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The Most Creative People of the Year

Who says 2016 wasn't amazing? Despite all the chaos, confusion and upset of the past 12 months, we saw many bright lights in the creative world. We present the best of them here, in our Creativity 50, our list of the year's most influential innovators. They come not just from advertising and marketing, but technology, entertainment, art and more. Each of their stories is a testament to the power of creativity and risk-taking to change the game for the better— no matter your field. Hopefully, they'll serve as inspiration for you, too, to create fearlessly in the year to come.

Christene Barberich
& Piera Gelardi

Co-Founders, Refinery29

Credit: Mark Iantosca.

Christene Barberich & Piera Gelardi

Global Editor-in-Chief, Co-founder & Executive Creative Director, Co-founder, Refinery29

By Ann-Christine Diaz

The world of women's media has its icons. There's Vogue, Cosmopolitan and, if we were to name one for the digital age, it would be Refinery29. Founded as an online women's magazine in 2005 by Christene Barberich, Piera Gelardi, Philippe von Borries and Justin Stefano, the media company knows how to really--like, really--talk to millennial women, delivering content that spans beauty, fashion, sex, shopping, body issues, current events, politics and more--basically, everything and anything its readers want to know about.

This year, R29's audience shot up to 334 million across multiple platforms--more than double that of last year's 158 million--largely due to Snapchat Discover and R29's increase in video production. That included the debut on YouTube of Riot, a new female comedy channel and a Facebook360 series for New York Fashion Week. In May, R29 bowed its first podcast, "Strong Opinions, Loosely Held," in which host Elisa Kreisinger explores such subjects as "Why Islam and Feminism Aren't Mutually Exclusive," the Kardashians and "Surviving a Post-Election Thanksgiving."

"Two things that factored really heavily into our early success, and our sustained success, is that we really listened to our audience and paid attention to what what they cared about--and also took risks with content," said Ms. Barberich. "We tapped into this real desire for peer-to-peer conversation and also real information that was both inspiring and really practical. We relied very heavily on two-way conversation and made sure that feedback loop was constantly open and that we were responding with better ideas, enhancing the content based on how people were engaging with it early on."

The company has also proved a knack for developing smart brand partnerships too, with companies ranging from Planned Parenthood to Keds to The Atlantic. It continues to host innovative events and saw the second year of "29 Rooms," an immersive funhouse at New York Fashion Week, as well as the 67% Symposium, a forum on women's size representation in the media. The event capped off the 67% Project, in which R29 partnered with Lane Bryant and Aerie and promised the images it used would reflect the reality that two-thirds of American women are plus-size. The company also teamed with Getty Images and spent six months creating a 67% collection of stock artwork and photography.

To you, what is creativity?

Piera Gelardi: Creativity is problem solving, matchmaking, tinkering, remixing. It's pairing the unexpected to make something new and exciting like mixing melted marshmallow and tortilla chips to make a salty sweet delicious s'mortilla (pending trademark ;-) or blending N.Y. Fashion Week with a funhouse of interactive artwork to create the viral event "29 Rooms."

Making the space for creativity entails letting your guard down, opening your mind to new ideas, and allowing yourself to be vulnerable. It takes courage to go into unknown territory and risk falling on your face. You have to be willing to go to uncomfortable places.

Christene Barberich: That profound connection between heart and intellect, and dwelling, sometimes awkwardly, in the mystery the start of something big can bring. It's knowing how to get out of the way, too. Because creativity is a lot like creative people … it doesn't want to be controlled or limited. But it does love encouragement, freedom and the space to become all that it can be … getting out of the way so something magical can happen.

Samantha Bee

Comedian, Late-Night Host

Credit: Turner Entertainment Networks.

Samantha Bee

Comedian, Late-Night Host

By Ann-Christine Diaz

With February's debut of "Full Frontal" on TBS, Samantha Bee became the first woman to "crash" the "late-night boy's club," as Rolling Stone put it. Even before the show's arrival, last year Vanity Fair acknowledged her time was coming, yet didn't think to put her on what turned out to be an all-male cover, which it tweeted out with a caption: "We talked to all the titans of late night …"

But Ms. Bee fixed it, retweeting a version that placed her front and center, as a centaur with a tattooed chest and laser eyes.

"Better," she wrote.

It was a simple yet perfect example of her m.o. -- a mix-mastery of intelligence, wit, social astuteness, anger and just being plain damn funny. That's also evident in such segments in which she's skewered the backlog of untested rapekits, poked fun at President Obama for getting "really old, really fast" in office and processed the results of the election.

And while she brings her own fresh take to the comedy scene, she's put other marginalized voices at the forefront too, with a crew that's about 50% women and 30% non-white. She said in a New York Magazine profile, "There's a lot of people sitting around in rooms discussing how to make it happen as opposed to just, like, doing it. Asking: 'Do you have any 45-year-old-woman friends who you think are really talented who could submit an application to us?' 'Do you have any black friends who are great writers who haven't had a shot?'" More recently, the mag predicted she'd be the "Jon Stewart of the Trump Years."

Beyoncé

Musical Performer

Credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images.

Beyoncé

Musical Performer

By Simon Dumenco

In February, "Saturday Night Live" ran a short video titled "The Day Beyoncé Turned Black," making fun of all the white people (particularly among the conservative commentariat) freaking out over her Super Bowl 50 halftime appearance, with its Black Panther-esque fashion statement and not-so-subtle nods to the Black Lives Matter movement. "Quite simply," as CNN explained it, "she is one of those stars of color who — until now — has been beyond race for the mainstream audience."

Queen Bey, naturally, not only prevailed, but triumphed (#boycottbeyonce on Twitter fizzled out and Beyoncé had to add dates to her tour to meet demand for tickets). Just before the big game, she had pulled her own teaser-style move by debuting her new song, "Formation," along with the highly charged music video directed by fellow C50 Melina Matsoukas that went on to earn an inaugural Music Grand Prix at Cannes this year.

In April, she dropped, "Lemonade," which would become her sixth consecutive No. 1 album, with a secretly produced clip for each track. Fan and critical response has been nothing less than rapturous. The album earned a "universal claim" score of 92 on Metacritic, and Rolling Stone, in naming it the best album of the year, declared it to be "a soul-on-fire masterpiece, testifying about love, rage and betrayal that felt all too true in the America of 2016."

David Bowie

Musician

Credit: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images.

David Bowie

Musician

By Alexandra Jardine

If 2016 was an annus horribilis, its kickoff event was undoubtedly the death of David Bowie. The singer's much-mourned passing was announced Jan. 10, three days after he released a mysterious final video, "Lazarus," in which he appeared lying with eyes bandaged on a hospital bed, and then floating above it.

Mr. Bowie's iconic status transcended the world of music. Touching art, film and fashion, his influence was felt throughout pop culture. An early proponent of the music video long before it was an established art form, he created iconic videos including "Ashes to Ashes," "Life on Mars" and, more recently, "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)" with Tilda Swinton. Brands including Louis Vuitton, Pepsi and Vittel used him in their ads, while his music has appeared in countless spots.

His presence was felt throughout 2016, from posthumous success with his album "Blackstar" to the British Olympic team entering the stadium in Rio to "Heroes."

Brian Chesky
& Joe Gebbia

Co-founders, Airbnb

Credit: courtesy Airbnb.

Brian Chesky & Joe Gebbia

Co-founders, Airbnb

By Adrianne Pasquarelli

When Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia founded Airbnb eight years ago after meeting as students at the Rhode Island School of Design, they shook up the hospitality industry in a major way.

What started as a home-sharing platform is evolving into a travel hub that offers authentic experiences with locals and immersive guides. New products, which are expected soon to include flights and services, further the brand's quest to be essential to travelers. Aside from innovating hospitality, Airbnb has become a muse for creative marketing ideas, such as a real-life replica of Van Gogh's bedroom, or a house floating down the River Thames—both tie-ups with other brands.

Valued at $30 billion, the San Francisco-based company is expected to go public as soon as next year. "For many people, travel is easy, but it's not magical," Mr. Chesky said recently. "We don't think there should be a trade-off—we think travel can be magical and easy."

Alex Chung

Co-founder, CEO, Giphy

Credit: Ståle Grut/NRKbeta via Creative Commons.

Alex Chung

Co-founder, CEO, Giphy

By Garett Sloane

Giphy and remaining co-founder Alex Chung have taken the art of the GIF to new places. The database for looping mini videos raised $72 million this year and is now reportedly valued at $600 million. It's been integrated into almost every major app, from Twitter to WhatsApp, and has become a go-to modern-day communications tool for consumers and marketers alike, attracting such brands as Disney, GE, HBO and even NASA.

This year, the company started Giphy Studios, which produces original animated content, and introduced tools for real-time creation to media companies like Comedy Central by adding a GIF-making to its digital video experience. Mr. Chung also created the platform as a haven for artists, so who knows? This millennium's Picasso could be a GIF-maker.

Cheo Hodari Coker

Showrunner, 'Luke Cage'

Credit: Steve Sands/Getty Images.

Cheo Hodari Coker

Showrunner, 'Luke Cage'

By Zharmer Hardimon

In birthing Netflix's first black superhero, journalist-turned-showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker accomplished something akin to a death-defying feat. While "Daredevil" and "Jessica Jones" already had a home on the streaming platform, anticipation for "Luke Cage," based on Marvel's bulletproof crime fighter, was ripe. But some wondered if the Harlem-set series would be "too black" for the genre, a topic Mr. Coker often addressed during the lead-up to the show's premiere.

"I don't really want the show to have the mantle of this is the black side of Marvel, as if only black people can enjoy this. I think this show, if anything, is inclusively black," he told TV Guide in September. "Yes, this is a hip-hop show, but it's not done at the expense of alienating anyone who didn't sign up for this experience."

James Corden

Comedian, TV Host

Credit: courtesy CBS.

James Corden

Comedian, TV Host

By Jeanine Poggi

Amid the shakeup in late-night TV, James Corden has emerged as the unlikely after-hours host to watch. Previously a largely unknown British actor, Mr. Corden took over CBS's "The Late Late Show" in March 2015, turning the talk show from a home for insomniacs to a mainstream hit, thanks to segments that have become viral video gold.

Most notably, "Carpool Karaoke," in which Mr. Corden and a celebrity drive around while singing popular music, has generated a massive digital audience. The segment, which is becoming a standalone show on Apple Music, has featured everyone from Britney Spears to Michelle Obama, with the most popular featuring Adele and amassing more than 130 million views. Mr. Corden's "Drop the Mic" segment, in which he engages in rap battles with celebrities, also has been picked up to series by TBS.

Aside from his late-night success, Mr. Corden hosted the Tony Awards in June and is set to take on emcee duties for the 59th Grammy Awards.

Clementine Creevy

Musician, Actress, Model

Credit: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images.

Clementine Creevy

Musician, Actress, Model

By Suman Bhattacharyya

Barely voting age, Los Angeles native Clementine Creevy is making inroads as a creative force. In 2014, at 17, she founded the fuzz pop outfit Cherry Glazerr. Since then, the band has gained acclaim for capturing the complexities of coming of age with a level of depth and thoughtfulness that resonates far beyond Generation Z.

"I don't want clean and digestible," she told Vice. "I want real, honest, dirty, messy shit."

Ms. Creevy's talents go beyond Cherry Glazerr, and she's branched out on solo outings under her original moniker, Clembutt, along with stints in modeling and acting. Despite growing up in a digital, social-media-obsessed world, Creevy longs for a time when technology didn't have so much control over people's lives.

"The '70s had a great vibe. Obviously I can't speak firsthand, but it feels like there was a sense of freedom that we've lost due to rapidly advancing technology," Ms. Creevy said, in an interview with Nylon.

Duffer Brothers

Writers, Directors

Duffer Brothers

Writers, Directors

Credit: courtesy Netflix.
By Jeanine Poggi

Twin brothers Ross and Matt Duffer were the creative forces behind Netflix's original series "Stranger Things." This summer's unexpected phenomenon, the supernatural show plays on 1980s nostalgia and obsession with conspiracy theories and follows a group of junior high misfits who are searching for their missing friend. Along the way, they unearth mysteries of government experiments and a gateway to another dimension.

Despite modest hype leading into the July debut and its small eight-episode run, "Stranger Things" has captivated audiences and has become the ultimate example in word-of-mouth marketing. The show has spawned plenty of cosplay, with fans dressing up like their favorite characters, while a web tool that allows people to write in the "Stranger Things" font took over social media. And a performance from its young stars at the Emmys was one of the most talked-about moments of the awards show. The Duffer Brothers will be back as writers for a nine-episode second season to hit Netflix next year.

Maureen Fan

CEO, Co-founder, Baobab Studios

Credit: courtesy Baobab Studios.

Maureen Fan

CEO, Co-founder, Baobab Studios

By Ann-Christine Diaz

As a child, Maureen Fan knew her dream job lay somewhere in the realm between Disneyland and her PlayStation console. "I played 'Final Fantasy 9' and animated video games and watched Disney films non-stop," she said. So when she went to college, she majored in art, computer science and psychology, with the hopes of becoming an animator.

But, as with many children of immigrants, "My tiger mom said it wasn't practical to go into film and I'd be destitute." So Ms. Fan ended up at eBay, where she worked in user interface and product management.

After a pit stop to get her MBA at Harvard, she made her way to Zynga, where she ultimately became VP-games. All the while, she never forgot her storytelling aspirations and still found time to study animation and fit in a gig as a production intern at Pixar. She even moonlighted on an animated short, "The Dam Keeper," which earned a 2015 Oscar nomination.

Today, Ms. Fan focuses all her business skills and creative passions as CEO of Baobab Studios, the VR company she co-founded in 2015 with "Madagascar" director Eric Darnell. Ms. Fan says the company's mission is "to inspire people to dream." Baobab, which observers have dubbed "the Pixar of VR," is home to the acclaimed original VR experience "Invasion!" about a bunny in the middle of an alien occupation. "Invasion!" made news in September as the first of its kind to be turned into a traditional Hollywood feature, with Roth Kirschenbaum Films, and the following month, Baobab raised $25 million in funding, led by Horizon Ventures. TechCrunch reported it as one of the largest single funding rounds to date for a VR studio.

Your love for animation is what got you here. What are your thoughts on the power of animation?

The whole reason I love animation is because it takes you to completely different worlds and makes you believe they're so real, that you could reach out and touch them -- that's the definition of VR. I watched "Finding Nemo" and I believed I could live underwater. That's what animation does for me. There's a lot of pressure in this world when you're growing up to conform to societal values of fame, power, beauty. But when I'm watching an animated film, I believe anything is possible -- it brings out my sense of wonder.

So you know the impact of traditional animation, but what about storytelling in VR? Have you discovered yet some of the key truths of storytelling in VR?

The first thing Eric [Darnell, my partner] usually says to everybody is that they should ignore everything we say. Even though we say we've figured out something, we want people to experiment and prove us wrong.

But what we've noticed is VR allows you to believe characters are real and let you care about them, in a way traditional 2D screens don't let you … Because you have feelings for the character, you want to see what happens to the character. That is what creates story.

In "Invasion!," our first experiment, we realized the reason why people loved it so much was because of this little bunny named Chloe. [The viewer] is a bunny too, but we noticed audiences would try to pet her, get down on the ground and start playing with her. Later on, there's a scene where she behind you because aliens come to attack and you are the only thing between them and her. The audience would say, "Oh my God, I'm the only thing between the alien and the bunny and I need to protect her. I feel her breathe on my shoulder" -- which was really just the air conditioning. The fact that we can get people to care so much about that character that they want to protect her, that's winning. That's something we could only have done in VR -- it's that magic in making the character real, the heightened stakes, the feeling that you actually have impact and agency, that is something that is going to make storytelling so much cooler because you can care about those characters so much more.

So how has that affected your company's approach?

The creative bent we've taken is -- what is it to make you a character? If you could be "Beauty in the Beast" or Jasmine in "Aladdin" -- what would that be like? "Invasion!" was an experiment to see if it was true, and it ended up far exceeding our expectations. But also, it's VR that is not just a tech demo. We feel a lot of VR is geared toward the bells and whistles and gee-whiz factor because it's so cool and new, but we believe when the novelty goes away, the things that humans are wired to love, as they have for a bazillion years, is the storytelling. The purpose of technology is to service the story and the art, not the other way around. VR is yet another set of tools a storyteller can use, but that does it in a special way that's never been seen before.

To you, what is creativity?

I don't think creativity is just for artists, it applies to business people [too]. It's the act of connecting disparate things, things don't seem connected to each other, and bringing them together to form a new solution. That's why a messy desk sometimes helps people be creative because they see connections between things on their messy desks. It's about not following the status quo and not doing what is safe or easy. It's not conforming. It's putting two things together that don't seem like they belong to create something new.

Tom Ford

Designer, Director

Credit: Andrea Spinelli/Getty Images.

Tom Ford

Designer, Director

By Adrianne Pasquarelli

From the fashion runway to the red carpet, Tom Ford has wielded a design influence that has only strengthened over the years, extending all the way to the big screen. In the 1990s, the Austin, Texas-born creative cut his teeth at Gucci, before eventually founding his eponymous apparel label in 2005. Today, with more than 30 of its own shops, Tom Ford International reportedly generates more than $1 billion in annual sales.

Mr. Ford, who has also diversified into beauty and eyewear, began taking his talents to filmmaking with 2009's award-winning "A Single Man." His latest creation, "Nocturnal Animals," a sleek thriller starring Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal, was released in November. Focus Features won distribution rights for the film in an impressive $20 million deal last year.

"Gucci and Prada ruled the '90s, but I think Tom, in terms of cultural impact, might have [had] the edge," Anna Wintour, artistic director at Condé Nast and editor-in-chief of Vogue, recently told The Wall Street Journal. "He virtually popularized the slick midcentury aesthetic that became so prevalent in so many aspects of our culture since then."

Ryan Green

Game Developer, 'That Dragon, Cancer'

Credit: courtesy Ryan Green.

Ryan Green

Game Developer, 'That Dragon, Cancer'

By Alexandra Jardine

Rarely has the genesis of a video game been so personal—and so incredibly brave—as that of "That Dragon, Cancer." Ryan Green was inspired to create the immersive title as his young son, Joel, battled brain cancer. Players take the role of the boy's parents and experience each stage of Joel's four-year fight against the disease. After Joel's tragic death in 2014, the game has become an interactive memorial to his life.

Prior to Joel's illness, Mr. Green had worked as a developer for Soma Games and for DaVita, a dialysis provider, and he currently serves as head of narrative for Numinous Games, a studio he co-founded. A devout Christian, he got the idea for the game while in church, as he recalled a night that Joel was inconsolable.

Following its release in January, "That Dragon, Cancer" won wide praise. It inspired a PBS documentary, "Thank You for Playing," and just earned the Games for Impact honor at the 2016 Game Awards.

In order to make this incredible project happen, were there many obstacles you had to overcome?

Working on this project was never difficult for me, because I could make it my occupation to honor my son's life. I couldn't cure my son, I couldn't save my son, but I could love him, and tell other people about him and how loving him changed me.

The primary obstacle was financial. We had to find people who believed that what we were creating should exist. We found those people, or rather, they found us, and that is how we were able to finish.

What's your definition of creativity?

Creativity is the act of imitating our Creator. It is our imperfect translation of a masterwork scribbled on paper with childlike understanding. Creativity is the documentation of our attempts to grow up into maturity.

What was your biggest creative challenge of the past year, and how did you tackle it?

I would assume most creative people realize they're usually not the most creative person in the room, and that most of the creative work is a team process playing out behind closed doors and away from public attention, so the biggest creative challenge is often relational. I've been the face of "That Dragon, Cancer" because it is about my son, and it has been a challenge to find ways to credit all the other people who worked passionately on this project and helped craft this interactive memorial. In many ways, the sacrifices they made to work on "That Dragon, Cancer" are even greater than mine because they were not compelled as intensely by grief and love to persist in this work.

For our studio, as we've transitioned from working on such a personal project to a more commercial one, keeping our relationships healthy, repairing where they've been neglected, and giving generous and equitable space to each other's creative strengths have been the hardest challenges for us this year. I'm far from perfect and have let a lot of relationships suffer in service to my creative drive. I think it's important to work with people that you can live with, who are in it for the long haul and who are willing to acknowledge and forgive weakness in each other. My hope is that our team will work together, raise families together and create together for many more years to come.

What's your advice to anyone looking to jump-start their creativity? How do you fight your creative demons?

Find others to fight demons with. I don't believe in the genius mono-creator myth in our culture. If you want to jumpstart your creativity, find someone to create with.

What's the best advice you got when it comes to nurturing your creativity?

Ira Glass's interview segment "On Storytelling" he did for Current TV has been the single best piece of creative advice I've ever heard. His main point is to create a large volume of work, and keep creating until your skill matches your taste.

I would add to that, to practice telling your own story in new and unexpected ways. You may find the best medium to tell your story isn't the one you start with.

John Hanke

CEO, Founder, Niantic

John Hanke

CEO, Founder, Niantic

Credit: Gage Skidmore via Wikicommons.
By George Slefo

Perhaps the most disruptive innovation of 2016 came from a 6-year-old company and a chipper, furry yellow mascot named Pikachu.

"Pokémon Go" is the brainchild of John Hanke, CEO and founder of Niantic. The augmented-reality mobile game gave new life to Nintendo, which saw its stock soar days after its release. The game proved so successful that it generated $440 million in revenue and saw 180 million downloads just two months after its debuted, according to Sensor Tower, a mobile-app intelligence company.

Its success has attracted major brands like Starbucks, with which it's teaming on 7,800 new "gyms" and Pokéstops at its stores, as well as a themed Frappuccino. Mr. Hanke, an avid fan of geography, is now developing "Pokémon Go" for the Apple Watch.

Leslie Jones

Comedian, Actress, Spokesperson

Leslie Jones

Comedian, Actress, Spokesperson

Credit: Lloyd Bishop/NBC.
By Ken Wheaton

Maybe you've seen Leslie Jones on "Saturday Night Live." Or in her spots for Allstate. Or on Twitter. She's hard to miss, partly because she makes it almost impossible to ignore her.

She owns her physicality. At six-feet tall, she doesn't shy away from heels and practically towered over WWE star John Cena during his recent appearance on "SNL." Her approach to comedy can be described as insane, sexually aggressive and almost violent. It might even be scary if she didn't look like she was having so much fun doing it. And it can't always be fun—especially after a certain segment of the man-baby population had a fit this year because a new "Ghostbusters" movie with a female cast somehow ruined their childhoods.

Sure, some celebrities get cursed out on the web, but the type of racist vitriol directed her way—and the hacking and posting of private photos—would have driven a lesser person away for good. Ms. Jones, instead, fought back against what she called "a gang of people jumping against you for a sick cause."

She also called out Twitter for being slow to respond to the abuse. As she said to "SNL" alum Seth Meyers in a telling analogy: "It's like, that's my favorite restaurant. I love the food there. Three people just got shot in front of me. Y'all need to get some security."

Fans rallied around her. In fact, Mr. Myers assembled a video montage of people voicing their support.

Soon enough, Ms. Jones was back tweeting whatever caught her fancy, whether it was her first viewing of "Captain America: Civil War" or the Olympics. That enthusiasm was so contagious, NBC actually sent her to Rio to cover the games.

It all seems like a super-charmed life, but Ms. Jones was no overnight success. According to a lengthy New Yorker profile by Andrew Marantz published in January, she had been doing stand-up for decades before landing a role as a writer on "SNL." And she was the oldest cast member ever hired by the show.

In other words, she's done more than her fair share of putting in the hours—and in an environment not exactly easy for people like her to navigate.

As Chris Rock told The New Yorker, "Black women have the hardest gig in show business. You hear Jennifer Lawrence complaining about getting paid less because she's a woman—if she was black, she'd really have something to complain about." But as Ms. Jones says in one of her stand-up routines: "I ain't no damsel in distress."

Melina Matsoukas

Director, Executive Producer

Melina Matsoukas

Director, Executive Producer

Credit: courtesy Melina Matsoukas.
By Zharmer Hardimon

Director Melina Matsoukas is the shot-caller behind some of the decade's most memorable music videos, from Lady Gaga's "Just Dance" to Rihanna's "We Found Love," which in 2012 earned Ms. Matsoukas a Grammy for Best Short Form Music Video. She's also flexed her skills on campaigns for Nike, Adidas, Coca-Cola, Target and Absolut.

Repped for commercials and music videos out of Prettybird, Ms. Matsoukas this year continued to slay with two buzzy mic drops. A longtime collaborator of Beyoncé, she directed the politically charged "Formation" clip, which broke the net with its surprise release on the eve of the singer's second Super Bowl performance—and went on to earn a Cannes Lions Grand Prix.

The second was her television-work debut as executive producer of HBO's acclaimed new series "Insecure," a funny, sexy, void-filling depiction of black womanhood starring Issa Rae that's been renewed for a second season.

What was your biggest creative challenge of the past year, and how did you tackle it?

I was given the opportunity to act as executive producer/director on a television series ["Insecure"], a genre of filmmaking I had no experience in. I had to give it a language, a life, a world to live in that felt as unique and authentic as the stories we were telling. I pulled from my past experiences in videos and commercials, preparing myself in every way I knew possible to develop a vision and an approach that supported the series. I tried to give it a visual language that spoke to the perspective of the main characters and the creator. In order to do this I studied the characters, their likes, their needs, their backgrounds; I gave them one when they didn't have one, collaborated with my team through the entire process to ensure my ideas rang true, and together we put together a crew that we felt could help us further develop our vision and bring it to fruition.

What's your advice to anyone looking to jump-start their creativity? How do you fight your creative demons?

I'm a student first. I always find the most productive way to initiate the creative process begins in educating yourself. When approaching any project I begin by researching the history, the voice, the imagery of my subject, so that everything I develop begins from a place of authenticity. I always find that reading, watching, visiting or researching the story behind the project inspires me to visualize and ward off any creative demons. I get lost in the research, and through that education I gather my tools to create.

What's the best advice you've received when it comes to nurturing your creativity?

Never compromise, and only involve yourself in projects that have value to you. I'm still learning how to stay true to this mantra.

DeRay Mckesson

Activist

DeRay Mckesson

Activist

Credit: Samir Hussein/Getty Images.
By Judann Pollack

His Twitter profile reads, "I will never betray my heart."

Self-described "activist, organizer and educator," DeRay Mckesson is one of the most public and most prolific faces of the Black Lives Matter movement. His lyrical-yet-trenchant social posts (recent example, "Whiteness will do anything to absolve itself from undoing the damage it's done") mobilize a massive 619,000 Twitter followers. He is a social media master who Periscoped his own arrest in July during a demonstration in Baton Rouge, La., and even ran for mayor of Baltimore, finishing only sixth in the race.

Yet he remains undaunted in his quest for change. The former sixth-grade math teacher now serves as interim chief of human capital for Baltimore City Public Schools and continues his fight. "I'm mindful that we aren't born woke, something wakes us up, and for so many people, what woke them up was a tweet or a Facebook post, an Instagram post, a picture," Mr. Mckesson told The Verge in November. "I think that we're just at the beginning of seeing the power of technology to really push in the social justice and the equity space."

Kate McKinnon
& Alec Baldwin

Fake Clinton & Fake Trump

Kate McKinnon & Alec Baldwin

Fake Clinton & Fake Trump

Credit: Dana Edelson/NBC.
By Nat Ives

Kate McKinnon's Hillary Clinton and Alec Baldwin's Donald Trump on "Saturday Night Live" this year gave voters the most effective balm available in a campaign season so miserably blistering that TV satirists continually escalated their attempts to call it something more fitting than "Election 2016." (John Oliver probably won with "Oh, I Get It: We All Died, and This Is Hell, and Satan Has Cursed Us to Live Out This Nightmare for All Eternity 2016.")

When they hugged each other and tourists in a segment the weekend before Election Day, they let us indulge a fantasy of a less-divided nation, one where the arguments feel a little less existential. When Ms. McKinnon sang a mournful "Hallelujah" after Ms. Clinton's loss (and the death of the song's writer, Leonard Cohen), she offered catharsis for Clinton voters. And when Mr. Baldwin returned as Mr. Trump, making fun of the next president as the show would for any Oval Office arrival, it helped deflate viewers' tension a small but welcome degree.

Not that the president-elect appreciated it. "It is a totally one-sided, biased show—nothing funny at all," Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter the next morning. "Equal time for us?"

Kerry James Marshall

Artist

Kerry James Marshall

Artist

Credit: Jackie Neale/MMA.
By Judann Pollack

"The history of art is built around classical Renaissance paintings, and when you see them in the museum, they are impressively, undeniably magnificent. But what you are aware of is that not only were black people not represented at the center of the classical art world, neither were there black painters who could be listed among the pantheon of old masters. We were outside of it in every respect except as an admirer."

This was the inspiration for Kerry James Marshall, whose richly-hued canvases are now on display in a retrospective at the Met Breuer in New York. He was also moved, in part, by an early reviewer who said that while Mr. Marshall's work at the time was good, it faded into sameness. That led to a complete "reset," as Mr. Marshall calls it, toward advancing black figures in art. The journey began in 1980 with a disturbingly caricature-like self portrait in which only his eyes and teeth are seen. It was inspired by Ralph Ellison's "The Invisible Man" and called "Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of His Former Self."

Taken in total, Chicagoan Mr. Marshall's body of work is a progression aimed "to show that you can use a black body and make an invention at the same time," he said in an interview with Ad Age. "You can allow that body to function in complex pictorial structures that are equally meaningful as an aesthetic statement. One of the problems is that the work black artists do never really gets analyzed or talked about as an aesthetic phenomenon, but as a social phenomenon."

Mr. Marshall's groundbreaking work has shown that both are possible.

What is your definition of creativity?

Making something from nothing. You bring something that either hadn't existed before or reconfigure something into an organization that hadn't been configured before. It ends up being a result of a series of problems that need to be solved. Intuition seems to fit into the way I think creativity works. Intuition is accessing knowledge you have already internalized without having to think about it ahead of time. Work doesn't come from thin air, it comes from looking at things and thinking about information I've internalized. It is inside me.

What was your biggest creative challenge?

In a way the biggest creative challenge I had was to manage to link the black figures I paint in a picture [in a way] that requires the spectator to recognize its difference not only because of its absolute blackness, but to see that the whole picture has a relationship to history ... The figure in the picture has an acknowledged relationship into a history that excludes that figure. [It wasn't excluded] deliberately, but because it wasn't part of the tradition. [The artists] were indifferent to that figure because it wasn't them.

What is your advice to anyone looking to jumpstart their creativity?

Creativity only comes if you have a concrete objective. You need to state clearly what it is you are trying to do. And it needs to be programmatic ... if you outline the problem you would like to solve, then you develop the methodology for solving it. There isn't any other way.

How do you fight your creative demons?

I don't think I have any. There is nothing to be afraid of; it's just a picture. If you do make a mistake, fix it. What is there to be afraid of? In this domain, or in music or dance or film, you can change [what you create]. It's not like building a house where there are greater consequences if something goes wrong. It's a picture, you can paint over it.

What is the best advice you've gotten about nurturing your creativity?

I have to give credit to a writer and an illustrator. I went to see Ray Bradbury speak in L.A. in 1980 or 1981 and he told a story about how he got launched into writing. He had gone to a carnival and there was a man ... who had an act where something like 10,000 volts of electricity went through his body. [Bradbury] went to talk to him, and said he believed in the magic of it all, that [the performer] touched him on his forehead and told him to live forever. He said he could feel the volts. That translated into "Fahrenheit 451," in which he wrote a line, "Stuff your eyes with wonder." The idea of always looking for the amazing things in the ordinary stuck with me. The other thing ... was advice N.C. Wyeth gave to Andrew Wyeth: "You can grow old waiting for an idea to come; it comes while at work."

Hatsune Miku

Virtual Pop Star

Hatsune Miku

Virtual Pop Star

Credit: Crypton Future Media.
By Angela Doland

Hatsune Miku, the virtual pop diva from Japan, has flowing turquoise pigtails and a repertoire of songs delivered in a synthesized squeak.

Crypton Future Media CEO Hiroyuki Itoh conceived her as the virtual singer for a voice synthesizer software product. The company has encouraged people to use and adapt her likeness or voice, and a huge community of DIY creators has sprung up around her. She's inspired an outpouring of creativity from her fans, who are the ones now writing songs for her.

She's been around since 2007, but 2016 was her breakout year in North America, where she headlined a 10-city tour as a singing hologram with a real backup band. She's big in China, too.

Her celebrity has also influenced mainstream creatives: Givenchy designer Riccardo Tisci dressed her in lace and crocodile trim for a photoshoot in Vogue in May. And Unilever's Lux hair care brand cast her in a Japanese commercial alongside a flesh-and-blood star, Scarlett Johansson.

Rob Reilly

Global Creative Chairman, McCann Worldgroup

Rob Reilly

Global Creative Chairman, McCann Worldgroup

Credit: Courtesy McCann Worldgroup.
By Lindsay Stein

Rob Reilly had already gone down in advertising history helping to lead Crispin Porter + Bogusky to become Advertising Age's "Agency of the Decade" in the '00s. In 2014, he took on a new challenge when he stepped into the role of Creative Chairman of McCann Worldgroup, with the task to infuse creativity into every aspect of the global network's business and culture. The year 2016 showed that he's living up to his charge, as he's brought in new, heavy-hitting creative leaders while further empowering some of the best existing talents. All the while, the agency has delivered the sort of ideas you'd expect from a more nimble indie player across a number of offices. New York work such as Lockheed Martin's celebrated "Field Trip to Mars," a "group" VR experience that took a group of children on a bus ride through the red planet and London's Xbox "Survival Billboard" were awards darlings this year, while a campaign for Microsoft celebrating young female inventors was a powerful of example of a brand not merely doing good just for good's sake. One of his go-to maxims is that "creativity is the only way to survive," he said. "I firmly believe it should be the first thing we talk about to help brands be successful in the world."

McCann has seen a great year creatively. What did it take to make it all happen?

Just hire great people and get out of the way. That's sort of my formula that I've been doing since I've been here. When I joined, Harris Diamond said one thing to me at lunch: "I want McCann to be the greatest creative network in the world and I'll give you anything you need to do it and I want creativity to permeate everything we do." It's hard to not fall in love with a CEO that gives you that as your marching orders. When you start there, you're in a pretty good place. We [also] have a really great team that I'm only one part of. And we have some clients who are brave.

What's your definition of creativity?

Anytime you solve a hairy, sticky problem. It could be anything—a distribution thing, a product idea, or a film, digital or media idea. I think creativity should be applied to everything we do, but if it's not in the business of solving a problem, then I think it's a different kind of creativity. Most of the creativity that we all celebrate are things that have changed a problem—a societal problem or business problem—but the ones that do it in an entertaining way are the ones that rise to the top of the heap. I definitely think we're in the problem-solving business, and I'm not really talking about the advertising—that's easy for us to do. It's about being at the table when deciding the way forward for a brand or how a brand gets out of a bad situation.

What was your biggest creative challenge of the past year, and how did you tackle it?

I think it was getting two of the most important offices, McCann London and McCann New York, to do work that's really stands out among many things coming out of Latin America and Eastern Europe and other places. But having New York and London, doing arguably two of the most creative pieces of the year—"Survivable Billboard" for Microsoft and "Field Trip to Mars" for Lockheed Martin—and breaking through, makes a big difference. Every year is different. Some years we won't do great and some years we're going to have one like this year.

What's your advice to a creative looking to sustain in this business?

Big equals best. I would try to attack the clients that are the most challenging and the biggest clients. If you can use creativity to help a brand survive and the brand is big and the challenge is big and you crack it, you're going to have a career for a long time. You're at a time now where it's important to make brands important in people's lives. People are accepting brands as part of their lives, but that means brands have to bring a lot more to the table because people expect brands to be transparent, innovative, creative, entreating, to do the right thing and to do purposeful things, so the pressure on brands is to do a lot more than they're used to and to be in the middle of that is super important. It's important for young people to realize that.

What's the best advice you got when it comes to nurturing your creativity?

Don't lie. Alex Bogusky is a huge part of the reason why I'm in this position.I had been an executive creative director at Hill Holliday New York and I quit that job and cut my salary in half and started over as a copywriter at Crispin. The only thing he said to me when I started at his company was: "Don't lie. Don't lie to me, to co-workers, to clients about how you feel or what something is going to cost. In the end, it will get to you. In the end, one lie leads to the next lie." I prefer we don't do agency versions or director's cuts because, in the end, this is the final thing that goes out to the world and I think there's a real honesty in that. Be honest about the business, be honest about the problems, be honest with clients. You'll get more respect that way and you'll end up selling better work because your brand partners will understand that you have their best interests at heart. Out-think, out-work, out-care.

Ryan Heffington

Choreographer

Credit: Luca V. Teuchmann/Getty Images.

Ryan Heffington

Choreographer

By Lindsay Stein

Ryan Heffington turned heads two years ago with his award-winning choreography for Sia's "Chandelier" music video, followed by his work on Arcade Fire's provocative video "We Exist." This year, the dance maven continued to make headlines for his collaborations with brands and fashion.

Over the summer, Mr. Heffington, who sports a distinctive long mustache and 'do, conceived the bizarre dance performed by actress Margaret Qualley in a video from Spike Jonze for perfume brand Kenzo World. In October, the Yuba City, Calif., native went on to choreograph a one-of-a-kind fashion show for the Kenzo x H&M collaboration in New York, featuring dancers and models performing moves on the runway as well as an orchestra and beatboxers.

Mr. Heffington is no stranger to commercial work. He teamed up in the past with Evian on its dancing babies campaign and Target for its 144-room dance party at the Standard Hotel in New York. And if this isn't enough, he also holds weekly dance classes at the Sweat Shop, his studio in Silverlake, Calif.

Teresa Herd

VP-Global Creative Director, Intel

Credit: courtesy Intel.

Teresa Herd

VP-Global Creative Director, Intel

By E.J. Schultz

Teresa Herd has played a key role in Intel's effort to rebrand itself from a computer chip maker—forever linked to its "Intel Inside" tagline—to a creator of human experiences. "Kids today don't care about what's inside—they care about what they get to do with it. That's been the impetus for the whole campaign," Ms. Herd told Ad Age earlier this year.

Ms. Herd, who previously spent 14 years at Staples, oversees an internal 90-person agency called Agency Inside and helped assemble a production and content creation arm called Intel Global Production Lab. At the same time she integrates work from external agencies like McGarryBowen, which is behind an Intel campaign starring Jim Parsons. But Intel's new marketing goes beyond traditional ads. It includes breakthrough work like a Grammy awards integration that involved using Intel technology to fuel Lady Gaga's David Bowie tribute, which included "digital skin" that allowed her to change looks in real time during the performance.

Sara Hyman
& Tosh Hall

MD/ECD, Jones Knowles Ritchie New York

Credit: courtesy Jones Knowles Ritchie.

Sara Hyman & Tosh Hall

Managing Director & Executive Creative Director, Jones Knowles Ritchie New York

By E.J. Schultz

Rebranding Budweiser as America? It was an audacious idea. But Ms. Hyman and Mr. Hall helped pull it off at the New York office of global design agency Jones Knowles Ritchie. The limited-time packaging that replaced the brand's name with that of our country drew plenty of buzz and gave the King of Beers a boost. The firm was also behind Bud Light's reconceived, all-blue packaging.

In July the shop helped Kashi overhaul its brand identity with packaging that departed from the conventional farm-and-field imagery used in the natural food category. Instead, JKR put the food front and center against a clean white canvas, alongside editorial-style stories about how the food inside is made and where it comes from.

Ms. Hyman opened the New York hub in 2012 after working in JKR's London HQ and helped grow the outpost to a bustling studio of 60 people. Mr. Hall, who got his start designing book covers in London, joined in 2014. The company also has landed clients such as Bacardi's Havana Club, Wheaties, Stella Artois, PepsiCo and Unilever.

Barry Jenkins

Writer, Director, 'Moonlight'

Credit: courtesy Barry Jenkins.

Barry Jenkins

Writer, Director, 'Moonlight'

By Zharmer Hardimon

Expect to hear Barry Jenkins' name a lot this awards season. The writer-director has Hollywood abuzz with the release of his second feature film, "Moonlight," a coming-of-age story about a young black male grappling with his homosexuality while growing up in Miami's rough Liberty Square neighborhood with his crack-addicted mother.

The film is somewhat autobiographical for Mr. Jenkins. Though not gay, he watched his own mother struggle with drug addiction. He also grew up in Liberty Square and shot the film on the same city blocks he once called home.

Having taken the film-festival circuit by storm, "Moonlight" has been praised for its authenticity, with critics and viewers championing it as something rarely, if ever, seen on-screen. Yet Mr. Jenkins is still coming to terms with the film's success and impact. "Having grown people cry in my arms at screenings is a surreal experience," he said in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times. "I'm still processing whatever the hell is that's happening with the film right now."

Papi Jiang

Video Blogger, Comedian

Credit: Papi Jiang via YouTube.

Papi Jiang

Video Blogger, Comedian

By Angela Doland

Jiang Yilei was a graduate student at China's Central Academy of Drama who spent her free time experimenting with funny short video monologues. The first one to go viral, in November 2015, poked fun at Shanghainese women who pepper their sentences with words in English to seem more cosmopolitan. Now she's the most visible of a crop of Chinese online celebrities drawing large viewership in a country of 710 million internet users. China's Baidu search engine said she was the No. 3 most-searched for person online in China this year, behind two mainstream actors.

Known by her online nickname Papi Jiang, she has over 20 million followers on Weibo, a microblogging platform, and has attracted venture capital too. Her videos are low-tech—sarcastic monologues sped up to sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks. Her rants tackle subjects like sexism or family pressures.

Censors cracked down on her because of foul language; she apologized and bounced back. Soon afterward Ms. Jiang held an auction to court money from brands, selling off ad time to local cosmetics brand Lily & Beauty for $3.4 million. When she did a live stream with L'Oréal-owned beauty brand MG, according to L2, it attracted 10.5 million interactions—that's 27 times more engagement than brands that didn't use a celeb.

Dwayne Johnson

Actor

Credit: Rune Hellestad/Corbis via Getty Images.

Dwayne Johnson

Actor

By Ann-Christine Diaz

Outside of the presidential election, you could easily say that 2016 was the year of The Rock. Dwayne Johnson's leading-man looks and superhero physique were no doubt deciding factors behind his title as People's Sexiest Man of the Year, but it's his creativity—and creative diversity—that really pushed his brand to new heights.

In Hollywood, he's proved to be the best kind of chameleon, slipping as skillfully into family-friendly fare (this year, for example, playing—and singing—in the role of demigod Maui in Disney's box-office topper "Moana") as he does into badass franchises like "The Fast and the Furious" and his HBO show "Ballers." Next year, he'll continue to show off his comedic chops, taking the torch from The Hoff playing Mitch Buchannon in the big-screen adaptation of "Baywatch." Mr. Johnson is also going back to his roots: He's in talks to develop a wrestling sitcom with Will Ferrell.

Mr. Johnson pushed forward into new territory with the debut of Project Rock with Under Armour, a motivational lifestyle brand that includes everything from gymwear and gear to an app called the Rock Clock, which lets users wake up to a new personal message from him every morning.

He's also proved his star power in a realm many traditional Hollywood celebrities have yet to figure out: social media. He's got more than 100 million followers on various platforms, and this summer, Seven Bucks Productions, the multiplatform production company he formed with his longtime manager and producing partner Dany Garcia, teamed with Studio71 on a new YouTube channel to build and distribute content supported by his brand.

Showing how creativity and innovation lead to good business, Forbes reported that Mr. Johnson was the world's highest-paid actor in 2016, with earnings of $64.5 million. If all that weren't enough, a political career may also be in the offing. During a "Moana" press conference following the election, Vanity Fair asked him if he'd consider running for office, given Donald Trump's win. "I wouldn't rule it out," he said. "It would be a great opportunity to help people, so it's possible. This past election shows that anything can happen."

Bas Korsten

Executive Creative Director, JWT Amsterdam

Credit: courtesy Bas Korsten/JWT Amsterdam.

Bas Korsten

Executive Creative Director, JWT Amsterdam

By Alexandra Jardine

Bas Korsten is the creative force behind "The Next Rembrandt," an incredible idea by Dutch bank ING and JWT Amsterdam that aimed to "resurrect" Rembrandt Van Rijn using data and technology.

The project, which analyzed all 346 of Rembrandt's paintings to determine the subject of a new "work" from the artist, scooped multiple awards, including two Cannes Grand Prix, for Cyber and Creative Data. (JWT Amsterdam was later awarded the title of Cannes Lions Innovation Agency of the Year.) Soon, the painting will be exhibited next to real Rembrandts at the Musée Jacquemart-André in Paris.

Mr. Korsten, who recently became a member of JWT's global creative council, brings a scientific background to creativity, having graduated as an engineer in logistic management before turning to advertising.

What inspired "The Next Rembrandt?"

The brief came from ING Bank [who] wanted to bring their innovative spirit to their sponsorship of Dutch Arts and Culture. But the inspiration came from Jesus. I read an article about archeologists who had recreated Jesus' face out of skulls they had found near Jerusalem. So I thought: 'If you can create something new out of historical material, why can't we create a new Masterpiece out of existing paintings?'. That's how the idea was born. The easy part. Because it took a team of 20 data-analysts, developers, professors in AI and 3D printing experts 18 months to create The Next Rembrandt painting.

What's your definition of creativity?

Creativity is the salt of life. I love ideas. They can change your day, your business, the world even. Ideas are the one thing you can wake me up for in the middle of the night. At the same time I loathe them. They haunt me. Waking me up in the middle of the night. But still I wouldn't want to miss them for the world.

What was your biggest creative challenge of the past year, and how did you tackle it?

The biggest challenge was keeping the idea behind "The Next Rembrandt" alive. Even though there were so many forces working against it -- time, budget, technology, critics, but most of all the overwhelming amount of data that we needed to go through. Perseverance and not taking "no" for an answer is the only reason why the project didn't die along the way.

What's your advice to anyone looking to jumpstart their creativity? How do you fight your creative demons?

Dream! Walt Disney once said: "If you can dream it, you can do it." I strongly believe in that motto. Because we're living in great times. Technology is making so many things possible. So keep thinking of the unthinkable. Challenge your own reality. And even when everybody is saying that it can't be done, persevere.

What's the best advice you've gotten when it comes to nurturing your creativity?

Be curious. Curiosity is what leads to truly new and innovative ideas. So don't live by the status quo. Keep searching. Keep pushing. There's more out there.

Gustavo Lauria

Co-founder, Chief Creative Officer, We Believers

Credit: courtesy Gustavo Lauria.

Gustavo Lauria

Co-founder, Chief Creative Officer, We Believers

By Laurel Wentz

Environmentally-concerned Gustavo Lauria, a former La Comunidad creative, envisioned replacing the plastic rings from six-packs of beer that often end up discarded in the ocean and kill marine life with a harmless but sturdy biodegradable version made of wheat and barley. At his New York agency startup We Believers, he went on to realize the idea with "Edible Six-Pack Rings," which went into small-scale production as part of the packaging for Saltwater Brewery's craft beer.

The idea earned four Cannes Lions and other accolades, but unlike many award show darlings that are more stunt than substance, now it's scaling up. Mr. Lauria and his co-founder and strategist Marco Vega hold the patent, and are working with engineers to ramp up low-cost, mass production that could make their edible six-pack rings an attractive option for the world's biggest beer makers and their sustainability efforts.

"When you truly believe in the work you do and why you are doing it, great things and people follow," Mr. Lauria said.

How did you think of Edible Six-Pack Rings, and what did it take to make your idea happen?

It started because all the time in my mind I'm very into the impact humans make in the world, not only with plastic, but in general. Whatever I can do every day, I do it. One day in a production in Atlanta, where they don't recycle, we had a crew of about 30 people, and after lunch I saw there were five trash bags of plastic. I started thinking about it and how to bring a solution to the table.

My first phone text to Marco said, "Let's create six-pack rings that feed animals rather than killing them." [The creative process was a long series of texts, in Spanish, between Mr. Lauria and Mr. Vega.] My first thought was to use seaweed and make holes in it. I'm not an engineer. We found engineers, and they said seaweed is crazy and won't work. So we looked for byproducts in the brewing process. We made the first prototype, and tried it with cans. We improved the formula and design.

What happens next?

We're in the mass manufacturing stage and testing to be ready for big brands. We're ready to produce 1 million [units] a month. Real mass production will happen in Q1. It could happen in two ways--we're talking to distributors and we've gotten 300 emails from different companies around the world asking to use E6PR, especially after [all the media stories]. It's one of those things that make you proud. It happened because it's something important for us.

At Cannes, you see a lot of case studies about different social causes. From March to June, all the agencies do them. These things only become real if you care about what you're doing. If it's just a case study you want to do for award shows, and don't care about the cost or scalability, you end up with a two-minute video and that's it.

What's your advice to anyone looking to jumpstart their creativity?

Good ideas are the result of things you care about and that inspire you. If you're chasing a good idea just for the sake of winning awards or having a better salary, it's way more difficult. If you follow what you believe, you think about those things all the time. When I'm walking the dog, or having dinner with friends, I'm also thinking and connecting things. At the Blue Note [jazz club], one idea came to my mind and I spent all the time writing, and then I bought tickets to see the show properly the second day. [Mr. Lauria says his friends often find his total absorption in an idea annoying.] It's not about following what the clients ask, it's about listening to what they need, and trying to bring something more.

When you truly believe something, good things and people follow. At the beginning, we didn't know how to do [Edible Six-Pack Rings] and now we're mass producing it. Because we really wanted to do something to solve that problem.

Is We Believers a U.S. Hispanic agency? Some of your most successful work, like Edible Six-Pack Rings, isn't for the Hispanic market. [Mr. Lauria is from Argentina and Mr. Vega is Mexican; both worked at U.S. Hispanic agencies.]

On one hand, we have the credentials to work in the Hispanic market; I spent years at La Comunidad [and other agencies]. But we approach the Hispanic market the same way we approach any other assignment, like our global work for Absolut. We're always trying to solve a specific problem for a client. If it's for the Hispanic market, perfect, if it's for something else, we do it. I don't believe in work that's only relevant to Hispanics. A good idea should be good in general.

What's your definition of creativity?

It's about sharing something that is part of you, and that you really care about, and applying it to a purpose. It's about sharing something about who you are and what you believe in.

Frank Ocean

Musician

Credit: Gary Miller/Wire Image/Getty Images.

Frank Ocean

Musician

By Simon Dumenco

In 2016, Frank Ocean did it his way. A cult/critical favorite since the release of his 2011 mixtape "Nostalgia, Ultra," and a mainstream phenomenon since his 2012 hit album "Channel Orange," Christopher Francis "Frank" Ocean kept his devoted fans guessing about his next steps for literally years, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs (like cryptic messages on his website) along the way.

It was worth the wait—for what turned out to be not just an album, but a multimedia explosion. In August, he released instrumental tracks via an Apple Music-sponsored video live-stream, which turned out to be part of a "visual album" called "Endless" that would clock in at 140 hours. There was an oversized, photo-driven art magazine called Boys Don't Cry that he released via pop-up shops in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and London. And a proper studio album, too, titled "Blonde"—"a record of enigmatic beauty, intoxicating depth and intense emotion," as Tim Jonze described it in The Guardian.

Notably, "Blonde" was released independently ("Endless" fulfilled his Universal Music Group contract). In 2016, Frank Ocean officially became a free agent—though, really, he was one all along.

Ashish Patil

Head of Y-Films, India

Credit: courtesy Y-Films.

Ashish Patil

Head of Y-Films, India

By Angela Doland

The idea was viewed at first as "outrageous and risqué," says Ashish Patil, head of India's Y-Films.

His pitch was to form a musical act with members of India's transgender community – and have one of consumer giant Hindustan Unilever's brands sponsor it. Mr. Patil made over 20 presentations to sell the concept; Mindshare Mumbai also helped convince client Hindustan Unilever to sign on.

The goal was to fight discrimination without sermonizing, said Mr. Patil, who headed up MTV in India before joining Y-Films, the youth arm of well-known Indian film studio Yash Raj Films. "If you're able to make millennials dance to this and not be embarrassed about having it playing on their car stereo, that's one more step toward having this community be in the mainstream," he said.

It took six months to find the group's members; India's hijras, as the local transgender community is sometimes called, are often cut off from their families and ostracized from society -- some get by begging at traffic lights. "There's no 'Indian Idol' for the transgendered; you can't put out a Facebook post to find people," said Mr. Patil. Some fame-seeking straight men even dressed up in women's clothing to audition.

The team persisted, and the "6 Pack Band" was born, releasing six hit music videos over six months for Hindustan Unilever tea brand Brooke Bond Red Label. The first was "Hum Hain Happy," a cover of Pharrell's hit "Happy."

The collaboration between Hindustan Unilever, Y-Films and Mindshare Mumbai earned the Glass Lions Grand Prix at the 2016 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

Mr. Patil said he would have put together the music group even without Hindustan Unilever or Mindshare. But working with them "gave us greater purpose and meaning -- it gave us amplifiers, and we were able to get the campaign out to a lot more people."

Mathilde Piard

Programming Project Manager, NPR

Credit: courtesy NPR.

Mathilde Piard

Programming Project Manager, NPR

By Ann Marie Kerwin

NPR is wrestling with a problem that it shares with other audio content and podcasts: it's hard to share audio through social media. This past year, under the leadership of Mathilde Piard, the company has seen that experimental, creative tactics have paid off in the space.

Ms. Piard joined two years ago after serving as Cox Media Group's first social media manager and now, as NPR's programing project manager, she coordinates the efforts of several teams to make sure podcasts and live programming get the social media boost they deserve.

For the June launch of the second season of "Invisibilia," the team commissioned an original piece of art for each of the seven episodes, and then decided the art would be really cool as a coloring page. So along with other deep-dive ancillary content, the team sent the coloring pages out in a newsletter to listeners so they could color the page while they listened.

And when Facebook Live was fairly new, the team came up with an idea to animate an "Invisibilia" story using shadow puppets—leading to one of the most shared NPR videos on the platform, with over 700,000 views and over 5,000 shares.

Since original art proved to be a winning strategy, when NPR debuted "How I Built This," a podcast that tells entrepreneurs' stories, it made sure to have an illustrator to produce visuals for all 40 episodes. The company has also leveraged an open source tool developed by WNYC, an NPR affiliate, which allows audio clips to be created and shared socially.

Piard is always thinking about how to widen the audience for podcasts and audio. "If someone is already listening to audio, you can cross promote and encourage them to sample other podcasts," she said. "But how do you reach someone who isn't yet listening?"

Prince

Musician

Credit: Getty Images.

Prince

Musician

By Simon Dumenco

Dearly beloved / We are gathered here today / To get through this thing called "life"

When Prince Rogers Nelson's time on Earth came to an abrupt end on April 21, the creative community, it's no exaggeration to say, went into shock. He was loved by millions of fans around the world, but to anyone who creates for a living, he was also a beacon—a Northern Star. He transformed music, fashion and visual art/video/film, while always pushing at the boundaries of sexuality, spirituality, gender expression and identity (especially when he changed his name to an unpronounceable "love symbol").

Electric word, life / It means forever and that's a mighty long time

The truth is, there was already something forever about pop music's Mozart even when he still walked among us mere mortals. He embodied not only artistic inspiration, but creativity as a way of life. Creativity as a default state. Creative as something elemental, inexhaustible, endlessly resilient.

And if the elevator tries to bring you down / Go crazy / Punch a higher floor!

Issa Rae

Writer, Actress, Director

Credit: courtesy HBO.

Issa Rae

Writer, Actress, Director

By Ann-Christine Diaz

The 30-year-old creator and star of HBO's breakout hit "Insecure" is one of the year's freshest voices in comedy and brings a funny, complex--and different--depiction of the lives of single black women to the small screen. Her eponymous character, who works at a nonprofit helping middle students of color, is bumbling, raunchy and raw and tries to work through her screw-ups in life and love by performing obscenity-laden freestyle rap soliloquies in the mirror. As Issa and her best friend Molly, played by Yvonne Orji, negotiate fitting into a grown-up world, the show brings to light with hilarious nuance issues around cultural identity and being black.

As reported in the Los Angeles Times, "We're just trying to convey that people of color are relatable," she said while promoting the series during the Television Critics Association press tour. "This is not a hood story. This is about regular people living life."

A Los Angeles native and Stanford grad, Ms. Rae made her way to the small screen through the even smaller screen. "Insecure," which Ms. Rae co-created with comedy vet Larry Wilmore, is a sort of glossed-up revamp of Ms. Rae's hit YouTube show "The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl," another must-watch for your binge list and also the title of her autobiography published last year. Prior to that, while in college, Ms. Rae created her first web series, "Dorm Diaries," about black student life at the school.

Ryan Reynolds

Actor/Producer/Renegade Marketer

Credit: Peter Kramer/Bravo.

Ryan Reynolds

Actor/Producer/Renegade Marketer

By Ann-Christine Diaz

Ryan Reynolds made us almost forget he ever donned a Green Lantern costume as Deadpool, the eponymous anti-hero of 21st Century Fox's 2016 surprise box office hit.

With a mere $58.2 million budget, "Deadpool" became the highest-grossing R-Rated film of all time (besting "The Matrix Reloaded") and the top grossing X-Men movie with earnings of $782.6 million worldwide (which says a lot in the world of comic book movies).

The film was the culmination of a ten-year effort for Reynolds, who also served as a producer. You can see why he stuck with it--in Deadpool he found his fictional soulmate -- a role made for his wise-cracking wit. "I can channel this guy [Deadpool] in a way I just can't seem to channel anything else," he told The Hollywood Reporter in October. "When it comes to Deadpool's sensibility, and certainly his sense of humor, I feel like we were born on the same end of the spectrum."

Throughout the film, he went all-out embracing the Merc with a Mouth's penchant for breaking the third wall--and took that 'tude to the extreme in the film's stellar marketing too, working closely with President-Domestic Marketing Marc Weinstock (soon to become president of Annapurna Pictures).

He appeared in such unusual promos as a trailer for the film's trailer and a testicular cancer PSA. He pimped the movie with savvy snark on social media and last month even penned (or at least signed) a hilarious Oscars "For Your Consideration" letter to Academy members. He just nabbed a Golden Globe nomination for his performance, and now, he's primed to do it all again for "Deadpool 2."

Edel Rodriguez

Artist, Illustrator

Credit: courtesy Edel Rodriguez.

Edel Rodriguez

Artist, Illustrator

By Alexandra Jardine

Cuban-American artist Edel Rodriguez's portrait of Donald Trump for a Time magazine cover was one of the most memorable creative images of the U.S. election.

To accompany an August story titled "Inside Donald Trump's Meltdown,"Rodriguez created a simple, striking illustration capturing the billionaire's face oozing down like a lit candle--that was later updated in October to reflect, what at time, seemed to be his further imploding campaign.

Credit: Time Magazine.

Known for his bold, politically charged work, Rodriguez arrived in the U.S. as a child refugee in 1980. He has been working as an illustrator for 20 years and has exhibited his work internationally.

As well as other Time projects, including recent illustrations commemorating the Paris terror attacks, his portfolio includes covers for the likes of Billboard, The New Yorker and Newsweek, for which he created a controversial cover illustrating a story on "What Silicon Valley Thinks of Women." Prior to Trump, he's captured the likes of Che Guevara and Chairman Mao.

How did the recent illustrations for Time Magazine come about –- what in particular inspired them?

Over the past year I've created a series of personal reactions to the election and the creative team at Time has noticed my interest in the topic. The art director approached me about creating a cover on Trump the week after his election bid was engulfed in numerous scandals. They had a headline in mind "Meltdown," so I used that as inspiration for the portrait of Trump screaming and melting away.

What's your definition of creativity?

My definition of creativity is taking risks, trying things you've never tried, being scared and confronting that.

What was your biggest creative challenge of the past year, and how did you tackle it?

My biggest creative challenge in the past year was working with Nespresso on a commercial. It was challenging in a variety of ways. I was asked to paint my memories of Cuba on a series of three Nespresso cups for the release of one of their new coffees. I was also to be on camera, painting and talking in the studio for a commercial. I had never painted on small ceramic cups or been a featured actor in a commercial so it was all a challenge. I tackled it by researching the kinds of paints I could work with on a small scale and practicing on a number of cups before the day of the shoot.

What's your advice to anyone looking to jumpstart their creativity? How do you fight your creative demons?

My best advice to everyone is to enjoy mistakes, to thrive on failures. That mindset keeps you working, and constantly working is the best way to stay creative.

What's the best advice you've gotten when it comes to nurturing your creativity?

The best advice I've received is to take risks, to not be afraid of a painting surface, to attack the painting instead of backing away. The same advice can be translated into other parts of a creative life.

Ginni Rometty

Chairwoman, President, CEO, IBM

Ginni Rometty

Chairwoman, President, CEO, IBM

Credit: courtesy IBM.
By Jack Neff

Under Ginni Rometty, IBM has become synonymous with blending data, artificial intelligence and creativity.

The 35-year IBM vet became CEO in 2012 after integrating the largest acquisition in professional services history—PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting—into IBM's 100,000-strong business consulting unit. IBM has since become the world's largest digital agency on her watch, with more than 10,000 employees and a focus on creating experiences rather than ads.

But, arguably, the bigger creative impact under Ms. Rometty is Watson IBM's cognitive computing system. Watson itself was an honoree on this list last year, but since then, aside from its starring roles in new ads with the likes of Ridley Scott and Carrie Fisher, it's gone on to help studios shape movie trailers by watching people watch movies, reading what they respond to, and then isolating the elements to help film editors put together the most effective teaser. It's also helped Campbell Soup prepare recipes that resonate emotionally by analyzing the chemical composition of smells to create foods that remind people of pleasant memories from their youths.

Lior Ron

Co-founder, Otto

Credit: courtesy Otto.

Lior Ron

Co-founder, Otto

By E.J. Schultz

When Anheuser-Busch InBev recently teamed with tech company Otto to use a self-driving truck to haul a delivery of Budweiser more than 120 miles in Colorado, it provided tangible proof about how autonomous technology might change business—and the nation's highways. And it might not have happened without Lior Ron. Mr Ron, a former Google employee, co-founded Otto in January with a mission to create self-driving technology for trucks that will make highways safer. Uber bought Otto this summer for a reported $680 million.

The Forward, which covers Jewish news, described Mr. Ron as the "Israeli tech guru at the center of the self-driving revolution." His resume includes a stint serving as chief of technology for Israeli army intelligence. Mr. Ron told Wired magazine that he envisions a future where trucks are "essentially a virtual train on a software rail, on the highway."

Bozoma Saint John

Head of Global Consumer Marketing, Apple Music and iTunes

Credit: Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images.

Bozoma Saint John

Head of Global Consumer Marketing, Apple Music and iTunes

By E.J. Schultz

The phrase "rock star" isn't thrown around lightly at Apple, where the late great Steve Jobs once roamed. But "Boz," as Ms. Saint John is known, is drawing comparisons to the Apple legend, at least with her onstage presence. She stole the show at Apple's developer's conference in June when she unveiled a visual overhaul to Apple Music. Ms. Saint John "had the geek-squad crowd up on their feet, which harkens back to the Steve Jobs glory days," the New York Post gushed.

A former PepsiCo marketer and native of Ghana, she joined the Beats music startup in 2014. Beats was later acquired by Apple. She is behind such buzz-worthy work as an ad that aired during the 2015 Emmys that starred Kerry Washington, Taraji P. Henson and Mary J. Blige-—and even went on to appear in this year's follow-up, starring James Corden. A lover of pop culture, Boz in a Time article said "passion should meet your professional life, and I'm a living, breathing testament to that."

Sia

Singer-Songwriter

Credit: Tyler Golden/NBC.

Sia

Singer-Songwriter

By Ken Wheaton

I am a 43-year-old straight man who pounds bourbon and eats barbecued beef by the pound. And I am obsessed with Sia.

You should be, too.

Granted, the singer-songwriter has been hard to miss the last couple of years. Her stunning videos featuring young dancer Maddie Ziegler have taken the web by storm with each one's release—even the one with Shia LaBeouf. And this year, the Apple-obsessed were treated to a performance by Sia and Maddie at the annual Big Reveal of Whatever It Is Apple Is Revealing.

But it's not the showmanship—or the face-covering wig. It's the completely irresistible music that combines the best of pop with something deeper in tunes like "Chandelier" and "Elastic Heart."

No doubt you've heard this summer's "Cheap Thrills," which somehow was Sia's first No. 1 hit as a singer. She notched her first No. 1 as a songwriter with Rihanna's "Diamonds."

And here's the thing about "Cheap Thrills." It was written for—and rejected by—Rihanna. According to a Slate piece called "How Sia Beat Rihanna at Her Own Game to Score Her First No. 1," every song on her most recent album, "This Is Acting," was written for another pop star and rejected.

That's a lesson for every creative out there.

The Swet Shop Boys

Hip-Hop Artists

The Swet Shop Boys

Hip-Hop Artists

Credit: Robin Marchant/Getty Images.
By Suman Bhattacharyya

The Swet Shop Boys' fusion of rap with cultural references in their debut album "Cashmere" touches on the experiences of the South Asian diaspora in a western environment becoming increasingly suspicious of the "other."

The duo consists of Indian-American Himanshu Suri ("Heems") and Pakistani-origin British rapper and actor Riz Ahmed ("Riz MC"), who also just earned a Golden Globe nomination for his role as Nasir Khan on HBO's acclaimed series "The Night Of." Their narratives hark back to cornerstones of the South Asian immigrant experience, along with more recent examples of racial profiling and cultural stereotyping. The group mixes Hindi and Urdu slang, Bollywood, and other uniquely South Asian references to paint authentic pictures of what it means to be a "desi" in the West.

"I'd kind of liken the South Asian experience in the U.K. more to the Latino experience in the U.S.," Mr. Ahmed told NPR. "But I know certainly, growing up for us, we really looked to the African-American experience as expressed through hip-hop as a way of kind of articulating some of our own outsider struggles."

Chris Tung

Chief Marketing Officer, Alibaba Group

Chris Tung

Chief Marketing Officer, Alibaba Group

Credit: courtesy Alibaba.
By Angela Doland

Chinese internet giant Alibaba Group has been experimenting with how to make online shopping less transactional and more fun by blending entertainment, events and technology. Chief Marketing Officer Chris Tung has been guiding the company further down that path.

Mr. Tung has promoted augmented and virtual reality shopping, encouraged unusual online storytelling and created the Maker Festival in Shanghai that drew nearly 40,000 people and showcased inventors and innovators selling their wares through Alibaba's Taobao platform.

Mr. Tung joined in January from his role as CEO of WWP-owned VML China. He'd also previously served at P&G, L'Oreal and PepsiCo and founded a hot digital agency that was bought by VML. He compares his new role to a movie producer, guiding and coordinating projects and encouraging everyone to pitch in with ideas.

"Everything we do, it takes thousands of people to be able to do it," he said. Since Alibaba has so many teams working on different platforms, "there's a very healthy competition going on right now, which I'm encouraging. People know that when they have good ideas they will be recognized and supported with the right level of resources."

Out of this incubator environment, Taobao released on its mobile app an unusual online experience for nighttime, when traffic heats up. Swiping the phone in an unusual way brings people into a secret area, a "second floor" that isn't there unless you know to look for it. The app rolled out a series of videos called "1,001 Nights" that had a darker, fantasy feel but that also led people to products.

Leading up to the company's annual Nov. 11 shopping fest called 11.11 or Singles Day, the team created a Pokémon Go-like AR game that brought shoppers into retail locations; Alibaba says almost 70 million people played. Separately, people in China could strap on VR headsets to browse and shop at a virtual version of a U.S. Target or Macy's. There was also a four-hour TV variety show where people could use their mobile phones to interact with it; when a celebrity tossed a yellow coat on stage, viewers could try to "catch" it with an AR feature on their mobile phone.

"It's all about innovating user experience, and one of the powerful ways to innovate is to combine entertainment with tech," Mr. Tung said. "That's what I've been doing, and Alibaba has a very strong and sizable tech team that can make my ideas come true."

Amalia Ulman

Artist

Amalia Ulman

Artist

Credit: courtesy of Amalia Ulman.
By Emma Hall

Born in Argentina, raised in a tattoo parlor in Spain and educated at Central Saint Martins in London, Amalia Ulman's provocative, performance-based social media posts have won her acclaim as the first great Instagram artist.

For her five-month semifictional project "Excellences & Perfections" (shown at London's Tate Modern in 2016), she reinvented herself as an aspiring actress who relocates to L.A., takes drugs, works as an escort and gets breast implants, before finding redemption through yoga and a new relationship.

Her 2016 work included staging a pregnancy on her Instagram feed (shown at the Berlin Biennale) and introducing her followers to a pigeon named Bob, whom she transformed into an art subject worthy of an exhibition in Paris.

Ulman's work is not all Instagram. "The Annals of Private History" evokes the city of Pyongyang in North Korea using photographs, video and audio; and her 2015 solo show in New York, "Stock Images of War," was a series of wire sculptures in a room filled with the scent of baked apple strudel.

Hamdi Ulukaya

Founder-CEO, Chobani, The Tent Foundation

Hamdi Ulukaya

Founder-CEO, Chobani, The Tent Foundation

Credit: Raigo Pajula/Getty Images.
By Jack Neff

It's hard to find a better embodiment of the American Dream than Turkish immigrant Hamdi Ulukaya, a Kurd who came to the U.S. in 1994 to study English and ultimately launched Chobani Greek yogurt in 2007, which became the leading U.S. yogurt brand by 2011.

But the success story is not his alone. He's taken an innovative approach to building his workforce and has done good in the process by employing 300 refugees at his business, particularly at the company's Twin Falls, Idaho, plant—the largest yogurt processing facility in the U.S.

That work got attention when he made a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, where he pledged most of his income to helping refugees and urged other companies to get involved. Such companies as Cisco, IBM and Salesforce began working with the Tent Foundation, which Mr. Ulukaya founded last year, and he pledged to help them learn how to integrate refugees into their workforce. That's all helped make him a target of criticism by right-wing outlets such as Breitbart News and a boycott.

This year, Mr. Ulukaya also launched the Chobani Food Incubator to mentor other food entrepreneurs, giving six grants of $25,000 each, travel expenses and dedicated space at the company's SoHo offices. He also gave away what could amount to 10% of his estimated $3 billion to his 2,000 employees through shares based on their tenure and role.

Saschka Unseld

Creative Director, Oculus Story Studio & Passion Pictures New York

Saschka Unseld

Creative Director, Oculus Story Studio & Passion Pictures New York

Credit: courtesy Saschka Unseld.
By George Slefo

Saschka Unseld had already proved his storytelling chops at Pixar, working on animated films like "Toy Story 3," "Cars 2" and "Brave" and directing the 2013 theatrical short "The Blue Umbrella," before he became a creative director at Passion Pictures' New York office and helmed Chipotle's most recent animated film, "A Love Story."

But perhaps he's best known as creative director of Oculus Story Studio, where he's breaking ground in VR. The studio's short film "Henry," narrated by Elijah Wood, about a hedgehog who can't make any friends, this year became the first VR short to win an Emmy for Outstanding Original Interactive Program. "I think it's a milestone for the medium," Mr. Unseld told the L.A. Times after the win. "Of course, it's not in the context of television unless you're in a [specifically] TV category. But it's competing with all the interactive TV out there, and I think it's massively important. It's the next stage in the exposure of VR."

Sheena Wagstaff

Modern and Contemporary Division Chair, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Sheena Wagstaff

Modern and Contemporary Division Chair, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Credit: Ben Gabbe/Getty Images.
By Emma Hall

When the Metropolitan Museum of Art committed to catching up with the 21st century, it tapped Sheena Wagstaff as the woman for the job.

As the first chair of the Met's department of modern and contemporary art, Wagstaff refurbished and curated the new Met Breuer annex, which opened in March 2016. Her mission to make modern and contemporary art one of the Met's main attractions is part of a drive to boost visitor numbers, art donors and funding at a time when collectors and investors are all about the new.

At the same time, the Met's past needs to be respected. Wagstaff told the Financial Times, "Only the Met can put new work in its proper time scale and geographical context."

Previously chief curator of London's Tate Modern for 10 years, Ms. Wagstaff helped transform London's contemporary art scene and create an attraction that brings in 5 million visitors a year.

Jenna Weiss-Berman

Podcast Producer; Co-founder, Pineapple Street Media

Jenna Weiss-Berman

Podcast Producer; Co-founder, Pineapple Street Media

Credit: courtesy Pineapple Street Media.
By Ann Marie Kerwin

Jenna Weiss-Berman first got involved in creating podcasts working with the likes of "McSweeney's," "The Moth," and NPR. Then, in November 2014 she jumped to BuzzFeed to launch its podcast department, where she built a team of women that she calls the "all lady PodSquad" and achieved early success with "Another Round," a frank discussion about race, gender, pop culture and more, with hosts Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton.

"When we started the show, which is hosted by two cool, young, black women, a lot of people said 'only white people listen to podcasts, and I don't know if anyone will listen to this one,'" she said. "But I thought only white people are listening to podcasts right now because that's what's being made. I wanted to expand the audience for podcasts." Her instinct paid off. "Another Round" episodes were named to best podcasts of the year in 2015 by iTunes, Slate, Vulture, and The Atlantic.

For a podcast to be a success, "I think the host has to be compelling, and if host isn't compelling, the stories have to be amazing," Ms. Weiss-Berman said. "The rare ones are those that have both of those things."

While at BuzzFeed, Ms. Weiss-Berman started to get inquiries from a diverse group—from media companies to major corporations to Hollywood celebrities, even Ivanka Trump.

Now, she's broken out on her own at new podcast company Pineapple Street Media, co-founded with Max Linsky. The company is already making shows with Wieden & Kennedy and The New York Times and partnered with the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign to produce "Her with Hillary Clinton." It's working with Morgan Stanley and Google to create branded properties that it hopes will reach a wide audience. Pineapple Street Media is also now producing "Women of the Hour," which started at BuzzFeed and is hosted by Lena Dunham (a friend from college).

"I didn't go to business school, but if you do they tell you to think about a service that doesn't yet exist and how can you make it exist?" she said. "I don't know how long big companies will need podcasts, but what we want in the long term is to make long-lasting, original shows that we fully own."

Colson Whitehead

Author

Colson Whitehead

Author

Credit: Sylvain Gaboury/Getty Images.
By Nat Ives

The first novel from Colson Whitehead, the former Village Voice critic, found drama in a "Department of Elevator Inspectors," as well as acclaim such as the Quality Paperback Book Club's New Voices Award. Further works took on steel-driving men and, less iconically, naming a town. But the "The Underground Railroad" in 2016 landed amid a national outcry over police shootings of unarmed black men.

Though Mr. Whitehead "does not italicize" the parallels, as New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani wrote, it would have been unnecessary: "The harrowing tale he tells here is the backstory to the injustices African-Americans and immigrants continue to suffer, but a backstory only in the sense, as Faulkner put it, that 'the past is never dead. It's not even past.'"

Already a best-seller and Oprah Winfrey book club selection, in November "The Underground Railroad" won a National Book Award. In his acceptance speech not long after the presidential election, Mr. Whitehead referred to Donald Trump's victory. "We're happy in here," he said.

"Outside is the blasted hellhole wasteland of Trumpland. Be kind to everybody, make art and fight the power."

Ali Wong

Comedian

Credit: Alex Crick/Netflix.

Ali Wong

Comedian

By Jeanine Poggi

Ali Wong's stand-up comedy special on Netflix broke ground this spring for its profanity-laced bits on motherhood, her miscarriage and struggle with fertility issues—which she delivered on stage while seven-and-a-half-months pregnant.

While Ms. Wong, 34, proudly displays her baby bump in an $8 black-and-white striped H&M mini-dress, it isn't until more than half-way through "Baby Cobra" that she addresses her pregnancy. When she does, she makes a statement on how pregnancy is perceived not just in the world of stand-up comedy, but in many other industries: "It's very rare and unusual to see a female comic perform pregnant because female comics don't get pregnant. Just try to think of one. I dare you. There's none of them. Once they do get pregnant they generally disappear."

Also a writer on ABC's sitcom "Fresh Off the Boat," Ms. Wong was the inspiration for many a Halloween costume, with plenty of women—and men—donning that striped dress, red glasses and baby belly.

Alex Zhu
& Luyu Yang

Founders, Musical.ly

Credit: courtesy Musical.ly.

Alex Zhu & Luyu Yang

Founders, Musical.ly

By Garett Sloane

Alex Zhu and Luyu Yang were onto something when, in 2014, they founded Musical.ly, an app that marries two teen favorites—selfies and music—by letting users create lip-syncing music videos in 15-second bursts.

Today, it boasts 135 million users and has turned out its own new media stars. One of those, Ariel Martin (aka Baby Ariel), a user with 15 million followers, even appeared on the cover of Billboard in October. Now Messrs. Zhu and Yang are jumping into the next craze, live-streaming, with a video app called Live.ly.

Online production: Chen Wu.