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Entrepreneur, Strategist and Nation Builder Taylor Keen

March 13, 2012 7 comments

Fascinating profile subjects abound everywhere I turn.  Often times though I feel constrained to impart just how compelling a person’s story is by the limited space editors grant me.  The subject of this of this profile, Taylor Keen, is a case in point.  The 500 to 600 words allotted me to tell his story can only provide a hint of the complexity and nuance that attend his life and career journey. It’s a delightful writing challenge to be sure.  All I can hope is that I leave you the reader with an engaging glimpse of the man and a thirst to know more.

Taylor Keen

 

 

Entrepreneur, Strategist and Nation Builder Taylor Keen 

©by Leo Adam Biga

Soon to appear in Omaha Magazine

As the son of prominent, college-educated Native American parents who found success in and out of traditional circles, Creighton University‘s Taylor Keen says he grew up with the expectation “you had to walk in both worlds.”

He hails from northeast Oklahoma, where his late attorney father, Ralph F. Keen, was a conservative big wheel in Cherokee nation politics. His liberal Omaha Indian mother, Octa Keen, is a veteran nursing professional. He credits her for his being well-versed in traditional dances, songs and prayer ceremonies.

He successfully navigates “dual worlds” at Creighton as director of the Native American Center and as executive director of the Halo Institute, a business incubator. He’s also managing partner of his own consulting firm. Talon Strategy, which provides clients competitive intelligence and strategic facilitation solutions.

Off-campus, he maintains ceremonial duties as a member of the Omaha Hethuska Warriors. He previously did economic development consulting for the Omaha and Cherokee nations and served a stint on the Cherokee National Council.

He joined Creighton in 2008 in the wake of a tribal political controversy that pitted him against fellow Cherokee nation elected leaders. The issue involved the descendants of slaves held by the Cherokee in earlier times. Keen, who had eyes on becoming chief, says he “committed political suicide” when he took an unpopular stance and advocated these descendants enjoy the same rights as all native Cherokees.

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t the first time Keen survived personal upset. When his parents divorced he and his siblings bounced back and forth between Oklahoma and Omaha. With deep roots in each place, Keen calls both home.

Even from his earliest dealings with the outside world he says he was always aware “I was very different from other people,” adding, “That was a crucial life lesson. Identity for all of us as human beings is where it begins and ends.” He says his own “strong sense of identity” has helped him thrive.

He graduated from Millard North and ventured east to attend a private boarding school in Massachusetts to improve his chances of getting into an Ivy League institution. His plan worked when Dartmouth accepted him. He also studied at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and Harvard Business School. A paper he wrote attracted the attention of Metropolitan Fiber Systems, a spin-off of Peter Kiewit and Sons. “I was hired as a graduate intern at a very exciting time, working for all these powerful executives at a fresh young startup. I was hooked,” he says. “I returned the next summer and they sent me overseas.”

He remained with the firm after it was bought by World Com and then landed at Level 3 Communications, though it proved a short stay.

Swept up in the dot com-technology-telecom boom, he tried his hand at his own online business and though he says “it failed miserably,” he adds, “I learned a ton.  I think all entrepreneurs learn more from their mistakes than from their successes.

My class at Harvard Business School, whether we like it or not, will be forever remembered as the dot com class. I believe 80 percent of us at least had some association with dot coms.”

Encouraged in the belief that his true calling lay in teaching, he’s found the right fit at Creighton. There he combines two of his favorite things by easing the path of Natives in higher education and by helping emerging businesses prepare themselves for angel investors .

“Creighton’s been very good to me,” he says. “It has very much let me play towards my passions and my strengths.”

Steve Gordon, the Man Behind RDQLUS Creative, Lives and Breathes the Life and Career of an Independent Creative

March 13, 2012 Leave a comment

 

Everyone is all aflutter these days about the creative class.  Sometimes it makes you wonder what all the fuss is all about.  While there’s nothing really brand new, except perhaps the term itself, when it comes to people either identifying themselves as creatives or getting labeled with that name, there is undoubtedly a shift underway that finds more and more people working for themselves by pursuing some passion, often with a creative aspect to it.  This phenomenon does tend to capture the public’s and the media’s imagination because there is a sense of freedom and adventure to what these folks are doing, though in most cases this notion of independence is rather romanticized or idealized because when you come right down to it creatives are, in their own ways, just as hidebound and constricted as the rest of the population.  I mean, after all, they do have clients to please and deadlines to meet and taxes to pay, and on and on and on.  It’s not like they’re living off the grid or anything like that.  Indeed, creatives tend to be hyperconnected souls whose dependence on things like digital social media and social networking are to the extreme, which means that in an electrical power failure scenario they will be left untethered and disconnected more than most.  Of course, I shouldn’t talk about creatives as if they are some alien species because I am one myself, except for the hyperconnected bit.  The subject of this short profile, graphic designer Steve Gordon, is a prototypical creative in that everything he does is an expression of his branded creative self.

 

Steve Gordon

 

 

 

Steve Gordon, the Man Behind RDQLUS Creative, Lives and Breathes the Life and Career of an Independent Creative

©by Leo Adam Biga

Soon to appear in Omaha Magazine

 

Designer Steve Gordon’s urbanized sense for what’s in-vogue permeates his lifestyle and RDQLUS Creative signature work. He indulges a love for hip hop, sneakers and bikes. He provides brand development, identity design and creative direction services for corporate clients, big and small, near and far.

Growing up in the North Omaha projects, Gordon displayed an inquisitive mind and aptitude for art. Attending Omaha Creighton Prep exposed him to a larger world.

“I was encouraged to explore and I think exploration is a major part of creativity and innovation,” he says. “All of that comes from the wide open spaces of being able to reach and grasp at straws, get some things wrong. After I bought into that so many things opened up. At Prep I fell in love with architecture. It still drives a lot of the work I do. My work is a lot more structured than the free-form work of some other designers. Mine is very vertical and Art Deco influenced.”

His design endeavors shared time with his passions for music and competitive athletics. He “fell in love” with music as a kid and went on to success as a DJ, producer and remixer. His skill as a triple jumper earned him scholarship offers from top colleges and universities. After two years as a Cornhusker in Lincoln he transferred to the University of South Dakota, where he won multiple national titles. He was ranked among the world’s best.

His pursuit of an Olympic berth and a music career took him around the world. Back home, he worked corporate gigs before launching RDQLUS Creative in 2005.

“As an artist you want that creative outlet to do something a bit more outside the box, something you’re passionate about,” he says of going the indie route.

The sneaker aficionado recently combined two of his passions when NIKEiD invited him to design shoes and to document the process online.

“I didn’t want to just put some pretty colors on a shoe, I wanted there to be some story, some branding. I’m very much into fashion, style, aesthetics and athletics, and so I wanted to design a shoe that spoke to all of those things.

“Guys like myself, though we dress in denims and sneakers rather than wing-tips and a tie, we’re no less in tune with wanting to look sharp and present ourselves well.”

He’s authored two books on freelance design for Rockport Publishers, whose Rock, Paper, Ink blog features his column, Indie. He also does public speaking gigs about design. He’s a big tweeter, too.

“I love communicating with people.”

“At times I wonder how I keep everything up in the air. All of the things I’m involved in, I really have a true belief they feed each other. Someone asked me once, ‘What is it you do for a living?’ and I said, ‘I hope my answer is always, I live for a living.’ What I do to sustain that, well, that’s a different story.”

This one-man shop embodies the independent creative class spirit of engaging community. “Design and creativity are not about art,” he says, “but communication. We’re visual problem solvers.” He says “the really fervent” way he worked to better himself as an athlete “is a lot of like how I still approach life in general,” adding, “If I could work so hard at something that was a game and that gave me fulfillment and made a lasting legacy for myself, then how can I not enjoy life that same way?”

 

 Steve Gordon with fellow creative Megan Hunt, aka, Princess Lasertron
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