David Barnum

David Barnum

“We wanted to build an organization where you’re not competing, but pulling together, maintain a sense of freedom that comes with the pirate life. We have people all over the place — in Omaha, Montana, Maine — and are able to collaborate effectively. Creative production is a mix of individual contribution and collaboration.”

Pronouns: He, His

Meet David Barnum. David describes himself as “an artist, designer, creative director, brand ringmaster, sensei… not necessarily in that order.” A descendant of P.T. Barnum — really — he’s currently the Principal for Brand Strategy & Design with Giant Shoulders, a creative cooperative that helps organizations clearly articulate their mission and create the strategies that help them achieve a positive impact. David’s clients have included TED, American Express, Delta and DuPont. He and his family reside in the sleepy hamlet of Bronxville. He adds, “just don’t call it upstate.” David enjoys cycling, skiing, hiking, drawing/painting, gardening, cooking, and martial arts. You can follow him via Twitter or LinkedIn.

What Does He Do?

David has over 30-years of experience in brand development, design, advertising, marketing, and early-stage business development. As a principal for Giant Shoulders, he leads bespoke teams of strategists, designers, artists, writers, and developers in building the digital and physical experiences that engage audiences and build cultural movements.

Current Projects:

  • Brave Venture Labs, based in Nairobi, Kenya, is a recruitment start-up that applies principles developed by Shalom Schwartz leveraging cultural values as a key to build high-performing teams. “There’s lots of buzz around how the next wave of tech innovation will come out of Africa. There’s more communitarian sensibility there.” Brave sought out Giant Shoulders based on its manifesto for cultural alignment and had them visit last July to help build its brand foundation.
  • Save The Great South Bay. David has been the “practical advisor” in a grassroots effort to restore the Great South Bay on the South Shore of Long Island. Their strategy has been informed by the Charity: Water model — show results, then ask for money. Thus far, it has organized a Creek Defender Program, which enables volunteers to act as personal stewards of the 41 creeks which flow into the South Bay, and — through Blue Point Brewery — it created “Drink The Bay Clean,” which enables supporters to support clean-up efforts while enjoying a tasty India Pale Lager. As of this winter, their Facebook group is 15,000 strong.

How Did He Get Into This Work?

“The instinct not just to do well — but to do good — was instilled in me from an early age.”

David was raised in Connecticut by a “mad man” (the Don Draper kind) and a working artist. It was a mixed marriage in that his mad man dad was a veteran and a “cloth coat Republican” [albeit one who later got his M.D. and offered free medical care], while his mother was a German Socialist. While his father made sure that his grades were up to par, his mom nurtured him as a “free-range” kid — encouraging him to join her for spur-of-the-moment outings to the Met, even if it meant skipping classes. “Living in a place of tension gave me a centrist perspective. It made me, in general, a peacemaker and a natural diplomat.”

David joined the world of work after earning his fine arts degree at the tender age of 18. By 25 he was leading one of the first digital design studios. He chose “the pirate life” — sort of a forerunner to the gig economy — and founded Barnum Design in 1998 as a brand and development firm focused on helping early-stage ventures transform “inspiration into enterprise.” In 2013 Barnum merged with marketing firm Wasabi Rabbit to create Giant Shoulders. The organization is a cooperative, with the ambition to one day become an ESOP (Employee Stock Option Plan). “We wanted to build an organization where you’re not competing, but pulling together, maintain a sense of freedom that comes with the pirate life. We have people all over the place — in Omaha, Montana, Maine — and are able to collaborate effectively. Creative production is a mix of individual contribution and collaboration. As a manager/leader I’ve always been careful about making space for both those things.”

How Did He Come To Civic Hall?

“There are things that I do for my livelihood. And there are things that I do for my soul. The craft of those things is not really very different.”

Former Civic Hall C.O.O. Jessica Goldfarb introduced David to the community. Prior to Civic Hall, David offers that he had been a practitioner of armchair civics. “My biggest contribution up until that time had been… voting. Having spent the bulk of my career doing commercial work, I loved the energy created by members that are making positive change happen.” In addition to the projects mentioned above, David is also working on Civic Hall @ Union Square.

What is He Reading/Watching/Listening To?

David has been consuming documentaries, social media, and even print: “Fahrenheit 11/9 (sad!), Anti-social Media (scary!), and reading too many columnists to count. In particular, small “c” conservative movement refugees — including Peggy Noonan and George Will – who are trying to make sense of the Cheeto-in-Chief.”

What Is His Ask of Civic Hall?

During the two years that he’s been a member at Civic Hall, David has always been open to taking informal meetings with members over a long lunch. “If it makes sense to engage me in a professional level, that’s fine. Otherwise, I can help you find resources that will help you succeed. That’s what community is for.”

This self-described “sensei” (teacher) relays that within a dojo there is a senpai (who comes before you) and kohl (who follows). “My ask of the community is to help those who follow you. Help them succeed. Give a couple of hours a week. Attend new member Meetups. Attend workshops.” To this end, based on the level of response from Civic Hall, David is open to formally scheduling time with members. One possible exercise is learning from the “Maturity Model” – which measures capacity for decision making according to a 1-5 scale. “It’s an opportunity to put an organization through its paces.”

“Over time I’ve learned how to run a business, grow a business, build/lead teams. I see sometimes when highly idealistic founding teams or founders can’t organize in a sustainable way and thus the change they seek to create never happens, or has minimal impact because they are ignoring the fundamentals that make an organization sustainable.”