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99U Conference


thanh at 99u

Last week I had the fortunate opportunity to attend the 99U Conference in New York City. Our friends at 99U invited us to come out and who could say no that?

I thoroughly enjoyed the conference and I want to share a couple things I learned and experienced while I was there.

Not just for creatives

The stage at 99U Conference

The stage at 99U Conference

The 99U website and the company behind it, Behance, attract a lot of creatives – they range from UI/UX designers to fashion designers to art directors. That was also the first thing I noticed when I arrived at the kickoff event at the Art Directory club.

Everyone dressed well, had interesting haircuts and were non-data driven types of people… much unlike yours truly. This was a very different type of conference for me. I’m used to either seeing everyone looking serious in suits or talking shop with young guns who are obsessed with money, fast cars and women.

It was actually really fun to be surrounded by creatives and I learned a lot just through osmosis. As anyone who knows me can tell you – I’m far from “creative”. It’s not a word I would ever associate myself with. I’m that guy who had to read The Non-Designer’s Design Book.

Thinking outside of the box? I’m terrible.
Making obvious connections between words or objects? Terrible.
Solving puzzles or riddles? TERRIBLE.

I barely can color coordinate my outfits. I’m that uncreative.

My brain is wired differently, but that made all interactions interesting. I didn’t have any agenda for this conference. I went with an open mind, just keen on learning anything I could and help other attendees with any piece of advice I had.

As a systems kind of guy, when you meet interesting people, you automatically start mapping out their different perspectives, break it down and see how you can incorporate them.

Wait, you don’t do that? Ok, maybe I’m just weird sauce.

But that was actually the fun part because I was like the yin to their yang. The stereotype of creative people is that they are great at coming up with ideas but lack the skills to execute and make it to the finish line. I’m the complete opposite – I suck at coming up with ideas but I’m a rockstar at executing.

3 creatives, 1 non-creative.

3 creatives, 1 non-creative.

That’s why my conversations with people were super interesting. It was like as if Sherlock first met John Watson – you first feel each other out but then you realize you both need each other which leads to interesting conversations, lunches, dinners and parties.

While I was one of the few non-creatives, I found tremendous value in being there. Even if you don’t consider yourself a creative, it’s worth going out of your comfort zone to learn about how design intersects with business and leadership. There were also tons of interesting people there that I would have otherwise never been able to meet.

Making ideas happen

Throughout the conference you would see the same quote:

“Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration” – Thomas Edison

Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. - Thomas Edison

Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. – Thomas Edison

Most of the attendees were good at coming up with ideas but needed some extra insights on how to make their ideas happen. The conference itself was structured in a way to help people bring their ideas to life.

On the first day you could pick a workshop to attend. The workshops covered a wide range of topics where you could stop by the office of an innovative company and learn how they execute.

I decided to visit the workshop of Undercurrent where I would learn about Agile practices. This is something we’re currently experimenting and implementing within the Asian Efficiency team so I thought this would be valuable.

Aaron Dignan of Undercurrent on Agile companies.

Aaron Dignan of Undercurrent on Agile companies.

And yes it was!

What I learned is that you don’t need tons of meetings, managers or permission to execute. As long everyone understands what the end goal is, let everyone run free, execute the list of things to do, and trust people to do the right thing. This was really eye opening because we had a group of strangers working together within minutes and getting stuff done.

That was really exciting to see and a great way to start the conference.

How Facebook builds products.

How Facebook builds products.

Later that day I attended a session where Julie Zhuo of Facebook shared how they develop products. There were tons of other sessions you could have picked but this caught my eye because I have a lot of respect for how Mark Zuckerberg grew Facebook to what it is today.

The next day there were more speakers that all had interesting stories to share about how they had a vision for something and then got started turning that vision into reality. I particularly liked the session with Seth Godin and Jason Friend. I also had the opportunity to speak with them privately in the speakers lounge and it was just great to put a face behind the books I’ve read.

You could also watch the talks in the speakers lounge.

You could also watch the talks in the speakers lounge.

Don’t be afraid to share

I met this person at the conference who was a champion idea creator. As we were talking he complained how other people and companies – independently – came up with similar ideas and are now making a profit with it.

I’m sure you have such a friend too – they came up with the idea for Uber or the next Candy Crush and then complain how others stole the idea.

Ideas are cheap. There is an abundance of ideas. Who cares?

Put in the work!

Put in the work!

You should never be afraid to share your best ideas. Anyone can have ideas. What matters is execution. Not many people have the skill or determination (a.k.a. perspiration) to actually execute on their brilliant plans.

That’s why I love the idea behind the 99U Conference – helping people make ideas happen. We all daydream of what we could do or have, but what separates the amateurs from the pros is execution and putting in the work.

Are you willing to put in the work? Then you need to get yourself to the next 99U Conference.

I want to give a special thanks to Sean Blanda for inviting me – you’re the man! He and the rest of the 99U and Behance team put a great conference together. It’s really well organized, you get to meet really interesting and like-minded people, and you’ll have a blast. I highly recommend it and if you like the stuff we do at Asian Efficiency, I’m confident you’ll like the 99U site and their conference.

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