In November 2012 I was part of a special, fun little event in Richmond, Virginia: the inaugural Bill Conference. This was an “un-conference”, an event with few, simple rules and no starting agenda. Some speakers (including myself) were approached ahead of time to seed the field, but most of the speaking slots were volunteers that day. Some attendees were prepared, others signed up in the moment and spoke extemporaneously. It was raw and pure and wonderful.
Bill Conference was created in response to the peak popularity of TED talks at the time, whose slogan is “ideas worth spreading”. Bill Conference, on the other hand, proclaimed “Ideas are easy. Making stuff is hard.” So I decided to stick with “ideas” and talk about how I could keep them from getting in the way of making stuff.
My whole talk outline is below:
Talking at BILL Conference
Giving Away My Ideas
1. Show video (if possible) from Coudal Partners about hobbies…
2. That’s me – totally unfocused, interests all over the map.
Making lists of stuff?
3. This lack of focus means a lot of ideas all over the place. Now I’m going to share some with you – and I’m not afraid to give these ideas away because I haven’t done anything with them. In most cases it’s been about a year since I first wrote these down. Here’s a sample:
// “I don’t own a TV dinner” or “The Hipster Happy Meal”
// “Now that’s a Hoff of a different color” – Traced/watercolor illustration of Dustin Hoffman with those words in the foreground
// Zen Cone – traffic or ice cream cone accompanied by some profound statement about traffic or ice cream.
// Write a hard-core rap called “Luxury Car Entitlement Syndrome” from the perspective of a reckless Mercedes driver taunting other people on the road.
// Create three music samples
// Make a short audio clip of the phrase “I love you” but replace the word “love” with a dubstep bass drop
// A parody book of creepy baby shower games
// An essay about the value of spending my money on travel vs. my house and possessions
// A blog post about how not being a genre fan, or something…
4. I write all of these down in this little notebook that I keep in my pocket. I do this to get ideas out of my head and make room for the ideas to keep flowing. Not only does it help me stop wasting mental energy on things I’m not doing, but FOR ME, it increases the chances of getting to an idea worth grabbing on to. And I’ve actually completed a some, like:
a. Writing and delivering a talk about shooting film photography
b. Develop, record, edit, and publish a new podcast.
The whole point of my talk was that I wanted to give away these ideas because they weren’t precious to me. I get ideas all the time, and I was writing them in this notebook to get them out of my head. Making space for more ideas. Maybe I’d act on them, but probably I wouldn’t. In the case of the ideas I shared that day, I hadn’t acted on any of them in at least a year.
But a curious thing happened when I was done, and it haunts me a little to this day to the point where I wish I could go back and give better responses. Most of the people in the audience completely missed the point. I mean, it was probably the fault of my own amateur writing and delivery. I recall the majority of questions and comments revolving around better ways to collect/catalog ideas for later rather than how to get out from under the weight of ideas and move closer to doing something. Delivering the talk was deeply satisfying and exhilarating, but the response left me bewildered.
I don’t really write my ideas down these days because a year after that talk I had my first child, and I barely have time for one hobby, let alone extra ideas. But I still believe in the concept. I suspect as my children grow up and I have a little more of my own voice back in my head that the ideas will return. I’m still going to want them out of my head so I don’t get hung up on them. I’m still probably going to give them away after a while.