To be more interesting people, we need to be more interested in people

Mark Busse – No Comments

As the 2012 instalment of Interesting Vancouver fast approaches (only a scant few tickets left I think), I’ve found myself explaining a few times recently why I invest the time and energy to co-produce this annual event.

I’ve been to enough corporate sponsored, for profit, theme focussed, over structured conferences to choke a pig. Having co-produced a conference personally, I understand firsthand the hard work it takes, but I’m tired of the old format where invited speakers with über impressive CVs parade across stage, downloading their wisdom like professors to an audience playing the role of glassy eyed students. The days of me sitting in uncomfortable seats for hours amongst strangers with mouth agape, enthralled by stories of how brilliant these people are as they toot their horns are over for me. These are not interesting.

In my search for something else, I’ve attended and even helped produce a couple “unconferences” like Bar Camp, where the content is driven entirely by the participants. I certainly appreciated the spirit and spontaneity of this format, but still left feeling they missed something and wanting for more.

What Interesting Vancouver offers is a diverse crowd of curious people convene and listen to a selection of speakers from a variety of industries talk about their unusual hobbies, strange obsessions, and sometimes shocking personal anecdotes. I love that the presenters are often inexperienced public speakers and the material present is essentially professionally useless as there is no work talk, selling, or self-promotion allowed. Just regular people with interesting things to share.

Interesting Vancouver was started in 2006 by an advertising and communication strategist and author in the UK named Russel Davies. His plan was “to have all sorts of speakers speak about all sorts of stuff. Not brands, advertising, blogging and twitter but interesting, unexpected, original things. I’m hoping to find fascinating people and to just ask them to speak about something they care about. I want to replicate the experience of clicking from one really good blog to another, ranging across sciences, arts, musics, jokes and whatever.” And as the events spread to other cities around the world, clearly he hit a nerve and his plan was a success. The Vancouver event was started by my friend Brett MacFarlane, and since his departure to wander Europe (looking for more interestingness no doubt) the events have been produced by a core group of volunteers including Lauren Isaacson, Jason Landry, James Sherrett and me.

But why do I donate my time to this event? Like Davies, I believe that ‘being interesting’ is a core skill for creative professionals, and I want to work with and want to be around interesting people. To paraphrase something Davies once said, I’m convinced that to be more interesting people, we need to be more interested in people. Absolutely.

I also agree with Davies contention that “interesting people are good at sharing”—not talking endlessly about themselves mind you, but able to quickly pass along ideas to others and “let people play with them”. And that’s what Interesting Vancouver is, a forum for interesting people to share their ideas with a curious audience keen to become more interesting themselves. If you’ve ever attended one of these events then you’ve heard the unexpected connections and fascinating discourse that occurs before, between and after the speaker presentations. It’s very interesting (oops).

Another motivation to produce events like Interesting Vancouver is to counter the isolation that many people feel living in urban cities. And Vancouver has been recently criticized for being a cold, aloof and even lonelycity, which is a real shame. But there’s no reason why has to be a permanent state of being. Not at all. Interesting Vancouver was one of the first of such events, but other like Rain City Chronicles,CreativeMorningsPecha KuchaLikemindVan, and SFU Public Square’s inaugural community summit “Alone Together” are great examples of regular people working together to break down the walls and silos that separate Vancouverites and get them into the same room, share interesting ideas with each other, and build real community in the city we love.

Speakers at these events are often busy professionals from a myriad of industries, but often self identify as creatives or people who use creativity in their chosen field. They are typically successful in what they do, but humble about it. And they are always passionate experts and advocates for their hobbies—which is exactly why they get tapped to speak at Interesting Vancouver. Check out some of the speakers for Interesting Vancouver 2012 lineup:

Roy White – an unexpected opportunity at an unlikely time
Toby Barazzuol – lessons learned from the Downtown Eastside
Tori Holmes – rowing across the Atlantic
Lloyd Bernhardt – adoption and capitalism
Aamer Haleem – reflections on a career in television
Boris Mann – sailing the South Pacific in a tall ship
Ron Shewchuk – BBQ and how it can benefit the workplace
Corinne Lea – bureaucracy and the limits it imposes on culture

A beautiful aspect of Interesting Vancouver is that people from all walks of life attend these events. And they don’t arrive because they want to necessarily learn how to get involved in a particular topic, but rather are curious to uncover the backgrounds, motivations and passions of highly effective people. Those who arrive with an open mind and humble spirit often leave with an altered world view. And anyone is welcome! I’ve met children, senior citizens, artists, designers, developers, writers, marketing professionals, photographers, teachers, musicians, students, hairstylists, athletes—even corporate office workers looking for something different. And an added bonus with these events is that we get to promote and support local organizations like our venue host and co-producer Museum of Vancouver. As a transparent “greed free” event, budgets are available publicly and any left over funds go directly to their programs. Even the volunteers pay for their own tickets! This adds a terrific aspect to the event as people feel so comfortable about how the event is produced.

So there it is. That’s what Interesting Vancouver is and why I do it. Essentially I grew tired of being one of the whiners when I could contribute to a solution. And the opportunity to create a forum to gather up some of the most interesting people in Vancouver was just too tempting. Each year I go leave fascinated and inspired by other people, and maybe go home just a little bit more interesting myself.

This year’s Interesting Vancouver event is scheduled to take place on Friday, September 28, 2012 from 6:00pm to 10:30pm at the Museum of Vancouver. Tickets are currently on sale for $25 or $21 if you’re a Museum of Vancouver member.

If you’re interested in a little more info on some of the activities I invest my time and energy into, this article called What Are You Investing In This Year? A lesson in perspective and humility might be worth a quick read.