So, I’m talking to five beaming young people after TEDxStormont last Thursday. They’re all 20 something, glowing with energy, smiling like mad, and we’re blue streak style sharing ideas, theories, making connections –it’s a fast-paced, highly generative conversation. It occurs to me, all at once, that moments like this — are how communities are formed.
And how prosperous futures are created.
For Northern Ireland, I think the lasting value of the event is not the content delivered, the fun experienced, or even the many videos that will eventually be posted. The lasting value is the community it created.
I won’t attempt a comprehensive report on the event and all the speakers (I was one) but here’s a bit of background. TEDxStormont took place inside a Greek classical gem of a building, Stormont (aka The Parliament Buildings of Stormont). There were great talks given by a very diverse group that included politicians, educators, writers, journalists, motivators, piano players, singers, and rockers). If you want to get a feel for the speakers and content read Chris Kilpatrick’s Belfast Telegraph piece, or Barry Corrigan’s “Nlbcorrigan, Innovating For All” blog.) Barry is @MrMalcontent and Chris is @C_Kilpatrick1. Suffice to say there was not a lemon in the fruit bowl. Kudos to conference organizers, especially yeowoman Eva Grosman (@evagrosman) supported by an efficient, ebullient, and very attractive crew. My favourite presentation was the singing of Gráinne Holland – that voice will haunt my dreams. Run, do not walk, and buy this woman’s debut album.
The community that came together might be a new one for Northern Ireland. It’s an amorphous demographic of the competent and curious — those dynamic people with very deliberate and fiercely burning creative fires. That’s who buys tickets to an event like TEDxStormont. Call them “cultural creatives” or simply call them: optimists, do-ers, connectors, leaders, scientists, educators, music makers, idea men, and idea women all. These are people who create, discover, and start-up companies, charities, choirs, rock bands, and more. I wonder if there has ever been, in one place in Northern Ireland, a meeting with as many intersecting Irish Venn Diagrams. I wonder if there has ever been so much potential for imagination, creativity, and society changing innovation in one room?
For every person who bought a ticket there were at least another three who might have — had they been quicker on the draw, had they known, or had they been able to play hookey at work. If this group begins more regular interaction, and they should, trust me, the other two thirds will emerge from the woodwork.
The time is now for this new community of creatives to lead the charge in reinventing Northern Ireland. I’m not the best person to comment on The Troubles that have beset Northern Ireland. I’m an outsider, not a pure journalist, and my knowledge of the history is spotty. Still, clearly, the peace that has been achieved is only a first step. The peace agreement is a bona fide societal innovation, granted, a very good start. The next step has got to be taking the treasure trove of talent in the region and purposing it towards invention. And I mean invention in the broadest sense.
Prosperity and jobs will result if this is done — and this is how, in my view, The Troubles will be put to rest permanently. It’s about creating something new from whole cloth. That’s why this new community is so critical — these are the people with one thing in mind — creating something. And this is desperately needed here. The passion to create transcends political, personal, cultural, and religious differences — but it has to be unleashed. And the creation community needs to organize and support itself.
As President Clinton once said “it’s about the economy stupid.”
How might this new community move forward? Someone needs to step up and lead.
Back to that blue streak conversation I mentioned above — I’d just finished telling Phil Murray (@philmurray17) and Jonny Elliott (@jelliott1989) and their posse just how important it is to simply start up something that makes money. Sorry, it’s just like me to focus on that mundane stuff when something much more profound was happening. Still, correct me if I’m wrong, but a successful start-up , and the jobs that come with it, could be what keeps NI young talent from going permanently to London, or Germany, or America. It’s up to guys like Phil and Jonny to create things, but they need support — support from the community. How might that be done? A few ideas, mine alone, and please, load up the cross-bow and fire when ready:
- This community needs to meet and communicate at least monthly in person to have syncronicity occur. The goals are deliberate networking, idea exploration, concept pitching, and project/company creation.
- The government should not be the organiser of the community. We don’t want this caught up in politics in any fashion. This group must be seen as being about creativity and innovation, and anyone who digs that stuff can get involved. Leave your gang colors at home.
- Between meetings communication would be done using social media, this has already started, but it needs to be formalised.
- The community should raise money from its own members and award small batches of funds at monthly pitch meetings (see the Detroit Soup model and adapt it). The monthly meeting is a pizza dinner (or something) and the entrance fees are used to fund small entrepreneurial or artistic projects.
This community needs to meet, interact, learn, have fun, and support each others efforts. This will all happen with a bit of leadership and light-handed facilitation. This doesn’t require a lot of money, but it would take energy.
So, who’s going to step up?