Creativity World Forum 2011: Making ideas happen


The Creativity World Forum 2011 had to live up against high expectations. When the event was organized for the first time in 2008 (in Antwerp) Flanders DC showed all other conference & congress organizers in Belgium what the new benchmark would be. I really enjoyed the 2008 edition and thus was really looking forward to the event. This years program was a good start. With people like Jimmy Wales, Keith Sawyer, Malcolm Gladwell, Scott Belsky, Oliver Stone, … it’s clear that the €300 investment for a packed 2 days would be money well spent.

I think that this years event had an even clearer focus on creativity than the one 3 years ago. With in my opinion 2 big topics related to that: the first one being about ‘how to be creative’ and the second one (maybe biggest one) about ‘making ideas happen’. Often speakers would refer to the fact that coming up with ideas isn’t that difficult but choosing between ideas and making them happen is.

The first day started with failure. Jimmy Wales said “don’t tie your ego to a particular business” referring to the fact that he himself had failed several times before starting with Wikipedia. It’s also the main reason why he likes Silicon Valley so much, in his eyes it has the culture that supports failure – in Silicon Valley one who fails is still better than one that never tried. Peter Hinssen in his talk made similar references to failure, definitely a popular topic. Peter focused even more on speed however, that’s where his famous ‘good enough is great’ reference is coming from. In the context of speed and the examples he gave that makes sense to me, in all other context I find it rubbish (as you could read right here).

“If you freeze an idea too quickly, you fall in love with it. If you refine it too quickly, you become attached to it and it becomes very hard to keep exploring, to keep looking for better. The crudeness of the early models in particular is very deliberate.” (Jim Glymph of Gehry Partners)

It was Alexander Osterwalder – known for his book on Business Model Generation – that used this quote during his talk. I liked the idea of putting even more effort into prototyping, which he sees as having a conversation with an idea. I like that. Another element that helps being better at creativity is collaboration. That’s the main topic Keith Sawyer talked about, debunking again the myth of the Eureka moment from the lone genius. Creativity is a group effort, ideally a cross-group type collaboration effort. See also my presentation on Agile Planning where I talked about this as well. Last speaker of the first day Malcolm Gladwell. In a sense he talked about the opposite of Jimmy & Peter earlier that day. Why is it that we tend to reward creativity/innovation so much on being the first to do something? History has proven that it almost never is the first to come up with an idea to be the one to market it. In his opinion the innovation strikes hardest when the tweakers come in. Really interesting but although being the first is definitely not enough, this talk almost sounded like a plea to be the third in all that you do… I don’t think that’s supposed to be the truth. I did remind me of a quote Tom Kelley from IDEO used during the first Creativity World Forum:

“The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes” (Marcel Proust)

Presentations linked to a book always tend to be hyper structured. I like that. Scott Belsky’s presentation was one of those clear and structured talks. Probably no coincidence that he sees structure as a key element in making ideas happen, next to collaboration and leadership. Interesting thought on that last topic by the way – silence the visionary. Anyway, I’m a fan, make sure you check out the man’s work. Good start of the day as well, later on there was Jamie Anderson who kinda confirmed what we had heard before and then Garr Reynolds came to talk about Presentation Zen. Good presentation as to be expected, but maybe just a bit too many quotes and also it was great to see him stick to the timing, but still weird for a presentation guru to have to skip like so many slides to make that happen.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.” (Shunryu Suzuki)

Probably the quote I liked most from all the ones Garr used in his talk. It is indeed of great importance to try and “unlearn what you have learned” as Yoda would say, to be really creative. How can you look at things in a really new way when your expertise makes it so that you automatically scope out what in your mind is not possible? You can’t.

Last but not least, final speaker of the 2 days, was Oliver Stone. He did a panel conversation with some Belgian movie director who’s name I’d happily forget, and I think we all just listened. Just think about all the movies this man has created, you can only respect that. One of the things he said that resonated most with me, something that I’ve been thinking about actively since then was the following question: “what’s the narrative of your life”? Something we should all ask ourselves from time to time. On being creative, Stone urged us all to think about the time we create for ourselves to be creative, because we’re not making enough time for it in general mostly because of the loads of distractions we have these days.

Key take aways from these 2 days:

How to be creative:

  • Create time – there’s no flash of insight, eureka moment but it’s more like an emergence of time. So create that time needed.
  • Prototype – have that conversation with an idea
  • Collaborate – get people together, cross-group preferably and share ideas liberally

Making ideas happen:

  • Choose between ideas – it’s more important to realize a few ideas, than to have created many
  • Organize yourself – creativity x organization = impact (dixit Scott Belsky)
  • Progress begets progress – show progress, surround yourself with it as it’s important to keep going that you see the results during the process
  • Share ownership of ideas

Make change happen:

  • The flip, the shift, … – it doesn’t really matter what you call it, when change really happens, it happens big time. This means that is impossible to stick with the things you know if you want real change to happen.

Thanks again Flanders DC and everyone involved for making this event happen. See you again in 3 years.