“Just be quiet, listen, be present and you might learn something.”
So wrote management consultant and author Paul Culmsee in his blog – Rediscovering my Creativity at the Creative Melbourne Conference.
So: how do you build community when you are gathering together a group of strangers from diverse backgrounds?
The Creative Melbourne conference took place 13-15 February earlier this year. The aforementioned Paul was one of the conference’s inaugural presenters and so was I. This was a real honour – as Paul describes in his blog, the conference director, Arthur Shelley, assembled an amazing group of presenters. Despite having very different presentation styles and covering a broad range of topics there wasn’t a dull one amongst them – rare, in my experience of conferences. Speakers and attendees alike constituted an amazingly diverse group of people with backgrounds in education, academia, visual and performing arts, learning and development, management consultancy, government… you get the picture.
Arthur’s purpose was to create and connect creative people so that we could all enjoy the sharing of inspiration, ideas and knowledge that inevitably flowed. While there were some fascinating ideas to ponder and some great new techniques I saw modeled, as I write this in May the loveliest thing about attending this conference, my warmest memory of it, was the very genuine feeling of community that quickly, but emphatically, emerged among those who attended.
There was plenty of bonhomie in the conference room, no doubt about that, and, despite disparities in background or professional discipline, common areas of interest were identified. But that realisation that you are immersed in a little community of people who are operating out of firm intentions of displaying good will and exploring new experiences came to me during one of the more challenging aspects of attending the conference, namely: presenting.
In his blog Paul admits to feeling nervous about the impact his presentation would have on the tone of the conference; quite unnecessarily, as it turns out, as he is a superb presenter who is able to frame his provocations in a way that are engaging rather than alienating. I too found presenting more challenging than I usually do for reasons that are too tedious to go into here but… in the final analysis that didn’t seem to matter. The folks attending my session participated with gusto and provided some lovely feedback afterwards.
Creativity is nurtured by or in certain conditions. Building a community of open minded and mutually supportive people is one way of creating favourable conditions; Creative Melbourne actively modeled this and I am grateful to have been included.
Perhaps homogeneity of profession or background isn’t so necessary when it comes to building communities, and in building creative communities diversity is, I think, much more helpful. Perhaps the commonality we need to establish is more in the area of shared values: good will, open mindedness, curiosity, playfulness. These are the things that can bond a creative community.
Paul Culmsee in collaboration with Kailash Awati has written a terrific book about ambiguity called ‘The Heretic’s Guide to Management: The Art of Harnessing Ambiguity’. You can find out more about it here.
Arthur Shelley plans to bring Creative Melbourne back to Melbourne again. If you would like to attend then keep track of his website.