Seven Reasons Conferences Matter

by Julie Anixter

This October,  I have the pleasure of representing Innovation Excellence — and you, our audience, in particular – and chairing the Back End of Innovation, Oct 9-11 in Boston, IIR’s new bookend to FEI (the Front End of Innovation) and response to the perennial ‘what do you Monday morning with all this appetite for and talk about innovation?”  Whether its innovation, scrapbooking or radiology, serious people just can’t help themselves – they want to keep learning and connecting.  Where and how do you begin, what does middle of the narrative look like, and how do you get to those valued results? Of course, the answer is always based in context, “it depends,” but there is no substitute for experiencing the stories first hand — told, to paraphrase the line about dancing — by the one that brung them.  I cannot imagine another forum which so closely marries people who want to talk with people who want to listen.  I have sat rapt, for days, listening to great and enthralling stories by people who became my heroes, like the first time I heard Will Allen speak about his organic community farm and business in Milwaukee at PopTech, or Tom Peters 20 years ago in Chicago say “if half of the people working for you aren’t weird, you’re in trouble.”

For those who seek the energy, ideas, learning, and courage to make things happen in their disciplines, conferences really do matter.    Having been to four this past year (Imaginatik’s Innovation Leaders’ Forum, FUSE, SHRM and the US Coast Guard Innovation Expo, RIP – a casualty of the US federal govt. squeeze) my belief stands that conferences are the most efficient way to stand on the balcony and read the world, and then to go down into the town square, and mix it up.   I asked some people I respect why they invest the time, pay the money and go year after year and here’s what they said:

1.  Conferences make me feel like I’m maintaing my edge. We live in a world where there is a premium on adapting.  Conferences provide a platform to sample, adopt and adapt to new models and approaches.

2. They are a highly efficient way to learn how others are coping with the same issues.  Both in my own industry and outside. Conferences have become a competitive sport and that’s good news for attendees because organizers work harder and harder to make them value creating experiences.

3.  I make invaluable contacts. The diversity runs high, and it’s also a chance to run into old friends.

4.  They’ve changed the course of my career. I know for a fact this is true.  People I’ve met at conferences include the CEO who hired me to work Tom Peters, Seth Godin, Nancy Badore, Dan Pink, and, my current partners.

5. They renew my career.  They renew me. They provide a much needed break in the routine, especially now, when it seems that everyone is doing not 2 but 3 or 4 jobs, and if you’re lucky enough to go to a great conference, it can change your career and your perspective.  Hearing Nancy Badore talk about her approach to leading executive development at Ford, when I was a young training director at Anixter, set the tone and inspiration, truly, for the next ten years of my career.   Nancy’s invitation to visit her at Ford and spend a day with Klas Mellander introduced me to the world of visual information mapping.

6. I get out of my four walls. Conferences are a form of immersion occurs, and they do stimulate parts of your brain.  My friend Donna Sturgess describes how she felt when she saw a scientist from MIT presenting holograms at the EG conference…the sense of magic and possibility it unleashed.

7.  They’re a mentally paid or deductible vacation that inspires. I’ll admit to growing a little weary of the skeptics or naifs who repeatedly ask  “isn’t innovation just a buzzword, fad, something that can’t be taught, or better yet an unattainably enlightened state that only start-ups, inventors, or companies with deep R&D budgets or Apple-like genius can pull off?”     The engines of Innovation Excellence hum daily with the writing of practitioners who are doing the work, the heavy lifting, of creating and launching new business models, products, services, art forms and solutions to meet the challenges our world.  Innovation is a fully fledged discipline — you only need to read through the jobs and stories of the people who will be spotlighted at Back End of Innovation to see it manifested in technicolor.  BEI exists because we have a discipline and we are serious about it!

I’ll be interviewing and inviting questions for many of the BEI speakers.  Please join us in Boston or if you can’t, we’ll be live blogging throughout the conference.

To join us at the conference, register as a reader of this blog & save 15% off the standard registration link, use code BEI12BLOG.
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Julie Anixter is Chief Innovation Officer at Maga Design and the executive editor and co-founder of Innovation Excellence. She worked with Tom Peters for five years on bringing big ideas to big audiences. Now she works with the US Military and other high test innovation cultures that make a difference.

No comments

  1. I agree with all your points. I can’t think of another one to contribute, but I’ll add my take.

    The best things — conversations, connections, learnings, introductions, insights — often happen in hallways and at unscheduled moments. It’s like creativity: you focus and study and pay close attention to the conference talks and breakout sessions, and then in an off moment you bump into someone in a hallway and something greater than the sum of the parts pops into being.

    Conferences create the space where great things happen.

  2. As an educator, I believe it is very important to teach material that is important for the future of the students. When inventing my math and memory system Brainetics (, I wanted to focus on new subjects and innovative methods to teach. By teaching for the 21st century, students will be more prepared in the future. It seems like so many aspects of today’s society centers around the digital environment and teaching should be altered to adapt.

    Great article,

    Mike Byster
    Inventor of Brainetics, Educator, Author of Genius, Mathematician

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