2015 Alumni Achievement Award Winner Jonathan Vehar
Jonathan Vehar, was the winner of the 2015 Alumni Achievement Award. He is a Senior Faculty Member and Global Portfolio Manager at the Center for Creative Leadership, one of the world’s top 5 executive education programs. He works to expand people’s understanding of creative thinking and to help organizations develop cultures of innovation and great work environments. Jonathan graduated from the Center for Applied Imagination in 1995.
I grew up in a household that was all about creativity. My mother is a composer and a concert pianist. My father was a high school music teacher and choral director. My sister was in theater and dance. I wanted to design America Cup yachts. So I went to mechanical engineering school and discovered I can’t do calculus. After that, I went into advertising, because I thought that advertising was the only place you could express your creativity in the workplace.
How did you end up with a M.S. Degree in Creativity?
A friend at the ad agency told me about a cool class she was taking at Buffalo State. Actually, our first conversation was an argument with me insisting that you cannot teach creativity. But she got me curious, and I took a class with Roger Firestien, who brought in people from all kinds of professions to talk about how they used creativity in their work. I got hooked. I wanted to learn more about creative problem solving and about facilitation. I wanted to apply what I was learning at the ad agency. I asked my boss if I could make facilitation more a part of my job. She said no. About that time, we were in LA, shooting a 30 second TV spot about a happy white family reunited around an ice cream cone. It was the time of the Rodney King riots, and all around us the city was in flames. That’s when I decided I didn’t want my legacy on earth to be a series of bad 30-second TV spots. I quit my job, moved in with my parents and started the program.
What did you gain from the experience?
At first, I intended to be the world’s greatest new product idea generator. Then somewhere along the way, because we had to train other people, I was drawn in, watching the light bulb go off in people’s heads when they discovered they could solve the problems they were struggling with. I got excited about educating people to make their lives better.
What happened after you graduated?
On the day my Masters project was signed off, I got a job offer from the Creative Education Foundation as director of training and consulting. Then I worked doing training with Roger Firestien before starting my own training company, New & Improved, with Bob Eckert. I did that for 14 years before joining CCL.
Is your degree still relevant in your work?
I use it every day. In my role as senior faculty, I design and deliver programs mostly around leadership. CCL is now setting up a practice with a clear viewpoint of what innovation leadership looks like in a way that makes innovation more than a buzzword. My role is to create that content. The foundations I learned at Buffalo State are the foundations of my work on this project. It’s shaped the way I see the world, the way I see creative thinking and innovation and leadership. These are life skills that you can learn about from very few places.