May 10th, 2012 @ Amtrak Train #155

“Just try shit. Please.” and 4 other takeaways from Behance’s 99% conference

If you’ve been following along at home, my professional life is in a self-created state of flux.

The conference's namesake quotation as displayed on the program.

As a result I’ve been doing my best to get out of the weeds and explore other fields to get inspired for the next move. Part of that personal journey happened last week at Behance’s 99% conference1.

The conference is targetted towards “creatives” and focuses on turning ideas into action. Speakers included Reddit co-founder Alexis OhanianHow to be Black author Baratunde Thurston, Graphic Designer and Partner at Pentagram Paula Scher and many others. Also, Behance was kind enough to anoint me a 99% Fellow for the conference.

Below are a few larger takeaways from the conference.

Key Takeaways

Know your one thing – In our professional lives, it’s easy to be torn in dozens of directions. Several speakers mentioned the almost maniacal focus they had on their core goal and mission for their projects and credit that focus as the reason for any success. Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian mentioned how he tries to give all of his products personalities and have those personalities permeate everything he does.

Jason Goldberg demonstrates how he figured out "design" was his company's "one thing."

Jason Goldberg, founder of Fab, mentioned that knowing your “one thing” is the key to success. When Goldberg and his team had to “pivot” fabulous.com to Fab, they drew this chart on a cocktail napkin to emphasize design as the “one thing” that Fab would focus on.

“Creativity is the residue of wasted time” – If we don’t stop ourselves, it’s easy to spend every waking moment consuming some sort of content. It’s also easy to mistake “working” with “being productive.”

Many speakers spoke of inspiration finding them in their idle moments (usually in the shower). Jonah Lehrer, author of “How Creativity Works” told the story of Bob Dylan writing “Like a Rolling Stone” after recovering from touring by taking time hiding out in a cabin in upstate New York while he swore off the music industry. Our inspiration is more likely to come when we’re relaxed.

The real hot startup? Cities – When companies get bigger, they are less productive due to bureaucracy and processes. However, when cities get bigger they are more productive and more diverse people become loosely organized. In a large city, citizens are more likely to bump into inspiration. The business/city comparison was drawn again by Union Square Venture’s Partner Brad Burnham in his “studio session” when he told listeners that businesses built on network effects2 are move like governments than businesses.

Be boldKeith Yamashita, partner at SYPartners, spoke of working on teams and urged the crowd to be bold. ”If you’re uncomfortable, you’re doing it right,” he said.

Alexis Ohanian during his talk at the 99% conference

Other notes / choice quotes:

Fortune 100 companies live an average of 45 years

“If it feels tedious, you’ll never stick with it.”

Email has us in the age of “reactionary workflow.”

The number one source of happiness at work, even above money, is ANY form of progress – Teresa Amabile, Hardvard Business school

“On the internet know one can hear you fail” – Alexis Ohanian

“Ship stuff. If only so your team has something to put on their resumes” – Tony Fadell, Founder of Nest

“Just try shit. Please.” - Alexis Ohanian

Final Thoughts

The conference was impeccably organized. As someone who has planned an event or two, I know how hard these things are to pull off. Big thanks to the Behance team for putting it together and inspiring me to push a few ideas forward.

If you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.

  1. Which is derived from the Thomas Edison quote “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration” and has nothing to do with Occupy Wall Street. []
  2. like Digg, Reddit, Twitter, Etsy etc. []

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