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John Eckberg

Site helps businesses catch new ideas
Facility helps spur creative meetings

Gus Valen, a 37-year-old Middletown resident, had some time on his hands in August when his wife, Kelly, traveled to Tennessee to visit her mother.

So Valen, chief executive and managing partner of the Valen Group, did what any serial entrepreneur would do. He created a new company: Blue Ocean Facilities, a meeting place for innovation and an extension of his Blue Ash-based strategy consulting firm.

Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky is the unheralded center of corporate entrepreneurship - or entrepreneurial behavior within a corporate structure - for the nation, Valen knew. But the region had little space for creative off-site meetings.

"I've never liked the word 'retreat,'" Valen says. "It means back away, put down your weapons, that sort of thing. Off-site signifies exactly what it means. You get out of your normal environment because people tend to be myopic in their normal environment."

The motif of this 2,200-square-foot meeting room in Blue Ash has as much to do with catching big fish as catching a big idea.

That's the point, too.

"Big ideas are about breaking the rules of normal thinking," Valen said. "You have to get away from the office, away from your normal environment to do that."

The problem of innovation, ultimately, is a people problem.

How do you create new products and spur creative risk-taking when organizations and companies loath risk and have systems in place to discourage risk behavior?

Successful innovation almost always requires three critical components: the right people, the right process and the component usually missing from most innovation programs -- the right environment.

Unlike the hunt club motif of most centers Blue Ocean has vibrant colors, contemporary art and multiple seating areas for adaptable work groups.

Other elements are more sublime:

Dry-erase boards have wheels so groups can swap boards and spaces.

Markers, dozens of markers, everywhere. "Usually, if you hold the pen, you have control of the meeting," he said. Not so when there are a few dozen markers scattered around.


Gus Valen, CEO of the Valen Group, created Blue Ocean Facilities in Blue Ash so companies could hold more creative off-site meetings to improve their businesses.
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THE ENQUIRER/ TONY JONES
Gus Valen, CEO of the Valen Group, created Blue Ocean Facilities in Blue Ash so companies could hold more creative off-site meetings to improve their businesses.

 About the CEO

Who: Gus Valen, 37, Middletown.

Tunes in the player: " African Groove," a compilation from Putumayo World Music; Talking Heads, "Stop Making Sense"; Van Morrison, "Moondance."

On the nightstand: " First 90 Days" (Harvard Business School Press, 2003) by Michael Watkins; "The Tipping Point" (Back Bay Books, 2003) by Malcolm Gladwell; "The Alchemist" (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006) by Paulo Coelho.



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