We had the good fortune of connecting with Christiane Michaelis and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Christiane, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Risk comes to us in many forms. Sometimes risk stands in front of us like a giant, demanding a black or white decision. Either you take the parachute and jump, or you stay in the plane. I was in this either-or situation when I found myself in love with a man who lived on the other side of the globe. We hadn’t been able to spend a whole lot of time together, but nevertheless we were convinced we were right for one another. I decided to move from Germany to Texas. That included leaving my well-paid tenure track position, selling everything I owned, and saying good-bye to my family and friends of 39 years. It also included jumping from a one-person entity to being a 5-people-family — becoming the step-mom of three. Some told me I was brave — their way of saying that what I was doing was insanely risky. For me it didn’t feel like taking a risk because I knew this was what I needed to do. Risk can’t be determined as an absolute value; risk depends on what is at stake.

Risk often shows up as an unpleasant feeling (a tightness in the chest, a rumbling in the belly). We feel uneasy when we are leaving the safety zone for the open waters. Therefore we might avoid going to a place where things can go wrong altogether. Instead of putting ourselves out there we stay in our comfort zone. But for others risk can also be exhilarating, like the rush of adrenaline that makes young people chase each other in dangerous car races. This kind of risk-taking is mostly seen as overly reckless.

What is the right amount of risk taking? When are we playing it too safe, and when are we being hazardous? Finding the right balance is a challenge. That’s when we don’t have to think of risk as a black or white decision; rather, we are choosing the right tone of grey.

When I started my business, The Dirty Easel, I was full of optimism that the concept I had developed would work, that my business plan was solid. Yet, since I had no entrepreneurial experience I was also cautious. We all know that 70% or more of all businesses fail. Therefore I wanted to bootstrap my business without the heavy burden of debt and try to keep the overhead minimal. I chose a model that I like to call the food-trailer principle. Many great restaurants in Austin have started as food trailers, testing with lessened financial risk whether their concepts and recipes find customers. Starting with a lower risk meant that the growth of my business was slow at first, but it also helped me to keep my business alive. Without taking huge financial risks I was able to learn, pivot, adapt, and build.

Risk and fear are inseparable siblings. What we need is just the right dose of fear that lets us be aware of the dangers without limiting us to grow and expand.

Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
The purpose of my business — The Dirty Easel — is to unlock the creative potential in people, teams, and organizations. I am often asked about the name of my company. The creative process is messy — we have to be willing to roll-up our sleeves and get our hands dirty. I incorporate art-based, experiential learning that is backed by science to unleash creativity. The medium I typically use is painting and that’s where the easels get dirty while the canvases and ideas transform.

My goal is not to help people become artists — none of my clients are artists or have the intention of becoming one. Instead I teach how to think like an artist and how to apply that mindset to find solutions for non-art related problems. My job is to show people how they can collaborate creatively, and how to imagine and develop new ideas that drive innovation.

I unlock creativity as a keynote speaker and as a facilitator in leadership training, team and talent development. I believe that learning sticks when it is fun and engages our hands, mind, intuition, and intellect. I create experiences that grow a culture of creativity and innovation.

In the past five years that I have run my business I found that people are now very much aware about the relevance of creativity as the engine for innovation. Most of them also understand that no business will be able to survive without making innovation part of their DNA. What I see still often missing is knowing HOW to build creative literacy and culture across an entire team or organization. That’s what gets me excited about rolling up my sleeves with a corporate team and getting messy together.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
One of my favorite events in Austin is the East Austin Studio Tour. Walking between studios, garages, and houses of artists is an intimate, personal way to meet local artists. It is fun to explore art which was created in my city and to be able to talk about it and learn from the artists’ ideas and influences. I always leave inspired. The Austin Startup Crawl is another fun tour strolling through our rich startup scene. Sipping a beer in some hip modern office architecture you get a good feel for the Austin vibe — the breeding ground for new business ideas. I promise you will get why many companies want to move to Austin.

I also love visiting the new central library, of course Zilker Park and Barton Springs, listening to some funky music in front of Central Market, hanging out at local breweries like Live Oak (great hefeweizen — the German in me is speaking) and heading out to soak in the beauty of the hill country.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I want to give a shoutout to an organization that is a fantastic support system — Texas Women in Business (https://www.texaswomeninbusiness.org). Working on your own as an entrepreneur can be a lonely business. It is hard to overestimate how important it is to have soundboarding to share similar struggles with and to learn from. Being part of the board, working on a shared purpose, exchanging advice, giving and gaining confidence and support has been hugely beneficial. In this community of women I learned to understand not only the value of strong networks but also how to nurture and maintain them.

Website: https://thedirtyeasel.com

Instagram: @christiane.michaelis

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/christiane-michaelis/

Twitter: @ChrMichaelis

Facebook: @thedirtyeasel

Image Credits
Korey Howell Photography, Beverly Demafiles Schulze

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