Imagine being whisked into the first of three humid yurts and told that during your Reverie Lab that you will be taught to communicate with your own subconscious. Next, you’re given a health warning and an invitation to wave your hand if at any point you became emotionally distressed. During the first session, you choose a rock and ask it a perplexing question, using symbols to tap into your subconscious bias. As you enter the second yurt, you have a sensor strapped above your eye, and headphones thumping with tribal drums put on your head. You lie on a cot, cover your eyes, and perform self-hypnosis. In the final yurt, you see your recorded brainwaves interpreted into three-dimensional sand art (created by a machine) and talk about the transition of subconscious waves to physical form. This was my first hour at C2, and it prepared me well for what I would experience over the next three days.
The heart of the annual C2 conference in Montreal is Commerce and Creativity, and this year’s theme was Transformative Collisions. This focal point drove interactive sessions with mash-ups of art, tech, science, philosophy, cause, and business. But beyond the sessions themselves, the people at C2 quickly became a tribe of excited explorers. Enabled by smart badge technology to connect with anyone you met with a click, networking became easy and organic, and the people became as important, if not more so, than the programming.
There were a number of different features to encourage comradery that distinguish C2 from other conferences. Instead of formal lunches, food was procured in a lively food truck picnic area. Instead of ducking out of the conference to take a call, there were colorful plastic pods with tables and chairs scattered about to allow for partial privacy. Instead of over-programming, guests were encouraged to take time for themselves – for example, you could put on headphones and experience a 10-minute meditation under a tree.
That said, there was a lot to take away from the programming itself. A few of the highlights for Transformative Collisions include:
- Transparency: This lab, which focused on bias and labeling, first had you introduce the stranger next to you (name, homeland, occupation, etc.) to the group with only visual cues. Next, we were ushered into a mirrored room and tested on our inherent biases based on superficial features (like one’s physical appearance), differences in lifestyles, or disabilities. These activities created self-awareness around negative social biases but also connected it back to the science of how evolution has used labeling towards the survival of the species. Sometimes that which does not kill you makes you prejudiced.
- Tech and health: In a talk that truly blew my mind, Cell Link explained how their bio-printing technology is leading to the growth of human tissue in gel. While there are obvious uses for human tissue, what was remarkable was their plan to biopsy cancer cells from a patient and then grow them in a lab – allowing for treatment experimentation and bespoke protocols engineered for a specific person’s tumors.
- Brainstorming: A unique workshop that looked at how to change the way we pose the questions we ask in briefs so that the framing of them no longer constrains ideas, but gets to the heart of the challenge itself.
- Migration: An interactive art display by Mat Chivers where attendees held clay in their fists and then gave the pieces to the artist. Chivers will actually harvest all of the hand data into an AI program. The exercise hopes to showcase to AI how we (humans) grasp the physical world, and in turn it will use that data and understanding to create the first ever AI-made sculpture.
- The Aquarium: A glass cube where Q&As were conducted with special speakers, but we the audience could only hear them on Bluetooth headphones, leaving us free to roam at will.
As varied as this conference was, what was universal across all conversations soon became clear: the tension between next gen tech and preserving human experiences, as well as the elusive key to finding positive, credible purpose while driving profits. These are the true collisions that every business is grappling with, and must solve to create sustainable growth and positive business practices. Ours is a world that’s changing rapidly, and it will be fascinating to explore the transformative collisions to come.