We live in an age of conferences and convenings. If one chose to do so, you could attend a conference on any range of topics each week of the year — perhaps even two per week if you really wanted to be ambitious. Over the course of this summer in Raleigh alone I have seen attendees of an anime conference, a conference of scientists working on an obscure topic that I could barely pronounce, and a number of global sales conferences for a range of technology companies.
I tend to believe that there is power in bringing people together around a common passion or to discuss how to take on critical issues. Ideas bubble up. Inspiration happens. Connections are made. That isn’t true for every conference on the calendar, of course, but it is true for the Aspen Ideas Fest which I attended in June and another festival that is coming up in just one week here in Raleigh.
Aspen Ideas Fest
The Aspen Ideas Fest is described as, “the nation’s premier, public gathering place for leaders from around the globe and across many disciplines to engage in deep and inquisitive discussion of the ideas and issues that both shape our lives and challenge our times.”
The 2014 edition included topics such as climate change, the arts, public health, higher education, and civil liberties anchored around the theme of what the world will look like in 2024.
The power of Aspen resided in the people that attended, spoke, and organized as is often the case for gatherings that provide an impact, but the organization of Ideas Fest also made it special. Many convenings that I have attended consist of large scale conversations where the entire audience is brought together with breakout sessions that often serve as after thoughts. In contrast, Aspen only had one afternoon where that style of conversation occurred. During the remainder of the time at Aspen you could choose your own adventure whether you wished to hear Arianna Huffington lead a panel discussion on the soul of America or participate in a discussion with David Brooks and Katie Couric on love and the 2016 elections — topics which seem at odds with one another I’ll admit.
The ability to decide where you wished to go was a freeing experience. Originally I thought I would go to a lot of the panels on inequality, but I found myself fascinated by the discussions around the future of higher education and the way that philanthropy is shifting.
Dennis Scholl, the Vice President of the Arts for the Knight Foundation, inspired me during his discussion of civic engagement. The Knight Foundation conducted a study in twenty nine cities around which qualities most closely connected citizens to their community — in other words, which factors made them feel like members of the community as opposed to merely people who lived there. The Knight Foundation found out that the arts, food, community gardens, and other intangibles made people feel more connected to their community than normal metrics of civic engagement such as voting. This study is leading Knight to reconsider what they define as civic engagement, and it also caused me to begin to redefine my own view on the topic.
Leaders from Ideo argued that nonprofits should choose to have a portfolio of experiments and projects that we can learn from and then evolve to something with greater impact rather than fully flesh out a program, build out a multi-year budget, and roll it out with little understanding of what the actual results might look like. This is a path that I hope more organizations in North Carolina will decide to pursue as we work to improve our state.
Hopscotch Design Festival
Raleigh is on the verge of another pilot in just one week as Hopscotch Design Festival kicks off for the first time. Hopscotch Design is a partnership between New Kind and Hopscotch Music Festival. This year’s version is billed as the inaugural gathering of thinkers, makers, storytellers, and reinventors who are shaping what’s next right now.
Attendees will be able to hear from Elle Luna, an artist and designer who built Mailbox, redesigned Uber, and helped scale Medium. She is now painting, working on a project around textile design, and calling on people to follow their passion. She will call on participants to follow their Must because, “Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self. It’s our instincts, our cravings and longings, the things and places and ideas we burn for, the intuition that swells up from somewhere deep inside of us. Must is what happens when we stop conforming to other people’s ideals and start connecting to our own. Because when we choose Must, we are no longer looking for inspiration out there. Instead, we are listening to our calling from within, from some luminous, mysterious place.”
Harper Reed, the Chief Technical Officer for President Obama and current CEO of a startup called Modest, is a hilarious, profane, eloquent speaker about where our world is going. Annie Atkins designed Grand Budapest Hotel, my friend Kaitlyn Goalen takes adults in to the wild to unlock creativity as part of her exciting startup Wild Yonder, while John Holmes and Scott Crawford will discuss how they intend to shape our local food system with their exciting new venture Standard Foods.
In just one week you will be able to choose your own adventure with Hopscotch Design. As with Aspen, how powerful it ultimately is will be up to you. Challenge yourself. Explore. And then take the lessons and inspiration with you to shape our world. That is the power of coming together with passion to build community.