I went to New York, The Big Apple, to take in 99U, now in its seventh year.
This years conference at the Lincoln Centre in New York continued to explore the ‘Making Ideas Happen’ theme, and delivered a great line up of speakers and workshops.
My conference kicked off at MOMA, at one of the more intimate studio sessions; Creating Compelling & Memorable Physical Spaces with Associate Creative Director Ingrid Chou. Ingrid gave a fascinating glimpse into some of the projects she and her team have worked on, with artists including Cindy Sherman, Yoko Ono and Tim Burton. You might presume that as Creative Director at MOMA, Ingrid and her team would have the pick of amazing spaces to work with; but as with any building they often have to deal with odd corridors, awkward corners and even taking exhibitions into bathrooms and cupboards. She talked honestly about how they had met these challenges, reflecting on the mix of both luck and hard work that often gave the winning result. Her observation, that the constraints of the space she has to work with often result in positive or previously unforeseen results, was interesting to me. The constraints of managing the event space here at 68 Middle Street often don’t feel positive, so it was good to have that mindset challenged.
The conference then continued over at the main venue, Alice Tully Hall in the Lincoln Centre. The afternoon highlight for me was Heidi Grant Halvorson’s talk ‘No One Understands You and What To Do About It’, taken from the title of her book. By gently poking fun at our inability to present ourselves as we really want to, she showed how if you learn to clarify what you are saying, you are more likely to be perceived as you intend. Her talk gave some great insights into improving interaction and communication, which in turn makes us better judges of character and fairer with our collaborators.
Friday’s speakers were a varied and dynamic bunch; Stewart Butterfield CEO and Co-Founder of Slack was engaging and also honest in conversation with Erin Griffith. Alex Blumberg Founder and CEO of Gimlet Media, a self-confessed radio fan used some fascinating audio clips through out his talk. He was humorously self-deprecating about the pitfalls and struggles of start-ups.
Kimberley Bryant, Founder & Executive Director of Black Girls Code highlighted the lack of diversity amongst technologists. She gave personal examples of her own prejudices and how they reminded her on a daily basis the importance of challenging them. This attitude has seen Black Girls CODE introduce over 3000 students to the field of technology and computer science since 2011.
The stand out speaker of the conference for me was illustrator Christoph Niemann. Christoph’s illustrations are brilliant, so of course he was able to use them to great effect throughout his talk. For such a talented and seemingly prolific artist he was honest about what a struggle it can be constantly creating new ideas. He was frank about the financial demands and insecurities of self-employment, and the ways he had tried to overcome them. His illustrations clearly demonstrated not only his talent but the hard work and tenacity that he emphasised was vital to his approach.
99U didn’t necessarily leave me with loads of new ideas, but it did inspire me to tackle some things differently. The repeating themes of effective communication and using constraints as a motivator will be something I’ll be aiming to keep in mind from now on.