Networking in Two and Twenty Minutes

Last week I attended two events focused on networking: Speed Networking and The Unraveled Network. Two completely different experiences in interaction — one allowing two minutes per conversation and the other setting the stage for a 20 minute conversation.

Speed Networking at it's Fastest

Speed Networking, hosted by YPOTC (The Young Professionals of the Twin Cities) on November 5th at the Copper Hen Cakery in the gorgeous newly renovated building at 2515 Nicollet near the Bad Waitress and IceHouse, was definitely an experiment in maximizing the number of people you meet. The Unraveled Network, hosted by Pollen Midwest on November 6th at the Weisman Art Museum (read the recap here), was more about how to network and discovery through audience survey feedback to find out what’s at the core of a great networker.

For Fast-Talkers and Brief Conversation

The speed-networking format in and of itself is intentionally designed to force people into conversations. At two minutes per meeting for each of the 30 people in attendance, it might be deemed as efficient, but I found it to be a whirlwind of disconnect.

By the event’s end I was tired of hearing my one-minute elevator pitch. I walked away with 20 some business cards and a follow-up list. I diligently followed up with most by LinkingIn with them, which is pretty minimal on my part. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a roomful of energy and excitement and good potential connections. It just wasn’t a format that allowed me to fully understand what the other person had to offer.

For Learning and In-depth Discussion

Pollenites BuzzingThe research-oriented networking event, The Unraveled Network, continues to intrigue me. Keynote speaker Marcia Ballinger, author of 20 Minute Networking Meeting, had the learning component covered. Pop-up speakers brought additional context surrounding networking. And our online presence and social content and interests informed the organizer’s placement of attendees in tables of eight people, guaranteed to have some sixth-degree connection yet to be discovered.

I found this to be more aligned with what I look for in an event. Within the context initiated by the presenters, our table was able to have a more focused discussion in 20-30 minutes around the topic (networking). The conversation starters placed at our tables (two different questions per eight people), allowed us to find some common ground among our diverse careers and expertise. I followed up with the connections I made at this event by LinkingIn, connecting on other social channels and sending a few emails to new connections that I want to further explore.

Format Comparison 

An effective networker can work any crowd — whether it’s a two or 20 minute conversation. Obviously there are many more event formats to explore as they relate to networking (YPOTC has several other formats like happy hours). It’s really about researching the event format, knowing the audience, setting your expectations appropriately, expressing interest in others and finally… the follow-up. All of which fall into the broad idea of networking best practices that I plan to cover in future blog posts. In the meantime, I’d like to know, What events have you been to lately that were very worthwhile and not-so worthwhile networking-wise, for whatever reason?


Networking is the New Leadership

We’ve been defining leadership and what makes great leaders for 75 years. But networking? Well… that’s a little nebulous. What makes a great networker? What are the top five things they do and don’t do? How much time does it take to do networking right?

Keynote Marcia BallingerThe Unraveled Network, hosted by Pollen Midwest on November 6th at the Weisman Art Museum, got to the heart of this challenge. Their aim? To delve into the concept of networking through research and behavior to uncover what’s at the core of a great networker then share that learning with aspiring networkers.

Efficiency, Etiquette and Ownership

Keynote speaker Marcia Ballinger, author of 20 Minute Networking Meeting, and Pollen co-founder Jamie Millard kicked it off with a networking etiquette and strategy Q&A. They covered efficiency, etiquette and ownership with scenarios like someone the phone card, not the coffee card (it’s okay!), setting expectations with a beginning and end time for meetings (20 minutes is all that is needed!) and coming prepared with an agenda that highlights connections and brings value to both parties.

PopUp Speaker PointsPop-Up Presenters

The event continued by building on Marcia’s message with pop-up speakers. I love this concept. In a room full of 200-some people, everyone may want to talk to the main speaker(s) that delivered the message. Sometimes that isn’t possible. The pop-up style presented four speakers’ expanding views on networking in brief 2-3 minute format.

They were diverse and made very memorable points like Levi Weinhagen, Co-Founder of Comedy Suitcase, who suggested people ask mentors about their most challenging tasks and Pahoua Hoffman, Policy Director of Citizen’s League, who encouraged people to find the humanness in networking. She likened her networking approach to making friends rather than networking as a necessary evil solely for career gain.

Pollen Program + Connect CardIntentional Ice-Breakers

The match-up for attendee seating assignments (8 per table) was intentionally aligned by the event planners. The methodology (think LinkedIn and online search) is a secret, but even before that was revealed some of us discovered how we were connected just through the natural course of conversation.

The more orchestrated ice-breaking technique for the event began with a 3×4 card designed with a simple question about our daily routine and a specific networking question for each person to answer. When shared around the table, the answers brought insight into personality and networking style, strategies and tactics which stemmed further discussion.

On the flip side of the card there was a “connect card” — a business card to the plus — where you could check the variety of ways you’d like to connect including email, social channels and going to an event together. We couldn’t select just one person to give our one connect card to, so we all exchanged business cards.

Part 1: Recap

For part one in a series of two (to be continued on January 28 from 7:30-10a.m.), this event had the educational component, interactivity in subject matter (all attendees completed a 35 minute survey on their networking habits) and meaningful connections dialed in. I’m looking forward to building on the connections I made at the event and Pollen’s assessment of feedback (in collaboration with the Carlson School of Management) yet to come during Part 2.

The New Leadership

Networking is the new leadership. As a communications person who attends a lot of events and event planner driven by research and behaviors, I can’t help but be drawn to discovering networking best practices. Some subscribe to the theory that the more people you meet the more opportunities you have to make connections that translate into career value. But it’s not necessarily about quantity, it’s about quality… and time, resources and value for your personal life and career.

Fellow Pollenites: Did you find value in this event? Networkers: What value do you give and receive through networking? What do you love and hate about it?

OTAFargo: Boldness Knows No Boundaries

Forget about your goals. Forget about what you thought you wanted do to upon graduation. Forget about controlling your professional path. Just be bold.

The seventh in a series of semi-annual events, OTA pulled off another top-notch event in Fargo on September 12 (#OTAFargo). The OTA name stems from the later part of its tri-state partners’ names: Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. Duh. After I fought the urge to assign a word with each letter, it revealed itself to me. The OTA logo sports a circular arrow running though the state outlines to signal the groups’ goal: to inspire intersections in creativity and community.

Highly Content with The Great Discontent

Highly Content with The Great Discontent

In April 2014, I only attended a half-day of the OTA Sioux Falls event, due to a surprise messy spring blizzard that closed down I-90. View the event download I wrote here. I was definitely more optimistic as I set out for Fargo from Minneapolis (a 3.5hour drive) on September 12, a promising beautiful fall day. The core of the event took place from 8:30a.m. -5:00p.m. Specific workshops the day prior as well as comp tickets to Dessa in concert for all OTAns were options as well. I opted to get up at 4:00a.m. to make the day’s speakers and head out after the event.

Back to boldness. Thirteen diverse speakers interspersed with compelling videos by Passenger Productions, funded by the Bush Foundation, delivered big on inspiration. Speakers and artists featured via video boldly shared more than their profession (#WeMustBeBold). They shared inspiration and how they happened upon their life, which for the majority of them isn’t defined in terms of work/life balance per se. The boundaries are blurred. Intentionally and thankfully.

Richardo Crespo, CCO at Th13teen and former Global Creative Chief at 20th Century Fox and Mattel, confirmed this view when I asked him about work/life balance. I mean, sh*t the California dad of four surfs nearly every day and churns out a ton of creative. He noted that we’ll get more of a glimpse into that when Fast Company relays his interview in an upcoming issue.

OTA speakers have some swagger for sure. Larry Smith, Catalyst of Six Word Memoirs, has a collection of celebrities’ six words. If you haven’t checked it out, do so. It’s been a huge help getting me to the essence of things lately, like this speaker summary for instance. OTAns: please send me your six words on a speaker’s influence via email or on Twitter @SparkTracker. (Also look for OTA to do something with each person’s Six Word Memoir soon)

Ricardo Crespo, CCO at Th13teen and former Global Creative Chief at 20th Century Fox and Mattel (@_ricardocrespo_): Start. Stop. Continue. Beware the shuffleplay.

Greg Hartle, Founder of $10 and a Laptop (@greghartle): $10 In My Pocket. Need coffee.

Cathy Brooks, founder/Chief Human Officer, The Hydrant Club (@cathybrooks): What happens in Vegas? Dog park.

Ellen McGirt, Business Journalist, Fast Company alum, nervous novelist (@ellenmcgirt; @ImJustPo): Don’t know? Ask Po. #ILYMTW informant.

Wes Eisenhauer, Frontman of Soulcrate, Photographer (@soulcrate): Wordsmith on stage. Speechless with camera.

Larry Smith, Founder of SMITH Magazine and Catalyst of Six Word Memoirs (@larrysmith): Intimidation. Out-sixing the sixer creator.

Lonnie Carter, Playwright of Lost Boys (and Girl) of Sudan (@lonniety): Critics: critique me more. It’s welcome.

Kevin Kirby, Ashoka Fellow, CEO and Co-founder of Face It Together (@faceit2gether): Addiction solution demands lifetime of management.

Jason Roberts, Founder of Team Better Block (@mannytmoto): Add tires, paint, palettes. Presto! Places.

Elizabeth King, Founder and Executive Director of Agency for Emerging Voices (@elizabethonline): Passion pit. Google it. It’s legit.

The Gregory Brothers, Creators of Auto-Tune the News (@gregorybrothers): Old tools. New ideas. Funky politicians.

Greg Brandeau, Author of Collective Genius, Former CTO of Walt Disney, Former SVP of Pixar (@gregbrandeau): People Pokers. Paradoxes. Discuss amongst leadership.

While the majority of speakers weren’t necessarily born, raised or currently living in an OTA state, their perspectives from coast to coast felt relative. If attendees didn’t feel grounded enough, taking in the videos between presenters offered a dose of Midwestern, of the land, creators. The videos by Passenger, a South Dakota production company, featured various OTA-based creative types from a National Geographic photographer (Joe Riis) to musicians and foodies. The type of living they conveyed awakened my small town roots. They really got something right. That something was essence.

57 and Sunny = Inspiration

57 and Sunny = Inspiration

Emcee and OTA creator Hugh Weber, kept the momentum going and did something new at this event based on past event feedback. He instructed the audience to talk to the speakers during breaks at a specific area. A nice move given the large number of student attendees (a bus of students made the trek from the Sioux Falls area) who might have needed some encouragement. I met several speakers this way, but not in the “let’s exchange business cards” kind of way. In the entrepreneurial chill vibe that’s part of OTA’s cool factor, business card exchange is not the focus (see Twitter). But real conversations do happen.

I could write a blog post on each speaker’s session. Maybe I will… For now we’ll keep it to a summary of the intersections of ideas I heard from more than one speaker.

  1. Embrace Serendipity: Cathy Brooks shared the official definition of serendipity: “an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.” You may not necessarily know the outcome or goal of something you do, but know that it’s putting you in the right place and time for the universe to respond to you.
  2. Don’t Think, Just Do. A motto by Wes Eisenhauer and a concept many others touched on. Spending too much time overthinking or waiting until things are perfectly in place before you begin and you’ll never start. Be okay with failure. Improve and try again. These presenters shared their path of being lost, not knowing what to do careerwise/ lifewise and sort of stumbling onto something fulfilling in their lives.
  3. Find Your Essence. This is your story. Where do you come from, what inspires you? Find a way to connect that to your life’s work. One particular example: Larry Smith’s storytelling concept as is plays out in Six Word Memoirs.
  4. Channel Empathy. Elizabeth Banks shared some compelling stats as a commentary on our society’s challenges. Even though technology connects us, there are gaps in generations and factors causing more isolation. We’re talking one out of three homes are single households and there are less married couples than any time in recent history. Reminder: being connected creates empathy and makes us more human.
  5. Tap into a Support System. Many speakers touched on the importance of mentors and collaborators and just people who call you out on stuff. They keep you grounded when needed or tell you to jump in and go for it. Always use them to widely test your ideas organically before throwing them into the marketplace for a potential epic fail, Brandeau recommends.

As I walked out of an afternoon session, I dropped my OTA Six Word Memoir in the box in exchange for the first copy of The Great Discontent (TGD). It read:  Inspired. Now What? Don’t Think. Do.

A Taste of Twin Cities StartUp Week #TCSW

Have you heard? During Minnesota’s first Tech StartUp Week September 9-12, there’s quite the impressive line-up of events going on — 23 to be exact. Known among avid tweeters as #TCSW (Twin Cities StartUp Week) I’d be surprise if it wasn’t trending. No doubt some entrepreneurs are going all in this week including the weekend-long bootcamp. I made it to a mere three events. Here’s a little taste of startup from the week.

Sept 10, Day 2:
I hit up 1 Million Cups St. Paul at the James J Hill Center. Lee George and Greg Fouks with the center kicked of the morning with an overview — they do this #1MCSTP thing every Wednesday along with other cities around the country. The event on this particular day was additionally promoted through startup week, so many new people were in attendance for the first time. The format is a six minute presentation by each of the two presenters. The goal is to give a summary of their business and open it up to the audience for constructive feedback and conversation.

First up was Davis Law where founder K.M.Davis shared the firm’s story to-date starting with a rebrand and leap of faith to use a non-traditional url for their site: From the non-pretentious photography, pricing structure disclosure to blog posts about entrepreneurial issues it shouts: We are not a typical law firm! They focus on business law and have already broken down barriers. They’re accessible — you can find one of team Davis in CoCo spaces around the Twin Cities (St. Paul, Uptown and Minneapolis).

Next up was Yemyo. Founder Frankie Poplau shared an overview of Yemyo’s product called Standard Sightline. Poplau’s career in education and in business as an executive consultant backed by a PhD in education and a master’s degree in technology, all drive her vision to use technology to catapult teaching and learning into the hands of the students. Her presentation struck many cords with the audience — all chiming in to share their views on the product with a nod to focus her sales approach as much as possible. As a parent of two, I believed the most compelling ideas are motivating and engaging youth to learn in their own way and involving the parent. I was excited about the possibilities even after only a glimpse of the technology (check out ideas around this general movement using #EdTech as in education and technology). The largest hurdle? Layers and layers of standards, politics and policy and implementation.

Networking… Networking…. LinkingIn…Tweeting…. Working…

Next up: The 10th annual MNCup Final Awards Event at the University of Minnesota, McNamara Center. It was Minnesota feel-good at its finest. Large corporate sponsors supporting entrepreneurs who are truly startup. Paul Douglas’ emcee style complete with weather references and one parting word of wisdom for the go-getters in the group: tenacity. MNCup founders reminiscing about their first brainstorming meeting around the MNCup idea. A recap of impressive numbers to-date: $160M raised in venture capital for startups, 13,000 participants; and new initiatives in 2014: Food/Ag/Beverage category and women entrepreneurs. Oh and Jonny Pops.

We heard elevator pitches from two groups of presenters (runners-up and winners) in seven categories. RoomPoll ran two audience vote tallies via smartphones during the event (winners: TCMobileMarket and Jonny Pops). 75Fahrenheit, a proactive, energy-efficient temperature control system for buildings, took the #MNCup10 Grand Prize. On that note, the evening came to a close. It was a high-energy crowd of 200+ of entrepreneurs, supporters, corporate sponsors and mentors from the program (80 in total have served in this role). I met several people in a short time involved in startup efforts from predictive education models and software development to co-working spaces and social sharing technology called CameraSlice (winners of the Beta.MN 1.5 9.9 event).

Sept 11, Day 3:
It’s early, but I’m still late. I walk into the in-progress Bootstrappers session at the U of MN Carlson School of Management around 7:45a.m. My new fun female #TCSW friend later confirmed that it indeed was a room full of dudes (70 men and 6 women to be exact). The panel of four including Daren Cotter, InBoxDollars; Chad Halvorson, thisCLICKS; Matthew Dornquast, Code42 and Clay Collins, LeadPages, openly shared their early startup phase to present-day insight. They covered the VC versus bootstrapping approaches and covered challenges, benefits, pitfalls and advice.

Where to begin downloading all the great info they shared? I’ll start by saying that the structure worked well. They all told their business story (unfortunately my being late meant missing most of Daren’s), then each answered the same question from the moderator with time for Q&A at the end. Here are just some of the highlights by keyword:

On PR/Marketing:

  • Seek out PR and competitions. For us TechCRUNCH gave us a platform. It helped with hiring, provided more expertise and financial rigor (Clay)
  • Skydiving without testing your parachute is not a good idea. First establish your minimum viable audience. Tools like Kickstarter can help. We pre-sold our first product to raise money before running with it (Clay)
  • Think disruptive marketing for B2B sales. We’ve invested in content marketing like blog, podcasts and webinars (Clay)

On MN (Because all of their businesses are Minnesota based, we got to hear their perspective on MN niceness)

  • Ratio of fortune 500 companies to start-ups is an advantage in Minnesota, but don’t look to geography as your ecosystem (Clay)
  • In general, we need to talk about money more than we do in MN. We need to share actual data (Clay)
  • Tech and bootstrapping align really well. And in Minnesota, the retention and loyalty factor is higher than the coasts (Chad)

On Co-worker Togetherness:

  • Productivity and getting people together in a room is still key. Added challenges come with employees working via mobile including lower productivity. BTW, internet telephony still sucks (Clay)
  • If you have remote employees, do not consider or treat them as second class employees. If everyone at headquarters works with a mobile mindset then this is less of an issue (Chad)
  • Be an optimist. Think of everyone in your company as co-founders (Matthew)

On Money Changing Everything:

  • Eventually we needed outside resources, but having money or not is not the issue. It’s more like what you do with it operationally. i.e. Google not an inventor but kills it on execution (Clay)
  • You have to love what you do and or create a capital-efficient model. We receive revenue in hand before we pay our expenses (Daren)
  • Ask about what the VC community is looking for and build that data into your business so that appeals to VC in future, even if that is not your current intention (Matthew)

On Lack of Defining Moments:

  • The customer validates. As an entrepreneur, at some point – 50 some customers in, you start to feel like you know something inside. Like it’s going to work (Chad)
  • It’s not really a dramatic defining moment, rather a series of small stepping stone decisions to get you there. Don’t do drastic. Keep your day job until you’re completely motivated, obsessed and passionate (Clay)
  • Tap into customer psychology base. Reverse engineer the process. Find out where this is happening organically (Matthew)

All of this insight. Now what? I could sense many entrepreneurs in the room moving into the “it” moment of their successful future business office space with visions of ping pong tables and beer fridges one panelist described. The event definitely delivered quality insight straight from CEO’s and founders of top Minnesota companies at a unheard of value ($5.00 — my $7.00 parking was more). After further delving into these companies and leaders — all with clear, concise branding and websites — I want to learn more.

My #TCSW was a glimpse into our Minnesota startup community via these three events. It was a good first taste of what’s to come as this community continues to grow. Well done to all involved in what is shaping up to be a most successful first Twin Cities StartUp Week!

Wearable Tech: By Fan or By Force?

Are you connected by Fit Bit, Moves or Map My Run to track your every move and motivate (or guilt) you into a healthy lifestyle? Are you an early adapter sporting GoogleGlass or awaiting Samsung’s Simband, a wristband to track multiple measures of its wearer’s health continuously? Or are you highly skeptical and find this type of tech invasive?

Wearable Tech InfographI recently attended day two of the Midwest Mobile Summit (#MWMS14) in Fargo, ND, where wearable tech was a key part of the conversation. Speaker Redg Snodgrass, CEO of Wearable World, Inc., an incubator focused on glass and wearable technologies based out Silicon Valley, presented The Dawning of the Wearable Economy. On May 6, coincidentally day two of the summit, Redg’s company released this infographic on The Existing Wearable Technology Landscape.

To place the infographic in context, Wearable World says, “The industry may still be in its early stages, but the number of companies developing wearables is fast expanding. With this growth comes an increase in overall product diversity. To help demonstrate this massive growth, we have created an infographic that identifies the major players within the space and showcases the infrastructure companies that support these new devices in order to help paint a more detailed picture of the taxonomical state of the wearables industry.”

Redg touched on this infographic during his May 6 presentation and the excitement in the room exponentially increased. The infographic broke wearable tech down by three categories including Lifestyle, Entertainment, Health & Fitness, then further segmented those into watches, glasses, clothing, jewelry, smart phones and headgear. They also dropped in company logos for those currently participating in these wearable tech spaces and capturing a slice of the industry expected to be at $30B by 2018.

Besides the infographic, one image that stuck with me from the presentation showed a baby with its ankle wrapped in a wearable tech device. The device could track your baby’s temperature among other things, alerting you to any abnormalities. Despite the fact that this is undoubtedly valuable information, when wearable becomes more mainstream will parents be guilted into using these types of devices? As we move forward with all of these devices, where is the empathy in tech? As Redg pointed out and I tweeted in 95 characters: @redgsnodgrass #mwms14 : no more #dudefest in tech — #women have empathy = good for #wearabletech.

While the fast-paced development of wearable tech, especially for health and fitness benefits, really excites me, I want to be a voice for the thoughtful use and adaption of wearable tech. To some extent the market will determine success or failure, as GoogleGlass is fully aware of. I believe in seamless and integrated tech that makes our lives easy and more fulfilling, but we are not there yet. Currently we’re at: “I’m so tired of looking at my iphone all of the time. I am ready to go back to a heads-up society.” (thanks @JameyErickson, #JMU612, for that insight!)

Heads-up: let’s pay attention to the user experience and effects of new wearable tech, specifically in terms of safety and privacy issues. Speaking a a parent of a 9 and 11 year-old, I do have concerns. I talked to one father who installed a tracking device in his 16-year-old daughter’s new car, unbeknownst to her. He also tracks her location via her mobile phone. What effect does this have on an individual? Is it a healthy way to teach teens to be responsible and build trust?

Rather than solely focus on tech because you can, I’m thinking about tech in terms of why and how you should and to what extreme. On Twitter the Internet of Things conversation is hashtagged #IoT (the Internet of Things refers to an expanding network of interconnected internet-enabled devices). The Guardian posted this article June 7 about the Internet of Things, which I found insightful as a reminder of the transition period we’re going through now. “When people talk about the Internet of Things, they tend to get hung up on the ‘things’ themselves. Actually, the real value and insight comes from the data that these devices provide. We’re just at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what is possible in terms of data extraction. It’s a very exciting time.”

We’re also in a time where people who choose to track and share their data still represent a minority. No one is going to force you to wear a connected device, but incentives (monetary or otherwise) and benefits will compel more people to use wearable tech. As a marketer, the potential for data collection and use is attractive. Consider the example of the car insurance company Drive Like a Girl, as cited in the Guardian article. They install on-board car computers that monitor your driving and offers cheaper premiums to those drivers who prove less likely to have an accident (okay so you aren’t actually wearing this device, your vehicle is). “We use the latest telematics technology to give girls the fair price they deserve, not because they are female, but because they are safer drivers,” the company’s website states. “With telematics, they can prove it.”

Where do you stand on the wearable tech scale? Are you a fan of it all or do you feel it being forced upon you?

OTA – The Intersection of Creativity and Community


Two Boldly Designed OTA Posters

Two Boldly Designed OTA Posters

We must be bold. Why? Because there is power in coming together and using our creativity to address society’s most challenging issues. OTA, founded in 2010, is a Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota movement that has been hosting semi-annual conferences since its inception and garnering a lot of attention. It’s purpose – to bring entrepreneurs, educators, community builders and creatives together – is fulfilled through events with inspirational speakers and attendees with a passion to tap into these ideas, pursue their own ideas and create something broader.

Being bold comes in many forms. After attending the afternoon portion of OTA14 in Sioux Falls, SD, on April 4, I got a taste of this boldness. The quirky Kate Bingaman-Burt, illustrator, teacher and researcher, shared her social experiments that tap into consumerism through her gift of illustration. She boldly set out with project goals to capture information and do research, not knowing where the somewhat lengthy projects would end or what their results might be. Her drive to rid herself of $24,000 in debt was a six year venture! She also embarked on a 28-month project to capture photos and illustrations of her daily consumption of things (note, this was before the debt project). This led to Princeton Press’ publication of three books focused on consumerism including What Did I Buy Today?

We heard from the rapper-like Baratunde Thurston, former Director of Digital of The Onion and co-founder of Cultivated Wit (see his short bio for lazy people). He shared his family history of activism, politics and journalism, insight from his time at The Onion and his inspiration for his organization and projects like How To Be Black. I laughed so hard, I cried. The premise for Cultivated Wit is “one that badgers less, can persuade all the more. Artful ridicule can address contentious issues more than can severity alone.” Thurston and team display definite boldness in creating just the right amount of humor in their work to strike an emotional chord with an audience that turns negativity into inspiration for positive action. See the bit on Congress.

Next up, the soft-spoken journalism and graphic artist husband and wife duo Tina and Ryan Essmaker, co-founders of The Great Discontent (TGD). TGD is an online and now print magazine featuring interviews on beginnings, creativity, and risk. They boldly tackle long-form journalism style stories that take anywhere from 20-40 minutes to read (another case for transitioning to print, as they originally envisioned their publication). They both were raised in small town Michigan and talked in general about the Creative Class idea – creativity doesn’t come from a location (like a big city) – it comes from within and can happen anywhere.

Illustrators Bring Creativity to Life

Illustrators Bring Creativity to Life

OTA did a great job showcasing that diversity with speakers from San Francisco (Roman Mars) to New York (Thurston and Scott Harrison) to local artists and entrepreneurs. Throughout the day, talented illustrators created lively graphic presentations of the concepts by speakers to display on poster boards (see picture). The day ended with Brant Cryder, President Yves Saint Laurent, sharing ideas about what it means to be a legend and introducing his good friend, Scott Harrison, founder of Charity: Water. Harrison, a 10 year NYC city nightclub promoter, shared his eye-opening experience on his first trip to Africa to document doctors’ healing work for people in Libya through photography and stories.

It changed his life and began his quest to help 800 million people worldwide who are without clean, safe drinking water. Boldly, Harrison flipped the idea of charity on its heels. By delving into the essence of emotion and delivering stories, results and actionable opportunities for people in his immediate circle, he founded Charity: Water. By being as transparent as possible, training people as engineers in their communities for management of clean water drinking sites and through technology co-ventures (i.e. with Google), Charity: Water to date has funded 11,712 water projects in 22 countries.

Harrison closed out the day by sharing the story and video of 9 year-old Rachel, a legend in her own right whose wish has given 37,770 people clean water. What a powerful testament and inspiration for the entire crowd to do the Birthday Pledge though Charity: Water.

My 10 year-old Creative Mind at Work

My 10 year-old Creative Mind at Work

On the drive home (which was MUCH safer than the snowstorm-induced slush-covered I-90 on the way over) to small town Jackson, MN, where I was raised, I thought about the elements of a creative class. Several speakers, especially the artists, talked about the making of things and accepting the unsettling feelings they had when they were not inspired or creating. These feelings are what drives creatives to create. Before I left my small town for college in the big city, I had this desire to make and create things. What happened to that?

Coincidentally, when I reached my parents’ home last Friday night, my Mom had boxes of saved memorabilia including my own illustrations as a 10 year-old of everyday items (like Kate), storyboards of plays and graphics and type clipped from trendy magazines that adorned my walls throughout childhood. I absolutely loved to create. Could I get some of this back? Not sure yet, but the conference inspired me to boldly contemplate it.




Business Ethics: Do Well and Do Good

Crossing boundaries to create common ground. Sounds so cliché, but it served as the context for delving into the most vexing and most urgent human dilemmas that face our society today at the 26th Annual Nobel Peace Prize Forum, March 1-9, 2014 (@NPPF on Twitter).

Boundaries addressed throughout the Forum spanned from national, religious, ethnic and emotional to political, financial and legal. To overcome these boundaries, the Forum’s organizers, three Nobel Laureates (The Dalai Lama, Doctors Without Borders and Leymah Gbowee), speakers and attendees sought commonalities over the course of forum discussions. Commonalities, the Forum asserted, are key to solving challenging issues because solutions stem from a place of understanding.

Brunettes, including Debra and Mackenzie of The Oath Project, Jotting answers to the question 'What can individuals and others in leadership roles do to change business for the better?

Brunettes, including Debra and Mackenzie of The Oath Project, jotting answers to the question “What can individuals and others in leadership roles do to change business for the better?” Me: support work/life balance and the individual’s pursuit of their own passions.

I found myself wondering, who takes time out of their busy schedules to attend a forum of this nature? It’s inspirational and designed for listening, conversation and introspection. It’s way big picture with topics driven by peace and positive change. How many of the attendees would be able to take these mind-shifting ways of thinking and integrate them into their lives or their company’s business practices?

During the four-day conference March 1, 7, 8 and 9, students, academia and business professionals, leaders in various fields were all drawn in by one or more of the daily themes: Faith and Peace, Law and Business, Science and Health and Global Day. I attended the law and business day on March 7. The keynote address by Michael Posner, Founder of Human Rights First; Professor at New York University, kicked off the day on the premise that business can be good at solving social problems.

Posner Keynote

Chris Farrell, MPR’s Marketplace, was in the audience as MPR live-broadcast Posner’s portion, then Farrell joined Posner on stage for the Q&A portion, fielding questions from the live Google Plus international audience which can be seen here. In fact, because the Forum partnered with GooglePlus as the main source of broadcasting talks throughout, you can find all Forum videos here.

Posner talked about moving our discussion to solve economic and human rights issues from states to businesses, “Half of the world’s economies are not states, they’re businesses. Walmart, for example, is comparable to Norway in size. We should be talking to companies about the change we are trying to make in the world.“

Posner cited two directions nations are taking in their approach to businesses and regulation. One: they advocate for high standards in terms of human rights, dignity and ethics for companies with little regard for the business desire to profit. Two: they are all for business profitability with low or unclear standards for businesses to adhere to. Ideally, we want this nation to business relationship to be about high standards and in support of companies making a profit.

If this can be the view of nations, what is the role of business in this equation?  Posner said it is increasingly difficult for businesses that operate in countries where human rights and dignity are not protected, to look the other way. Consumers are demanding more knowledge about the companies whose products and services they purchase. No longer can a business put a marketing band-aid on ill practices, they need to be transparent.

Businesses that choose this path understand that it’s a long-term commitment. Companies like Nike, Apple and Nestle have joined forces through the United Nations Global Compact, which asks companies to embrace universal principles and to partner with the United Nations. This is an important step because it leads to universal metrics, measurement, benchmarks, sustainable practices and transparency.

Other factors that hinder ethical and good businesses practices were cited including Wall Street’s demand for companies to turn a profit and meet quarterly expectations. Aside from all of the reasons for businesses to solely focus on profits, what if, for the day, we assumed all businesses were good? What would that look like? Posner left us with that thought as attendees chose one of seven late morning breakout sessions to attend.

Breakout Session

I selected the session More Than Empty Promises: Redefining the Role of Management led by Debra Wheat and Mackenzie Cane of The Oath Project. Courtesy of GooglePlus as an official Google Hangout session, three others joined remotely to build our discussion framework (Matt Burr, Katie Kross and Wesley Adams). The room included about 10 professionals and 30 students. The session’s goal was to challenge us to face our hypocrisies about the purpose of business, dig deeper into what responsible management means and give attendees the tools to make an impact.

Jen, a future Oath Project Ambassador (?), Debra Wheat and Mackenzie Cane.

L to R: Jen, a future Oath Project Ambassador (?), Debra Wheat and Mackenzie Cane.

The session’s structure was set for success, with sharing of ideas from presenters, quiet time where we all took out our Sharpies to move around the room and write our comments on large paper based on ten topics (no talking!!), topic discussions in randomly assigned small groups and a one-minute summary, and the closing observations and take away concepts.

As one of the professionals in the room, I found myself contributing all of the negative points to the topics during the silent writing time portion, whereas students were more optimistic. An important part of the instruction, as I was reminded, was not to dwell on the barriers or why good business practices fall short in companies, rather focus on the “what would it look like if…” positive scenario.

In the small group portion, I teamed up with a Todd, a student from my alma-matter, The University of St. Thomas, to talk business ethics. We discussed the role of the individual to behave ethically and how leadership and corporate culture come into play. We landed on a few key observations:

  1. It’s difficult if not impossible to separate an individual’s values from their work. People are most fulfilled if their values align with their company’s ethics. If the company isn’t a fit, they eventually leave.
  2. Ethics come from the top. It’s one thing to have a mission statement and code of ethics, but another thing entirely if leadership is not practicing ethically or the corporate culture doesn’t support these.

After each group gave their brief summary on the topics including dignity, sustainability, truthfulness, mentorship, accountability and ethics, we received an overview of The Oath Project. It’s described as a model for providing tools to integrate the concepts of professional conduct and social responsibility into the culture, core values and daily operations of both academic institutions and corporations.

Ten vibrant graphics, one word associations and a brief description for each, serve as the Oath's key tool.

Ten vibrant graphics, one word associations and a brief description for each, serve as the Oath’s key tool.

At this point, the exploration we did on topics fit neatly into one key tool the Oath Project designed as a standard model and framework. This tool lives on the main page of their website as a scrolling slide show of 10 vibrant graphics based on 10 words and a brief definition for each word. Let’s take ethics, which reads: I will understand and uphold, in letter and spirit, the laws and contracts governing my conduct and that of my enterprise. You get the picture. Institutions and corporations start here, personalize it and further define it to suit their needs. Then the successful ones live by it.

I had other afternoon commitments unfortunately, so I ended my Forum experience. Others went on to another breakout session and closed out with keynote Ian Bremmer, President and Founder of Eurasia Group. Overall, it was an inspirational morning. It certainly has me thinking about change in business and possibly taking on a challenging yet rewarding role as an Oath Ambassador.

— Thanks to Beth Bowman, M.A., Assistant Director of Alumni Relations, University of Minnesota School of Public Health, for the tickets! The Nobel Peace Prize Forum is led by the Norwegian Nobel Institute and supported locally by Augsburg College, Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota and the University of Minnesota School of Public Health as well as other academic partners and businesses.

— For more insight on the Forum in the Twin Cities, read the StarTribune 3.7 article.
— For 
more information on leadership, check out this TED Talk on the quiet power of introverts
— For more inspiration on why businesses can be good for solving social problems, check out this TED Talk
— And for the surprising truth about what motivates us, see Dan Pink’s video.