May 6, 2013

99U Conference 2013: Reimagined

Source: hahatango at Flickr under a Creative Commons License

New York City, 2013: The 99U Conference, invented by Behance and dedicated to “making ideas happen”, was held on May 2 and 3. For the fifth year, attendees arrived to be inspired to see their ideas through to execution. I attended, online, by way of the Twitter hashtag #99conf.

In addition to the conference’s tagline of “1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration”, two quotes from speaker A. J. Jacobs, journalist and author, particularly piqued my attention and reflection:
  • “If you pretend to be a better person, you will eventually become a better person. It’s the art of self delusion!”
  • “Sometimes to make miracles happen, you just have to dive in.”
With these in mind, 99U’s annual gathering, influenced by the proactive Tweets (Thanks to all who shared!), compelled me to fantasize a different recap of the event:


Source: Cea. at Flickr under a Creative Commons License

Inventor Thomas Edison took the stage of Alice Tully Hall. He opened by invoking the mission of the conference: “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” This phrase was originally spoken in 1903, a major year of firsts: first teddy bear, first flight by Orville Wright, first box of Crayola crayons sold for 5 cents.

Edison’s ratio of inspiration and perspiration was fiercely applied. On a large screen behind him, Edison projected his to-do list, which he simply called “Things doing and to be done”. A few items from the list: “Cotton Picker”, “Deaf Apparatus”, “Artificial Cable”, and more. As he does every time he kicks off the 99U conference, he emphasized that there was much more to be done.

Source: The Henry Ford at Flickr under a Creative Commons License

Echoing the emphasis on prototyping at the pre-conference session (one of many) at IDEO, Edison advised, “To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”

Edison also highlighted his workspace, or “workroom” (above) as he put it. He advised others not to use a clock. He said, “I owe my success to the fact that I never had a clock in my workroom. Seventy-five of us worked twenty hours every day and slept only four hours—and thrived on it.”

Viewing the clock as a distraction is one thing. Defying sleep is another. Edison shared what worked with him.

He concluded his talk with more urgency: “Restlessness is discontent—and discontent is the first necessity of progress.”

The 99U conference started with a timeless jolt of electricity.

Source: twm1340 at Flickr under a Creative Commons License

Comedian Groucho Marx graced the stage with his trademark look and captivated us with his verbal repartee. During his speech, he offered this twofer of a zinger: “The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” Pretending is power, positively speaking, where fakery is not fuckery.

Anne Sullivan Memorial, Agawam, Massachusetts.
Source: WoofBC at Flickr under a Creative Commons License

Teacher Anne Sullivan embodied Edison’s persistence and Marx’s improvisation as she shared memories of her experiences as a teacher to Helen Keller. Over 49 years, Sullivan worked closely with Keller and taught her how to sense and process the world. Each day was an education focused upon the needs of one. Each day she strived for a miracle—a version of one. Sullivan supremely demonstrated the improv technique of “Yes, And… .” Standing ovation for the “Miracle Worker”.

Here’s to having fun putting restlessness to work. For the better.

• • •

Big thanks to Behance and 99U teams for making their annual conference happen.

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