by Ralph Kerle
Creativity conferences are now some of the longest annually occuring live learning events globally. The US Creative Problem Solving Institute is in its 59th year consecutive year; the American Creativity Association Conference is in its 25th year; the ACRE (the South African Creativity Foundation Conference) is in its 19th consecutive year and CREA in Sestri Levante (Italy) and Mindcamp near Toronto (Canada) are just babies starting out with just over 10 consecutive years each under their belts.
There is a reason for this phenomenon. Creativity conferences deliver to adults creative learning experiences years of formative education failed to deliver and continues to fail to deliver.
Unlike academic conferences where papers are presented in lecture form or TED Events where presenters stand on a stage and deliver a well rehearsed PowerPoint chalk and talk to an well intentioned wealthy elite, creativity conferences are the only places globally where delegates, creative practitioners and facilitators come together with the deliberate intention of exposing, testing and exchanging the creative thinking and methodologies they have developed in their own professional practices. For participants, these conferences offer a safe environment to explore creative practices in action, to tap into their own gestalt and to learn in some way how creativity may inform their personal and professional worlds.
Creativity conferences are not about commercial agendas or places for celebrity keynote speakers either. Indeed, some very well known keynote speakers with a book to promote or an academic theory to impose have been badly exposed because they have not understood a creativity conference is a peer to peer learning experience and as a result is a great learning leveler regardless of where you might perceive you fit in the great learning hierarchy. As Bob Dylan famously wrote “You gotta serve somebody” and a creativity conference never allows you to forget that creative insights lie within us all and each one of those insights is correct for the moment in which they occur.
Creativity Conference Experiences
Those interested in creative thinking and practice are a wildly eclectic conglomeration of knowledge seekers. Delegates and presenters come from all works of life, all levels of society and an extraordinarily wide range of cultures and experiences. The entire Unilever Global Product Development team, two union leaders from the rigs of the oilfields of Alberta, Canada; the Global Head of Deloitte Consulting; a world champion traditional story-teller – a Jamaican English professor; a UK nuclear physicist on a UK Wellcome Trust scholarship exploring the science of creativity; the Head of the New York State Department of Health, a former US Defence Force Cultural Analyst who had led teams in Cambodia, Zimbabwe, Lebanon and Ireland, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Gombe, Northern Nigeria – a scholar in traditional Islamic studies, the Vice President of the Chinese Creativity Research Institute, the Executive Director of the Royal Canadian Mountain Police Officers Training, the Head of the Harvard Business School’s Administration, the Propaganda Director of Lech Walesa’s Polish Freedom Movement whilst Poland was still under Communist rule and the Poet Laureate of Singapore are just the tip of the iceberg of the types of delegates I have engaged with in sessions at international creativity conferences over the past two decades.
Participants come together generally over 3 – 5 days in 90 minute sessions wading through an immersive learning experience not unlike a theater or arts festival with audience participation rather than audience as removed listener, being the main point of difference.
Sessions seek commitment and engagement with personal risk for both participant and presenter with often only the sketchiest of one line briefs to describe the style of content or expected outcomes. The experience is like walking into a deep forest without a map or compass. There is no process to guide you, no regulation or governance to adhere to to ensure your mental, psychological or cultural safety, no peer review giving you an anchor on which to hang your heuristic hopes. There is no right or wrong at a creativity conference session. There is only learning.
I have participated in a session with 20 senior business executives using clay and Lego blocks to compare which medium would offer the best tool to facilitate new thinking around the climate change issue. Clay provided a more divergent way of working and thinking, Lego produced a more deliberate and constructed approach to thinking.
In a session on creativity and reflective practice facilitated by a philosopher and yoga guru I participated in, a senior military leader angrily interrupted the movement component of the facilitation when the yoga guru demanded the delegates physically freeze in our inner warrior pose and reflect on it.
“Woo!! Woo!!” said the Military Man. “Have you, Philosopher and Yoga Guru, experienced action on the battlefield. Your demand we reflect on the physicality of the warrior would produce madness in our forces. Understand that.”
It is only at creativity conferences that one can experience such powerful, thought-provoking learning moments.
The Future Of Creativity Conferences
Most of the seven continents now have well established regular not-for-profit and commercially viable international events due in the most part to the committed entrepreneurial activity of creative practitioners with a passion for learning and a willingness to share their experiences and knowledge. The Australia Pacific area has not been successful in establishing one until now.
New Zealander Wayne Morris, Founder of The Creative Edge, management consultant, writer, artist and drummer is typical of the individuals who initiate creativity conferences. For over a decade he travelled globally attending creative conferences, sometimes as a participant, sometimes presenting himself. Through this activity he gained acceptance amongst his peers, specialist expertise as to how creative conferences are organized, administered and promoted – what works and what doesn’t — and respect such that a well connected global network would support him. This is how it works with creative practitioners and conferences!!
The First NZ Creativity Challenge was held in New Plymouth, the main city on the west coast of the north island of New Zealand between April 28 – 30, 2013, created, managed and delivered by Wayne Morris and a local team of volunteers and sponsors and it was a smash hit. As a first–up international creativity conference, this is about as good as it gets.
This abridged version of Ralph Kerle’s longer blog article was reprinted with his permission. Thanks, Ralph! (Now if we can only get him to Mindcamp…)