north of neutral dialog

May 12, 2009

by anne lueneburger

Cherie Aarts-Coley, CEO,, Brooklyn

Cherie may very well be the most positive person I have met over the past year. When we sat down this month to speak about her professional journey, her signature strengths and her goals moving forward, she exuded optimism, despite her business also experiencing the effects of the current economic climate. It is her positivity, energy and solution-focused outlook that are key to her professional success.

The role

A native New-Zealander, Cherie Aarts-Coley is founder and head of Poloppo, a design company that focuses on children’s creativity. Poloppo strives to inspire children to create art (and grown-ups to appreciate it) through its online children’s art gallery and its unique “T-me” activity kit which enables kids to get their artwork printed onto t-shirts of their choice.

Exit signs

Growing up in an entrepreneurial family and having studied fine arts at university, Cherie did not hesitate long to give up web design in San Francisco when the dot-com bubble burst. At the core of her inspiration to launch Poloppo was her daughter Annabelle, 18 months at the time. Every day the two of them were creating drawings together, bonding and communicating through their art projects. She quickly realized that Annabelle’s drawing practice was helping her daughter develop other abilities like spatial and numerical understanding, and speech. Poloppo was born from the drive to promote children’s art as an educational tool and was fused with Cherie’s long-time love of fine art and experience in graphic and web design. When at a conference in San Francisco, she heard NY Times bestselling author and authority on innovation, Sir Ken Robinson, speak on the importance of using creativity in education, she knew she was on the right track. Not only is she interested in the process of children creating art but also in its product:”Creativity as a whole and child art is under-appreciated genre, especially in schools.”

The payoff of change

Cherie is a lot more content and happy in the here and now since she started Poloppo. When asked to describe her work, she effervesces ‘fun, exciting, challenging, colorful.’ It allows her to do what she enjoys most: discovering, applauding, ‘breathing’ creativity. “I see my talent meeting my passion. In this space I am myself, fully engaged and able to give my best. ”

In addition to the creative and educational part of her business, Cherie has close interaction with her customers. Not surprisingly, another one of her signature strengths is social intelligence, and she is very much in tune with accommodating her customer’s unique requests. She laughs when we take a closer look at her customer relationships:  “Sometimes customers can be demanding and not always as friendly as you hope they would be. This is why it did not surprise me that one of my top strengths is ‘forgiveness and mercy’.“

The ‘what have I done moment’

Cherie originally began developing her own apparel line using children’s art as the main motif (rather than printing artwork on third party vendor products). A significant amount of financial resources went into this project and eventually she had to come to the conclusion that her financial investments were not paying off as intended. To overcome such obstacles, Cherie makes use of another one of her signature strengths, ‘hope, optimism and future-mindedness’, as she describes in her own words:  “In these moments I think about the future, how I would like things to evolve. I can imagine at some point selling my business, getting a graduate degree in Art and Design and Buddhist Studies. Or I envision letting someone come in to manage the business side of Poloppo, so that I could concentrate on expanding the social and educational aspects of it.”

The best part

Opening the mail that contains the artwork of children is the highlight of Cherie’s business. These creations are, in her own words, “unbelievably beautiful”. Check out her company web site to see for yourself. Cherie is excited to go to work most mornings and leads a fulfilling work and personal life. Not surprisingly, when we tested it, her positivity ratio came in at 10:1[1].

Go here to find out where your ‘positive portfolio’ is: Should you come in low over a period of time (taking the test once may not be enough, you may simply be having a rough day) – consider reading the recent publication ‘Positivity’ by Dr. Fredrickson about building your resilience and increasing your subjective well-being.

[1] This test is based on the research of Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, who says 80 percent of us are at the 2:1 ratio where two positive emotions weigh in for every negative emotion, not sufficient to experience the ‘good life’. Dr. Fredrickson’s research suggests the tipping point for people to experience a fulfilling, meaningful life is the 3:1 mark.

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