Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to travel to Chicago to attend MCON, a dynamic convening of next-generation of leaders and innovators inspiring their peers to take action on movements and causes. In a fortuitous complement to Community Wealth Partners’ recent work on the value of intentional influence, this year’s event focused on exploring influence from four unique yet increasingly interconnected perspectives: media, business, place, and community.
Throughout the two days, which were jam-packed with superb speakers, impromptu conversations with incredibly interesting and accomplished peers, and, of course, lots of deep-dish pizza, I was struck by three themes that emerged across experts and topics.
Keep your eye on the Why. As an analytical thinker, I find great value in breaking down concepts into the 6W/1H: Who, What, When, Where, Why, Why Not, and How. I think it’s a highly relevant – and deceptively simple – framework to unpack the underlying foundation of a story or idea. Multiple speakers stressed that while all the W’s are significant, thoroughly understanding and effectively communicating the “why” of a social change initiative is vital for widespread engagement. Gary Knell, CEO of National Geographic, emphasized that great storytelling balances telling people what they want to hear with what they need to know. Compelling communication of the “why” not only leads people to care about an issue, but might inspire them to take action as well.
A great idea means nothing unless it’s followed by action. Almost every speaker heartily endorsed the viewpoint that great ideas, while necessary for change, are by no means sufficient. A strategy might be brilliant, but without execution and hard work it’s devoid of impact. Behind extraordinary achievements, we heard repeatedly, is a group of ordinary people who are unusual only in that they committed to rolling up their sleeves and getting something done. The old adage, “If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again” holds true according to the MCON speakers. In the words of the U.S. Global Development Lab’s Innovation Evangelist, Alexis Bonnell, “the most important thing about innovation is iteration” and the determination to strategically tweak when something doesn’t work the first time.
Discover and embrace others’ humanity. Following Community Wealth Partners’ powerful Race, Inclusion and Equity training with the Race Matters Institute, I was thrilled to hear Richard Brown, VP of Philanthropy at American Express, speak passionately about the importance of going beyond diversity to inclusion. “Be purposeful in not just ensuring that your teams check the diversity box, but in creating an environment that makes people feel included and encourages contribution from everyone,” he said, adding that being inclusion-competent is a must for today’s leaders. Later in the day, Peter Koechley, co-founder of Upworthy, took the stage to advocate for technology’s role in extending empathy. He’s hopeful that the Internet will allow for a breakdown of traditional boundaries and eventually eliminate “otherization.” In his words, “With technology, caring about people you’ve never seen and will never meet is actually feasible…We can move from empathy based on blood ties to a place where global empathy is possible and plausible for the first time ever.”
I returned to DC exhausted but exhilarated from two days jam-packed with learning, “a-ha” moments, new connections, and excitement about the potential for Millennials to become, in the words of Jean Case, “the next great generation.” Needless to say, I’m already looking forward to next year!
Videos of MCON speakers are available here.