I first heard about C2 Montréal two years ago at Worldz Conference in Los Angeles. I was at an interactive table building legos with other executives (great mental image, I know) talking about the future world of work and the role of our organizations. At the Lego Serious Play™ table a French woman asked how the conference was going for me. I gave a compliment and a couple things I thought were missing. She then told me to check out C2, suggesting if I care about business, if I’m a custodian of applied creativity, if I give a shit about the future of my business, C2 was an absolute must.
I give a shit about these things. So I went.
C2 is a conference based in Montréal, and spread out over three days, focusing on the intersection of creativity and commerce. Thousands of people from 60 countries attend all sorts of interactive events, braindates™, keynotes, meetups, workshops, and experiences all geared around connection and conversation.
This felt like the right place for me, and for Butchershop, given where we are right now as a company.
I am always pushing my company to be better than we were the day before. Last year was a fantastic time of growth, and with it a time to hone our vision and focus. We grew our team from 22 to 32 people, helped individuals grow and become leaders, delivered exceptional work to dozens of clients, and met our financial goals. But not everything was perfect. Not even close. We learned more about ourselves, and what kind of work we did want to do and, more importantly, what kind we didn’t.
To answer that, we did an interesting exercise. I listed the top ten projects (brands) I loved working on and correlated it against the top ten clients (people) I loved working with. I had the whole company do the same. The lists were 90% identical. Our sweet spot, regardless of industry or vertical, was when we worked with exceptional visionaries who trusted us to create value. Big thinkers — entrepreneurs in their own right – who were focused, passionate, and considerate; decision makers and true partners. This is what we love. It keeps us fresh and on the bleeding edge, listening to signals and inflection points in culture that create movement and breakthrough. This is what we want to be known for. If we do more of what we love, helping people, we win.
With the hypothesis that our success, health and happiness is ten fold when we work with visionary business leaders on their big, bold ideas to help them grow, evolve, breakthrough, and launch, I went on the hunt. I wanted to find the best place to be around people of a similar mindset but who look at the world from different angles, but perhaps through similar lenses: endless opportunity and a thirst to figure things out. I considered about a dozen different conferences around the world, but only one made sense. C2 Montréal.
After four days at the conference, I came back to Butchershop and our world of business with two big takeaways.
Opportunity is endless. And no one has it figured out.
We as creative services professionals spend a tremendous amount of time in our lives thinking about the process of things. We focus on the things that are going wrong, not going right. We complain about things more often than not, and point fingers and blame. If it’s not me, it’s the client. If it’s not the client, it’s poor communication or misunderstood scopes of work. If it’s not the scope of work, it’s a team member who isn’t pulling their weight. But this isn’t where focus should go. Focus should be on the vision. Always. If the vision of the company is clear, then endless opportunity will show up at your doorstep. Things begin to happen all around us. But we have to participate, meaning we can’t take our foot off the accelerator. We need to be consistent, focused, clear, persistent, and dedicated.
I spent my time at C2 offering up four topics as brain dates: How the fuck to price creativity? Things I’ve learned running a creative business in San Francisco. How do you get crystal clear alignment with your team in an hour? How do you open an office in another country? All of these things were on my mind, not because I have all the answers to these questions, but because they circle around larger topics of conversation that are close to my world currently, things that I’m passionate about, or topics I’ve become a student of in the last decade. I spoke to dozens of business people. And to me, each of my questions is a creative conversation that has as much value as a visual output on any given project. I wanted to have conversations with people who run businesses that care about their people, the quality of work, the outputs and inputs, and have a product they are trying to improve. I had 24 of those conversations.
I met with people who run agencies most of us know. I met with a teenager who is passionate about quantum computing. I met with a young entrepreneur finding himself in an organization with a leading product that’s scaling faster than they can keep up with. I spoke with an owner of a production company in Toronto who spends too much time on the new business vetting process, preventing them from focusing on what they really want to work on. I sat with a creative director whose business runs on a hybrid Pentagram business model and a client owned agency model (It was different, that’s for sure.) And I met with a Frenchman who specializes in helping businesses set up shop in other countries with a simple philosophy of skills or clients. There were many more wonderful conversations, and those were just the brain dates. I spent time at tables, events and waiting in line for workshops striking up conversations. One gentleman is using blockchain applications for the cannabis industry. It was fascinating. I could grasp some of the concepts, but, in all honesty, I didn’t really understand a single word he said. The next day I attended a blockchain discussion to change that.
There is so much in this world that moves us all forward. There are people with ideas and those people need help. They need help executing, challenging, communicating, building, and growing their ideas. This was my biggest take away. There is endless opportunity to help people create things. If there’s a problem, there’s an opportunity, and an opportunity is all that’s needed for profound things to happen. This is where culture and commerce collide in a magnificent display that will never go away. It’s an endless market. And it’s the market Butchershop will always be in.
And in the same breath, after dozens of conversations over four days, the humbling part of it all: no one has it figured out. This is where I feel we can bring the most value. Not because we have all the answers, but because we are adept at helping people move through ideas to create the best possible, insight-driven expression for culture and customer. And through true conversation, understanding and collaboration, we can move ideas forward by turning them into brands, movements, and businesses. No one has it figured out. And that’s okay. Neither do we. This part left me feeling wide open. And I loved it.
So, what stood out?
There were several things that were memorable about my inaugural C2 adventure this year. All of them were surprises which added to the overall experience for a first timer.
1. Me, my team and we
I attended with three leaders of my company. We all participated in different things that caught our attention. But when we checked in, conversations reached the level of burstiness. We would end each day with a glass of wine or a cocktail followed by a dinner where our conversation would continue. It was a great way to bond and talk about concepts and how we could apply or not apply what we learned. A lot of filtering about our own personal experiences and business vision applied. It made me feel like we had time to forget about the minutiae of work and projects and really think big about what we want to do and who we want to help.
2. I hate networking, but not at C2
Brain dates were amazing to just let go and get rid of agenda. It was a fantastic format where the topic was exposed before meeting with people. You selected who you wanted to speak with based on topics and shared interest with an invite that had to be accepted. I know there are versions of this, but I really appreciated the way the e180 ran the program for the duration. It felt formal, but relaxed. Not one of the meet ups (which last 30 minutes or longer) was a waste of my time. It was also great that a lot of the folks I met were out of the Bay Area and Silicon Valley bubble. It was awesome to speak to people from France, Amsterdam, Germany, Chicago, and obviously Canada, excuse me, Québec/Montréal and Toronto.
3. Details are everything
I was very impressed with the details at C2. The way they handled queues and check-ins, adoption and implementation of Klik (an event app for communication, scanning, ticketing, scheduling, and transacting). The influence of Cirque on the stages and venue, the graphics and the screens, the low-profile inclusion of sponsorship (Thank you.) and partner branding was minimal, but when noticed, attractive and at the right volume. The bathrooms had attendants and smelled better than any bathroom I’d been in. The poetry soundtrack was a nice break. I loved the signage, the use of materials and the creation of spaces. The waterfront was built just for the event with decks and restaurants. The air conditioning in all the tents always came on at exactly the right time. The food trucks were communal and just the right balance of casual and decadent. And the staff was incredible. It felt like there was a 3 to 1 ratio, staff to attendee. It seemed like everyone was part of a collective mission. It was one of the most well run events at that scale I had ever been to in my life — and I’ve been to a lot. I even produced them myself, so I know what it takes. I enjoyed that they had no bottles of water only Tableau sparkling and flat. Water cooler talk is highly underrated. All of this adds up to better brand experience. In my mind, C2 is the greatest creative business conference. They delivered. And they will do everything in their power to remain the best. That is good branding. This is what we get our clients to think about. That is what we want to work on with bold and visionary people. How do we create the best brand experience? Finding that answer and building on it is what we do.
4. Not all content is created equal
Big topics can be presented and shared in countless ways. Some of the recurring themes were collaboration, getting outside one’s comfort zone, and group participation. I attended a workshop on getting closer to design and creativity through nature, exploring your dark side by creating an alter ego, starting a movement in your organization using some principles in design thinking. For the most part it was great. But a couple of the sessions were so broad that it was confusing. It was hard to self-interpret and make it my own. In other words it was change the world and create a movement, rather than how can I change one thing I am doing in my professional life to add to positive change. I was craving the tactical. I wanted to see how other people that think about the same things I do solve similar problems or create opportunities. I loved two types of content at C2: the really big shit, and the really example-driven small shit. The middle ground is where I struggled to find the meaning. On the flip side, there was not one workshop I attended where I didn’t come away with a great sound byte or takeaway.
5. Montréal is a damn cool city
Montréal feels like Portland, Paris and San Francisco had a love child. I enjoyed my 30-minute morning walk from our hotel to the C2 venue with a great cup of coffee and even better croissant. We ate our way through the city and used our evenings out as a way to keep the momentum, positive energy and conversations alive. We went from the rooftop at the William Gray with spectacular views and cool crowd to Marko where we made friends with the bartender and the oyster shucker. There was a lot to explore and the city is proud of its “French-ness”. It was a great setting to get out of the US but still have the influence and eclectic crowd mix together because of Montréals proximity. Meeting with business leaders from Montréal offered a nice perspective that I did not expect to receive. I found people like when you start a conversation in french. Even if the conversation for me didn’t go past “Bonjour.”
6. Write things down
It’s a great to come away with content. There’s so much going on, it’s hard to remember everything. Here are the power quotes of the week from Ben, Katherine, Ian and I:
“Airbnb is wonderful. I think they are a part of what people want in travel. And they make the hotel industry better.” — CEO of Accor Hotels
“Do things that skin your knees.” — Beside Agency
“Patience and intention are free but have the most value.” — Unknown
“99% of problems in your company are a leadership problem.” — Unknown
“Start small. Get wins quick. Build momentum. Create movements.” — Unknown
“Learn to trust the creative process. A lot of times, us business [people] throw in business mandates and noodle ideas. It breaks the idea. Don’t cram the brand.” — CEO of Mailchimp
“Small gestures have the largest impact.” — CFO of World Bank
“We are entering a pre-Steve Jobs era because we are focused on the tech and not the experience.” — Tim Kobe, Founder of Eight Inc.
“We’re burdened by policies and habits that were shaped before we were there.” — Unknown
“We’ve evolved from being a predator to behaving like a virus.” — Edward Burtynsky
“We look at where things gap out. There are 160M views of a lady imitating Chewbacca versus 60M views watching the Super Bowl. Wake up.” — Jim Coulter, TPG Investments
“All your ideas need the art factor.” — Creative Director at Sid Lee
“You can not escape bureaucracy so make it more beautiful.” — Kersti Kaljulaid, President of Estonia
How it applies to Butchershop?
As we narrow our focus and work with passionate people, big ideas, and help companies evolve and grow, it’s important to realize the operation and process that we’re absorbed in. And although if left unattended or uncared for can be catastrophic to our business, it’s something that 99% of the people I spoke with and 99% of the conversations I have on a weekly basis are about. If we make these things our focus, then we will lose. It’s our job as leaders of creative enterprises to focus on the big picture, to have the freedom to try new things, to create through trial and error. And then good people will be able to create and be successful. We live by this narrowed focus and we evolve as a company by being known for the value we create, not the job that we do.
What I look forward to for next year?
This year we listened. Next year we want to speak and share some of our thoughts. I would like to host a workshop that shows an aspect of the Butchershop way of thinking so that it may help people gain clarity, create alignment, apply new ways of creative thinking, bridge gaps between organization, create vision, help people understand their business more. And we want to show people how we spread positivity, build trust, and create value that adds to a better community of bold creative companies. There are three workshops that we are considering and would love the opportunity to share the stage with some of the people who made the conversation this year so invigorating.
Another goal is to get some of our clients and partners to attend with us. I would love to offer this to some of our team members as an experience so they can plug in and connect with people at C2. 2019 has a great theme next year “TOMORROW” and we would like to report and offer some content around this topic. Perhaps framed around what we need to do today to shape tomorrow.
For my team, I would love for us to set up work sessions at C2 Montréal to connect with folks on a strategic level. Maybe we time our mid-year check-in and strategy meetings with C2 and extend our offsite to include this occasion so we can leverage some of the experiences and expertise.
I want to thank the C2 staff for making such a wonderful, well-run and thoughtful event. It’s no small feat — borderline impossible. Thanks for reading.