OTAFargo: Boldness Knows No Boundaries

Forget about your goals. Forget about what you thought you wanted do to upon graduation. Forget about controlling your professional path. Just be bold.

The seventh in a series of semi-annual events, OTA pulled off another top-notch event in Fargo on September 12 (#OTAFargo). The OTA name stems from the later part of its tri-state partners’ names: Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. Duh. After I fought the urge to assign a word with each letter, it revealed itself to me. The OTA logo sports a circular arrow running though the state outlines to signal the groups’ goal: to inspire intersections in creativity and community.

Highly Content with The Great Discontent

In April 2014, I only attended a half-day of the OTA Sioux Falls event, due to a surprise messy spring blizzard that closed down I-90. View the event recap I wrote here. I was definitely more optimistic as I set out for Fargo from Minneapolis (a 3.5hour drive) on September 12, a promising beautiful fall day. The core of the event took place from 8:30a.m. -5:00p.m. Specific workshops the day prior as well as comp tickets to Dessa in concert for all OTAns were options as well. I opted to get up at 4:00a.m. to make the day’s speakers and head out after the event.

Back to boldness. Thirteen diverse speakers interspersed with compelling videos by Passenger Productions, funded by the Bush Foundation, delivered big on inspiration. Speakers and artists featured via video boldly shared more than their profession (#WeMustBeBold). They shared inspiration and how they happened upon their life, which for the majority of them isn’t defined in terms of work/life balance per se. The boundaries are blurred. Intentionally and thankfully.

Richardo Crespo, CCO at Th13teen and former Global Creative Chief at 20th Century Fox and Mattel, confirmed this view when I asked him about work/life balance. I mean, sh*t the California dad of four surfs nearly every day and churns out a ton of creative. He noted that we’ll get more of a glimpse into that when Fast Company relays his interview in an upcoming issue.

OTA speakers have some swagger for sure. Larry Smith, Catalyst of Six Word Memoirs, has a collection of celebrities’ six words. If you haven’t checked it out, do so. It’s been a huge help getting me to the essence of things lately, like this speaker summary for instance. OTAns: please send me your six words on a speaker’s influence via email or on Twitter @SparkTracker. (Also look for OTA to do something with each person’s Six Word Memoir soon)

Ricardo Crespo, CCO at Th13teen and former Global Creative Chief at 20th Century Fox and Mattel (@_ricardocrespo_): Start. Stop. Continue. Beware the shuffleplay.

Greg Hartle, Founder of $10 and a Laptop (@greghartle): $10 In My Pocket. Need coffee.

Cathy Brooks, founder/Chief Human Officer, The Hydrant Club (@cathybrooks): What happens in Vegas? Dog park.

Ellen McGirt, Business Journalist, Fast Company alum, nervous novelist (@ellenmcgirt@ImJustPo): Don’t know? Ask Po. #ILYMTW informant.

Wes Eisenhauer, Frontman of Soulcrate, Photographer (@soulcrate): Wordsmith on stage. Speechless with camera.

Larry Smith, Founder of SMITH Magazine and Catalyst of Six Word Memoirs (@larrysmith): Intimidation. Out-sixing the sixer creator.

Lonnie Carter, Playwright of Lost Boys (and Girl) of Sudan (@lonniety): Critics: critique me more. It’s welcome.

Kevin Kirby, Ashoka Fellow, CEO and Co-founder of Face It Together (@faceit2gether): Addiction solution demands lifetime of management.

Jason Roberts, Founder of Team Better Block (@mannytmoto): Add tires, paint, palettes. Presto! Places.

Elizabeth King, Founder and Executive Director of Agency for Emerging Voices (@elizabethonline): Passion pit. Google it. It’s legit.

The Gregory Brothers, Creators of Auto-Tune the News (@gregorybrothers): Old tools. New ideas. Funky politicians.

Greg Brandeau, Author of Collective Genius, Former CTO of Walt Disney, Former SVP of Pixar (@gregbrandeau): People Pokers. Paradoxes. Discuss amongst leadership.

While the majority of speakers weren’t necessarily born, raised or currently living in an OTA state, their perspectives from coast to coast felt relative. If attendees didn’t feel grounded enough, taking in the videos between presenters offered a dose of Midwestern, of the land, creators. The videosby Passenger, a South Dakota production company, featured various OTA-based creative types from a National Geographic photographer (Joe Riis) to musicians and foodies. The type of living they conveyed awakened my small town roots. They really got something right. That something was essence.

57 and Sunny = Inspiration

Emcee and OTA creator Hugh Weber, kept the momentum going and did something new at this event based on past event feedback. He instructed the audience to talk to the speakers during breaks at a specific area. A nice move given the large number of student attendees (a bus of students made the trek from the Sioux Falls area) who might have needed some encouragement. I met several speakers this way, but not in the “let’s exchange business cards” kind of way. In the entrepreneurial chill vibe that’s part of OTA’s cool factor, business card exchange is not the focus (see Twitter). But real conversations do happen.

I could write a blog post on each speaker’s session. Maybe I will… For now we’ll keep it to a summary of the intersections of ideas I heard from more than one speaker.

Embrace Serendipity: Cathy Brooks shared the official definition of serendipity: “an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.” You may not necessarily know the outcome or goal of something you do, but know that it’s putting you in the right place and time for the universe to respond to you.

Don’t Think, Just Do. A motto by Wes Eisenhauer and a concept many others touched on. Spending too much time overthinking or waiting until things are perfectly in place before you begin and you’ll never start. Be okay with failure. Improve and try again. These presenters shared their path of being lost, not knowing what to do careerwise/ lifewise and sort of stumbling onto something fulfilling in their lives.

Find Your Essence. This is your story. Where do you come from, what inspires you? Find a way to connect that to your life’s work. One particular example: Larry Smith’s storytelling concept as is plays out in Six Word Memoirs.

Channel Empathy. Elizabeth Banks shared some compelling stats as a commentary on our society’s challenges. Even though technology connects us, there are gaps in generations and factors causing more isolation. We’re talking one out of three homes are single households and there are less married couples than any time in recent history. Reminder: being connected creates empathy and makes us more human.

Tap into a Support System. Many speakers touched on the importance of mentors and collaborators and just people who call you out on stuff. They keep you grounded when needed or tell you to jump in and go for it. Always use them to widely test your ideas organically before throwing them into the marketplace for a potential epic fail, Brandeau recommends.

As I walked out of an afternoon session, I dropped my OTA Six Word Memoir in the box in exchange for the first copy of The Great Discontent (TGD). It read:  Inspired. Now What? Don’t Think. Do.