2023 sustainability initiative team had a plan that they were ready to go full steam ahead on, but after a survey and some research, the numbers they got pushed them to prioritize focusing on implementing composting (where the majority of our waste was) instead of revamping our recycling system. Instead of stalling out, the team pivoted their efforts and rethought their strategy – instead of “what can we do?” their hurdle became “what will make the greatest impact on our current behaviors?”. Our job was to help them refocus their passion, establish the storytelling needed to get others on board and link them with the firmwide leadership necessary to make their plan a reality. 


“Success is continually evaluated”

When we advise each team, we want to be able to link their inspiration and curiosity with a concrete goal and actionable plan. We are balancing creativity and feasibility, but we want to see the rough - and help you build a plan for success. Corgan invests in this process to help develop our staff, even if they aren't a finalist. Teams that aren’t funded can still be successful – success is continually evaluated as ideas evolve. For Create as a program, if we see the same people come back next year with the same idea but a new approach, that is a win in our book. Create is about learning to target the “why” and understand the “how.” What we love to see is people really working to make what they are passionate about happen – not seeing feedback as a negative but as a necessary step toward success.

“Invest in your intangible ideas to bring them to life”

At Corgan, we know that if you are curious about one thing you are probably curious about a lot of other things – we are proud of our Create finalists for in 2023 and can’t wait to see what you come up with in 2024. Big ideas can come with a big price tag, and we want to remove barriers to creative expression. Create exists to invest in your intangible ideas to bring them to life. Come with your big idea, and we'll help you drill down on how to accomplish it. Once we receive your initial submission, we will meet with you to help you develop your idea further for jury review.

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