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.

Creativity World Forum

Last week I spent 2 days at the Creativity World Forum in Antwerp, a conference that got my attention because of some of main speakers such as John Cleese, Steve Wozniak, Dan Heath, Tom Kelly, Chris Anderson, … Many of them I had not seen before which made it all the more interesting. It was also at this conference that we got to SpotMe device for better networking, something I blogged about last week. Most of he links below point to short recap videos of the presentations, so make sure you check out the ones that interest you.

Day 2 - Chris Anderson
Photo from FlandersDC

First speaker to kick off the event (well after the obligatory and boring intro) was John Cleese. And just like for many of you I guess… he’s a hero of mine so pretty good start :) I must say even though John didn’t re-invent to wheel here on how to be creative but I liked that presentation a lot. John’s theory is that everyone can be creative, but that you need to get into the creative mindset for it and that you need to take time for it. A lot of his focus regarding this mindset was on the unconscious part of your brain that is very important for this. He recommended to read a book called ‘Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind: How intelligence increases when you think less’ to support his talk on this. Instinctively I could recognize myself in this (which I guess is a good thing) but there’s obviously no way I compare to John of course.

The next talk I saw was from Jef Staes. A presentation that didn’t really start of well, but turned out to be pretty interesting in the end. The analogy of the Red Monkey which is the creator, who needs to influence the pioneers first, after which you (hopefully) get followers that finally crush the settlers was an interesting one. Especially given my interest in all things ‘influence’. After Jef came Theo Jansen who I blogged about before, seriously impressed with his creations though. Fascinating to see those on stage., again watch the video. Last speaker I saw on day 1 was Steve Wozniak, and although I was seriously looking forward to that, I must say you might as well read his book.

First up the second day was Tom Kelley from IDEO, who talked about how it’s not good enough to be innovative, but how you also need to outpace everyone else. He spoke about his new book and the different roles he describes in there that are important in the innovative process, with the focus on 2 roles: The Anthropologist and the Experience Architect. Again I liked what I saw, also because it sort of ties in with some things I mentioned during my own presentation at SIME. He mentioned a good quote of Marcel Proust saying:

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

He also referred to a concept they call ‘VUJA DE’ which is exactly the opposite as ‘DEJA VU’ and how it’s exactly these ‘VUJA DE’ moments they’re trying to pursue at IDEO when working on projects. Good stuff.

I was also looking forward to see An De Jonghe but that turned out to be a big disappointment. She gave 3 examples around social networking, one of which was Belgian and which took her a lot of research to find it (yet failing to point out she’s consulting for them!) Good luck we got a great treat from Dan Heath after that. His talk was related to ‘Made To Stick’ (which I loved) and since he’s a great presenter as well, this was really good. Good reminder about the ‘curse of knowledge’ and thinking about reading the book again.

Last but not least, Chris Anderson, no need for introduction right? He talked a little bit about ‘The Long Tail’ but mostly on his new book ‘Free’ which is coming out next June. It was really interesting to see how he came about this theory (talking about how “storage, bandwidth will become to cheap to meter”) and why that enables these new models. He talked about 4 models of FREE that exist in the 21st Century:

  1. A marketing trick
  2. Ad-Funded / Ad-Supported
  3. Freemium
  4. Gift Economy

… of which Freemium is definitely the most compelling to me. Really good talk again which concluded the event. So needless to say I enjoyed it, especially when you know it cost only like 300 EUR. There were more presentations but those were the ones I wanted to talk about, make sure you watch those videos!

Strandbeest by Theo Jansen

Amazing. No other word for it… I find it hard to understand I missed it earlier on, but then again that’s the beauty of the web, that you can keep discovering beautiful things day after day I guess. Today at the Creativity World Forum (I’ll write about the whole event once it’s over) one presentation really fascinated me and that was the presentation from Theo Jansen.

Theo Jansen is an engineer/artist or even better a kinetic sculptor who creates new forms of artificial life, sculptures or animals that are made by very light material and that move powered by wind on the Dutch beaches. Check it out:

Theo Jansen has given presentations on this topic at TED and other events hence my remark I really should have seen this before, but I didn’t. Glad I have now though.