Mt. Airy innovator brings creativity to corporations

by Len Lear
Posted 6/13/24

If you are running a major corporation but are stuck in a rut and need to be extricated by some "out-of-the-box" thinking, you may want to call upon Natalie Nixon.

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Mt. Airy innovator brings creativity to corporations


If you are running a major corporation but are stuck in a rut and need to be extricated by some "out-of-the-box" thinking, you may want to call upon West Mt. Airy resident Natalie Nixon, as many other corporations have done. Known as "the creativity whisperer to the C-Suite," Nixon is a creativity strategist who advises leaders on achieving transformative business results by "applying wonder and rigor."

She is a highly sought-after global keynote speaker, valued for her expertise on creativity, the future of work and innovation. Her company, Figure 8 Thinking, was named among the top 20 women-led innovation firms in the country in 2021 by Core77, an industrial design magazine. Her clients have included Microsoft, Bloomberg, Salesforce, Comcast, Citrix, Morrison & Foerster, Living Cities and VaynerMedia.

Nixon was selected for Real Leaders' "Top 50 Keynote Speakers in the World for 2022" list and has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company and Inc. magazines. She is the author of the award-winning "The Creativity Leap" (2020) and an honoree in the creativity category of Fast Company's 2021 "World Changing Ideas" Awards.

Jenna Silver, vice president for advertising sales marketing for Univision, said about Nixon, a West Mt. Airy resident for 15 years, "She is a skilled storyteller and presenter and a great partner in the process."

Nigel Prentice, IBM global head of accessibility, said, "Dr. Natalie Nixon had us all on the edge of our seats for her entire presentation."

Nixon grew up in East Mt. Airy near Stenton and Mansfield and went to Houston Elementary School, then Germantown Friends School from grades 7 to 12. She also studied modern dance at Settlement Music School in South Philadelphia "with a great teacher, the late Joan Kerr." She earned a bachelor's degree with honors at Vassar College in anthropology and African studies, a master's degree at Thomas Jefferson University in global textile marketing and a Ph.D. in design management at Westminster University in London.

"Companies must build creative competency," Nixon told us last week. "Many of them do not understand that creativity is important not just in the arts but in business as well. Humans are hardwired to be creative. It produces value. Corporate executives are under a lot of pressure to make sure their company meets its goals. I help them integrate creativity with their business strategy. It seems to resonate with clients."

Nixon has been a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania in social innovation and design for social impact and the founding director of the Strategic Design MBA program at Philadelphia University (now Jefferson University) in East Falls.

In 2014, Nixon was asked to give a TEDx Talk about the future of work and how it would change. "I thoroughly enjoyed it," she said. "One thing then led to another. I was asked to give more talks. I tell the audience they must innovate and improvise, as in jazz. After six months, John (her husband, a lawyer with the Duane Morris firm) said I should formalize this, so I did more and more.

"In 2017, I left academia and moved the speaking and consulting from a side hustle to a business. I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity to use my skills and speak to diverse audiences all around the world. I am always trying to develop new ways to speak about these ideas, and I get immediate feedback."

Some of Nixon's most frequent topics are: "The New I in AI: Imagination, Inquiry and Intuition," "Curiosity is the Currency of the Future: Building a Culture of Inquiry" and "The Future of Work is Jazz: Applying Improvisation, Collaboration and Foresight."

Nixon has lived in Germany, Brazil, Portugal, Israel and Sri Lanka and is fluent in Portuguese and Spanish. "My favorite was Brazil," she said. "It is very special. I love the language, the people and the climate. It was the first time I was not in an ethnic minority. You don't realize how different that is until you live in it."

Nixon is still passionate about dancing and has won awards in dance competitions. She does Latin and rhythm salsa, cha-cha, West Coast swing and hustle, and hip-hop at DanceFit in Chestnut Hill. "I'm not half bad," she said modestly. "Ballroom dancing is so much joy. It also challenges the memory and is good exercise. I am now learning bolero for a November showcase at the Society Hill Dance Academy."

The much-traveled public speaker is now producing "The Young Vote," a documentary film. Its director, Diane Robinson, is working on getting widespread distribution. Nixon's mother, now 84, is a fiber artist and former executive assistant at Merck Pharmaceuticals who learned to play the cello at age 50. Her dad, now deceased, was a pharmaceutical sales rep. Nixon has one stepdaughter, Sydney, 23, a graduate of Penn Charter and the University of Pennsylvania who now lives in Washington.

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