We talk a lot about interaction at KJCG. I have my own spin on the idea. When I say interaction, I do not mean email, I do not mean texting, I do not mean Facebook. I mean the “old-fashioned” kind of interaction: face to face, complete with eye contact, listening, and a healthy amount of give and take. So when human interaction kept coming up at the recent 99% Conference, I perked up and paid attention. The conference gets its name from Thomas Edison’s quote that “genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” Everything in this conference focuses on the 99%: executing plans, making ideas happen, turning visions into reality. This year the speaker lineup included people like the director of Google Ideas, GE’s chief marketing officer, authors, trendsetters, even filmmaker Andrew Zuckerman.
Through it all, I kept hearing about our common humanity, and how it can move us forward. Here’s what I heard and what I thought:
Simon Sinek, the author of Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, talked about developing trust and creating a spirit of generosity within people, so they see that their work is about everyone moving forward, not just themselves. Our very survival requires this trust, he said—and face-to-face interaction is very important to building it.
Developing generosity is a radical idea…and a challenge. It’s not easy to do good for people without expecting anything in return. Sometimes I catch myself thinking, “I helped you out last week, so can you help me now?” So the challenge of generosity is my challenge too.
Scott Belsky, the founder and CEO of Behance (which sponsors the conference), mentioned a similar line of thought during his three-hour master class on “Making Ideas Happen.” Great ideas, he said, have a way of plateauing somewhere in the middle of implementation. Energy sags; the task begins to look intimidating. How do you move off that plateau to bring the idea to fruition? It came back to the face to face, to being intentional in one’s communication.
I know this one firsthand. Because of today’s time pressures, I am always tempted to sacrifice clarity for speed. So I throw a few words into an email, send it off, and find later that I didn’t communicate my point at all. The email may have seemed faster, but it ended up adding waste to the process—and not moving anything forward.
Then there was Jared Cohen, the director of Google Ideas, who is taking face-to-face interaction to a level I never imagined. Jared was curious about why young people in the Middle East joined al-Qaeda—so he traveled there and spent time talking with them. At the end of June, he is convening a meeting of former terrorists and gang leaders to learn how we can discourage people from becoming future terrorists and gang leaders. Talk about face to face.
I want to follow the lead of these speakers. More than that, I’ve already started: developing new ideas and ways to execute them, rekindling my long-cherished desire to travel, fostering my ability to give without thought of return. While inspiring me to do all this, the conference has also reminded me of the single best way to make good things happen: face to face.