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Today I attended a launch event for i.e.* - a conference for a multi-year initiative aimed at highlighting and elevating innovation and creativity in Richmond, VA. There was a series of talks by artists, business owners, and other members of the community. There were activities designed to illicit collaboration and ideas from attendees. And there were a lot of fantastically creative and interesting people involved in putting the whole thing together.

Several of my Twitter followers mentioned that they were only just hearing about the conference, and it turns out that's not an accident. It was intentionally un-marketed - as an experiment, essentially - to see whether word-of-mouth (traditional or electronic) would be enough to build up enough buzz. All 200 seats sold out this week.

So here's a summary of thoughts I gleaned from the speakers throughout the day.

  • From painter Ed Trask: He shared a fascinating idea about two major forms of preoccupation when people are out and about; functional preoccupation when we're caught up in our tasks and visual preoccupation when we're caught up in what we see around us.
  • From Matt Williams of The Martin Agency: A quote from French author Albert Camus regarding Sisyphus: "The struggle enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy." Williams was not suggesting that we all seek futile work; rather he was highlighting that the process and work can be fulfilling regardless of the outcome. A recently popular quote from Chuck Close was also shared: "Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work." I've seen this message a lot recently in the creative world, and it resonates with me every time. Echos of this idea would manifest themselves a few times throughout the day.
  • From writer Valley Haggard: Be vulnerable and naked/uncovered in your creative pursuits.
  • From Jeff and Joey Anderson of BioTaxi: These guys killed it. Dynamic and funny, they seemed to have hooked the whole crowd. They're only 23 and 21 years old, but they're entrepreneurial spirit was evident. Two main take-aways: 1. It's all about people helping people - small businesses helping small businesses. 2. Be open to new, untested ideas, and just get started doing.
  • From the folks at Rainbow Station: Why not teach leadership skills to kids? They have kids participating in volunteer work at the preschool level, and they were genuinely interested. While a lot of the philosophy comes from Steven Covey books (the language of which makes me gag a bit), it's remarkable to see such young kids engaged with their communities instead of just their toys.
  • From Ken Johnson of Johnson, Inc.: He doesn't worry about his competitors - he makes himself his own competition so that he's always trying to improve.
  • From Cam DiNunzio of Black Iris Music: 1. Do the work you want. 2. Own your work (whether it's artful or just paying the bills). 3. Be the easiest person to work with in the room.
  • From poet Joshua Poteat: Don't let your lack of credentials keep you from doing something.
  • From artist Liz Kellinger: Don't let "not understanding" keep you from doing. She never knew what compelled her to leave the business world and move into the visual arts, but she just went with it.

Also, there were mixed messages on the importance of "inspiration" touched-off by that quote from Chuck Close. I think it may have been important for somebody to differentiate between waiting on inspiration to strike before working and seeing inspiration as a set of inputs that help shape the outcome of your creative process.

Whew! That doesn't cover everything, and it completely missis the short "pod talks" where several speakers had 8 minutes each, and attendees chose between 4 presentations. I had an accidental "local small business-owner" theme with my choices hearing great origin stories from the proprietors of Pizza Tonight, West Coast Kix, The Camel, and Scoot Richmond. I sure hope there are follow-up events, particular smaller meetings and happenings designed to keep up the direction and enthusiasm generated by this launch conference.

And a parting word: During a break-out session in small groups we were asked to answer some questions about what this conference means for our actions in the future. Two people in my group described the notion that folks from different backgrounds trying to solve a problem together are more likely to be creative in their joint problem solving because they are each naive about each other's existing assumptions and ideologies. This is advantageous over homogenous groups attacking a problem where they may be hampered by shared misconceptions.

Let's be naive together.