TBI Q&A: Helen Baxter

'What's the best stress relief advice you've ever been given?' "Know when it’s good enough for rock and roll, and just publish it."
Back to the Future with MsBehaviour - Helen Baxter has a knack for making online creative tools seem easy and fun.


Mindmaps, indie music, authors and TV, web 2.0, 3D, mash-ups, twitter, micro-blogging, cloud computing...sounds like a list of everyday digital life in 2012, but it's just some of the creative tools recommended by Helen Baxter in her MsBehaviour Files in 2007 and 2008.

Crowdfunding followed close behind in June 2009, which Helen revisited this year at her Survive & Thrive workshop and online via Generator - along with a mindmap of strategy ideas, guides and case studies.

Mind-boggling stuff! But in true MsBehaviour style, she always makes it seem easy and fun, while helping lift the digital capacity of NZ's creative community.
A core objective for The Big Idea when she crossed our digital path in 2007, so it was inevitable she would help inform the strategy for TBI 2.0.

In recent years, Helen's continued to pop in with guest MsB files and work behind the scenes as an ongoing champion for The Big Idea and brain-picker for all things digital and futuristic - or just How to do Everything (2008)!

As we celebrate The Big Idea's 10th birthday, and move forward into the next decade of NZ's creative community online - it's timely to hear Helen's thoughts on the future.

"The challenge is not to get overwhelmed by the pace of change, and to find ways of keeping your creativity relevant."

During what hours of the day do you feel most inspired?

First thing in the morning, with a second wave at night.

How would a good friend describe your aesthetic or style?

Geek chic rock chick.

What aspect of your creative practice gives you the biggest thrill?

Introducing people to online tools that can transform their professional lives and hearing their success stories. It makes me feel good.

How does your environment affect your work?

Hugely. I can’t be creative or productive in an open plan office full of distractions, which is why I have been teleworking from a home studio since 2001. It means I can manage projects across multiple timezones and still have a life.

Do you like to look at the big picture or focus on the details?

Both. I like to have a telescopic view. Strategy is more fun but delivery is in the details.

What's your number one business tip for surviving (and thriving) in the creative industries?

Help other people realise their dreams at the same time as working on yours. I also like Terry Gilliam’s advice to young artists which is: perseverance, patience, pigheadedness.

Which of your projects to date has given you the most satisfaction?

Making the Creative Commons Kiwi animation which shows how Creative Commons licences work. We get messages from students and teachers all over the world saying how much they love CC Kiwi and how useful they have found the video.

Who or what has inspired you recently?

Mark Stevenson, author of An Optimists Tour of the Future, and Founder of the League of Pragmatic Optimists (LOPO). I saw him talk about the book and LOPO at a Creative HQ event, and interviewed him for the g33k show.  Now I’m helping build the LOPO community and launching the Wellington Chapter on October 10th, which will be the first chapter in the Southern Hemisphere. Join us and RSVP.

Tell us a bit about your background.

I started out in print publishing in the UK, before launching my first web business when I was twenty one. On the creative side I worked for WOMAD and was a stage manager in Theatre and Circus at Glastonbury of the Performing Arts for ten years.

I started teaching Internet skills in the mid 1990s, worked as an online community producer for a large digital agency, before becoming Editor of KnowledgeBoard.com, which I ran from a Waikato farmhouse when I first moved to New Zealand.

I launched a digital download label called TMet Recordings in 2003 releasing Kiwi dance music, was a Twisted Radio DJ, before forming Mohawk Media our creative communications agency and consultancy.  I’ve also been a technology commentator on Radio New Zealand, reporter for the g33k show on Alt TV & Kiwi FM, a Teaching Fellow at Victoria University and of course, I write the MsBehaviour Files at the Big Idea.

Tell us a bit about your recent and upcoming projects.

The big project I’m working on right now is remixing my columns, professional practice lectures, and the Creative Business Toolkit developed for People in Your Neighbourhood into a book. I’ll be publishing an ebook version this year, with a print on demand version in 2013.

If you could go back and choose a completely different career path to the one you've chosen, what would it be?

I’d probably study electronics, industrial design, and build robots.

What place is always with you, wherever you go?

The front of the dance-floor.

What's the best way to listen to music, and why?

Walking around Wellington on my headphones, as there’s always lots of fresh air and smiling people.

You are given a piece of string, a stick and some fabric. What do you make?

A cat toy.

What's the best stress relief advice you've ever been given?

Know when it’s good enough for rock and roll, and just publish it.

What’s great about today?

It’s sunny and we have Phlossy Roxx staying which is always fun.

What’s your big idea for 2013?

Turning the League of Pragmatic Optimists into a force for global good.

* * * The Big Idea 10th Birthday Questions * * *

What does The Big Idea mean to you?

I’ve been a member for over ten years and it was an excellent way to connect to the creative industries when I first moved to New Zealand. I’ve found work and friends through the community, and feel proud to have played a part in the Big Idea story.

What changes have you noticed in digital media in the past 10 years?

Ten years ago when we launched a digital download label to release our music we did it because we had to. Now there are plenty of ways for artists to publish and make money online. Also we rarely talk about ‘new media’ these days, though the phrase ‘old media’ is become more common for print and broadcast.

What are some of the opportunities and challenges for the next decade?

The report and infographic The Sky is Rising shows the true state of the entertainment industry which is not only healthy, it is growing across all of the sectors.  There has never been a better time to be a creative or content producer. The new wave of mobiles, tablets and ebook readers are opening up even more opportunities through print on demand services for musicians, writers and designers. We’re seeing the early days of transmedia, interactive media, machinima and gamification, with augmented reality overlays coming on glasses in the near future.

The challenge is not to get overwhelmed by the pace of change, and to find ways of keeping your creativity relevant. I’m inspired by companies like Moleskine who have recently teamed up with Evernote to create ‘smart notebooks’, or Burda Style with their sewing community. They are adapting to the digital age in clever ways without losing what made them special in the first place.

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

21 Nov 2012

Interests Cathy Aronson – The Big Idea Editor Cathy is a journalist, photo journalist and online editor.

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