Welcome to Digital Homesteading.

This collection of resources from 9 Clouds helps you build your business and community.


5 Ways to Crowdsource Creativity


The surprising part of living above the Arctic Circle is not the lack of sunlight. It’s the fact that you can see the “sun” even on the darkest of days in the form of the Northern Lights.

The Northern lights, or aurora borealis, appears two or three times a week during the winter in my former home of Tromsø, Norway. As a tour guide, I learned that the sun throws particle into our stratosphere. There, they collide with oxygen and nitrogen to create the beautiful light overhead.

When I returned to my home state of South Dakota to start 9 Clouds, this imagery stuck with me. I was back home, in a sleepy railroad town. For many people, it was a place to leave. In my mind, however, it could be like Tromsø in the winter. A place of potential, where sunlight exists just overhead.

Moving home, I wanted to create a company that could change the world and a community with a vibrant culture and belief in itself. I didn’t come home because the perfect job was here or because it was the perfect location. Instead, I came because this was the place I could create. I spent almost 10 years traveling the world, searching for the perfect place to live before realizing I could build it and start a company that would help others do the same.

Unknowingly, this experience led to a concept that will help cities and businesses grow in the Information Age: crowdsourced creativity.

Growing Creativity Through Crowdsourcing

When we hear the word crowdsourced, we may think of Kickstarter or the idea that you can put a project online and get other people to give you money or help to finish it. That’s not what we’re talking about here. A crowdsourced project is a project in which anyone is welcome to contribute.

Crowdsourcing creativity is an important concept because creativity is at the heart of innovation, business, and, ultimately, economic development. If we want our communities and businesses to survive, and thrive, in our Information Age, creativity is required.

Unfortunately in most cities and businesses, the idea of creativity and economic development is someone’s job. If that’s not your role, you’re not invited to participate. This traditional model of exclusion means that the best ideas don’t happen and many talented people don’t participate. Fewer ideas mean slower innovation and growth.

Cities and businesses that welcome input and participation from residents and employees see faster innovation and growth. There are five lessons we have learned at 9 Clouds and in my community of Brookings to inspire and utilize ideas from residents, customers, employees and outsiders.

5 Ways to Crowdsource Creativity

1. Feed the Leaders

If we come up with a great idea, we usually want the credit. That’s not how it should work. Our job as business and community leaders is to support those who could lead.

Encourage them, give them resources and responsibility, and most importantly, provide legitimacy. Build the stage and push them into the spotlight. With a gentle nudge, you create a deep bench of talent and creativity. Most importantly, you give permission for others to take action and lead.

2. Infuse the Arts

Too often, events and businesses are devoid of culture. Soggy green beans, hotel conference rooms, florescent lights and grey cubicles. What attracts most Millennials to a community or job is not the job itself. Instead, it is the opportunity to create combined with the culture of the community or team.

In our communities, this means the arts are a critical linchpin. In our businesses, this means that creative endeavours are essential. Why not include the arts in everything you do? At our community events, we invite visual artists, local food producers and artisan coffee and beer makers to showcase their talents. We pay them and invite them to participate, so they are supported financially and have an opportunity to introduce their work to the world.

At 9 Clouds, we just completed a company retreat to think from the 10,000 foot view we want to create. Providing outlets for our employees to do work that excites them improves our work as a company and provides a more fulfilling professional environment.

Think artistically to create vibrancy.

3. Create Your Welcome Mat

What’s the easiest way for a new community member or a potential client to “meet you” and get involved?

In our community, we host 1 Million Cups. It’s every week at the same time so people around town can direct newcomers to the same place each week. The event is easy to sneak into anonymously. It’s equally easy to use the event to meet new people in the community who can instantly connect and help.

For our company, our blog is the welcome mat for digital visitors. We share what we believe and lessons we have learned working online. Long before they talk with us, potential customers get a sense of who we are and what we do.

In many communities and businesses, you need to know the right people to get involved or be willing to take a huge leap of faith by investing money in a company you just met. This is the antithesis of a crowdsourced model.

If we are truly crowdsourcing creativity, we need to give everyone permission to participate. If I have to talk to the right person or ask for permission, crowdsourcing is no longer possible. Make your community and business open and welcoming. That invites new people into leadership, connects the community, attracts clients, and ultimately, grows your business and community.

4. Be Radically Inclusive

As Richard Florida notes in his research, tolerance is a key element to attract creatives to your community (and, I would add, essential to a successful business). Increase the tolerance of your community and business by being radically inclusive. Take special attention to welcome people with different ideas, backgrounds, ethnicities, and genders to your events and staff. In particular, invite women and people of color to lead.

Inclusivity is more than tolerance. You should not merely tolerate people who are different, you should invite them in and push them into the spotlight. That is what makes a community vibrant and a business innovative.

5. Create Moonshots

Create a moonshot for your business or community. This is the audacious idea that inspires action and seems just a little bit crazy (like landing on the moon sounded in 1960).

In my hometown of Brookings, we proclaimed ourselves the Creative Capital of the North. This is Brookings mind you, not Brooklyn! We decided that our community would be the creative hub of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota. This moonshot is inclusive because creativity could include innovation in manufacturing, art, music, etc. We set a goal for our community that inspires residents to take action in whatever way they think is best.

At 9 Clouds, we aim to inspire communities to connect and thrive in the digital age through our content and aim to change the way automotive dealers market and sell through our services. We don’t just want customers, we want to see change in our world and the market of our clients. This moonshot doesn’t specify how we get there, so it challenges our team and clients to think forward about what is possible and what could be done that no one else is considering. This push towards innovation means creativity and new ideas are welcomed and necessary at our company.

Find Your Northern Lights

If our business and community can inspire others to act, we create an impact greater than any work we can do ourselves. In other words: it’s not what we do, it’s who we inspire.

Your business and community have the potential to change the world. It requires action and vision, but by crowdsourcing this work, it might just happen.