If creativity can emerge from chaos, this will be an interesting week in Montreal
It was billed as a groundbreaking conference at the crossroads of commerce and creativity. When the doors officially opened at 3:30 Tuesday afternoon, C2-MTL felt more like the backstage of a music festival than a business conference. Trucks backed into entrances to unload their unassembled bits and pieces. Early arrivers milled around and then milled around some more, unsure of what they were supposed to do. There was champagne on the bar, but not yet for consumption. The many volunteers in their pink T-shirts were eager to help, though apparently also uncertain of what was going on. And very dark, very imposing clouds hung low over the brand new New Gas City development in Montrealâ€™s Griffintown.
But then, those doing the milling saw C2-MTL take shape before their eyes.
In just three hours, volunteers were briefed, creative lounges and installations were complete, pictures hung, dress rehearsals complete and champagne served.
What emerged was an extraordinary setting for what hopes to be an extraordinary event. The site is ideal for the task at hand. Once the distribution hub for the gas that lit the city, the area was left abandoned for decades, but people with vision saw an opportunity for something new and better. Now reclaimed and rebuilt, the New Gas City is a testament to the potential of creative thinking.
The message in the opening comments from dignitaries was that creativity is not just for advertising anymore. Creativity will be the essential lifeblood of business in an already ultra-competitive world and Montreal is ideally suited to foster that creativity.
â€śWe are creators here in Montreal,â€ť yelled Montreal mayor GĂ©rald Tremblay (who attended despite a massive student protest just blocks away), bringing enthusiastic cheers from the crowd gathered just inside the front door of the main building which will host most of the presentations and top-billed speakers.
The crowd was then directed upstairs to the main stage. Sid Lee president Jean-Francois Bouchard appeared first to explain that the underlying motivation behind C2-MTL was to create an â€śinnovation event that was actually innovative.â€ť The setting, he said, was planned with that in mind. Visitors are encouraged to try new perspectives and think freely.
Indeed, attendees get that message from the minute they enter the dark, dry-ice infused, strobe-lit â€śreset tunnelâ€ť that leads into the main site. An enticing, mysterious red button on a pedestal stands in the middle of the walkway and anyone willing to hit it is told they will have their mind reset. â€śThe space breeds creativity,â€ť said Bouchard, who was followed by the first three speakers of the conference.
Two seemed inspired by the creative theme, the third seemed there to remind everyone this is a business conference.
Robert Safian, editor of Fast Company, was first. The magazine is an official partner for the event and eager to promote its “100 Most Creative People in Business” list. Safian spoke freely and enthusiastically on the importance of creativity in business in this â€śtime of chaos.â€ť He extolled the virtues of what he called â€śGeneration Fluxâ€ť â€“ not a group defined by age or experience, but by a willingness to try new things and adapt quickly.
While Ceelo Green and Jessica Alba rank in Fast Companyâ€™s 100, so does the likes of Gatorade president Sarah Robb Oâ€™Hagan who, when she took her role, moved much of Gatoradeâ€™s marketing budget out of traditional and into social media. The move scared PepsiCo execs at first, but produced bigger sales numbers after all, said Safian.
Creativity is a prerequisite for any company hoping to thrive in a chaotic age, he said.
Safian was followed by Marc Chapman, managing partner of IBM Global Business Solutions, who presented an overview of the firmâ€™s bi-annual CEO study. (This is, after all, about improving bottom lines and making CEOs happy.)
Some of the findings were predictable: CEOs are fixated on technology, social media will be more important in the future, etc.
But the study also showed CEOs are starting to realize the potential of new ways of working and organizing their businesses in a hyper-connected world. â€śThe fundamental shift is toward more openness in organizations,â€ť which means CEOs want employees who are more collaborative, communicative, creative and flexible, he said.
The numbers guy was followed by the â€śvibeâ€ť guy â€“ Sid Leeâ€™s chairman,Â Bertrand Cesvet â€“ who shared what heâ€™s learned about managing creativity from his 15 years at Sid Lee.
Every company has to worry about results, but being â€śresults oriented,â€ť as so many aspiring leaders claim to be, will not produce creativity, he said. In the traditional command and control workplace, emotion is taboo, but creativity is by definition an emotional endeavour. â€śYou have to constantly monitor the emotional state of your team,â€ť he said. And creative leaders have to â€śsenseâ€ť as much as they â€śthink,â€ť spending as much time â€śmanaging vibe as managing outcome.â€ť
The evening closed with a special Cirque du Soleil show produced for C2-MTL.
All photos appear courtesy of C2-MTL, and appear on its Flickr page.
If you’re attending C2-MTL, we’d love to hear your impressions of the event. Post your thoughts in our comment section.