4 Days at #INBOUND17: Trading Skepticism for Inspiration

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A Confession To Make

I wasn’t looking forward to INBOUND. At first glance, HubSpot’s annual digital marketing conference in Boston, Massachusetts, doesn’t appeal to my passionate pursuit of all things visual design. Much of the subject matter - SEO best practices, tips and tricks for Facebook ads, conversion funnel optimization - felt over my head and out of my lane.

I’m skeptical by nature *insert thinking face emoji here*.

Despite the chance to visit Boston, I felt somebody more well-versed probably could have went in my place. Fortunately, I seized the opportunity, joined my other wayfinders from #teamimpulse, and made the pilgrimage north.

 

Hindsight Is Greater Than 20/20

As a first time attendee of INBOUND, I found myself all-at-once engrossed with the scale and grandeur of the four-day event. I was similarly inspired by the depth and breadth of content. Whether I had scheduled a session in advance, or decided to drop in, I was engaged and wanting to share everything I was hearing. More on my tweet storms later.

I have attended conferences before. Despite being more tailored toward my line of work, many such conferences don’t offer attendees the mix of granularity and high level critical thinking the way INBOUND does.

The mix of independent thinking (during the day, the nine of us from Impulse Creative often split away from one another to find our own sources of inspiration) and close bonding with my coworkers was a real privilege. Not every company - especially small start-ups preparing to scale up - affords its employees the time to step away from the daily journey for some experiential professional development.

#teamimpulse bonding at #INBOUND17

Exposure to thought leaders from within the marketing industry and future-paced discussions around leadership, diversity and empathy provided a lot to ponder. At many times I felt myself reassessing my own goals in my role as a creative professional. I learned a lot, but I’ll save that for another post.

 

Brene Brown Told Me To Move In

I think my shift in focus and decrease in skepticism came early, (within-hours-of-getting-there-early).

Brene Brown, famous for two TED Talks and a number of New York Times best selling books on vulnerability, courage, and empathy, provided the call to action: “Move in close to focus on the positive.”

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A Houston native, Brown’s story of foregoing prejudice to help neighbors trapped by Hurricane Harvey’s flood waters, served to emphasize her message of finding commonality and compassion. Her keynote also focused on the individual’s search for a sense of belonging. Delivering her message so effortlessly, Brene Brown has the power to make even the stubbornest skeptic misty eyed at times.

The themes within a Brene Brown talk resonate with me as I think they do for a lot of people. Needless to say, she had me looking forward to the week ahead.

 

Mid-Week Introspection

Being a skeptic, I often paint situations with a wide brush. This is an approach that prevents us from finding the silver lining. Brown’s call to action motivated me to seek content at INBOUND that challenged me to evaluate my role as a designer, and the potential impact on humanity.

As a designer, it can be all too easy to forget the forest for the trees. Concentrating so hard on crafting pixel-perfect work, we neglect to remember the larger impact we may have. Design can be used to educate an audience. Literally speaking, good wayfinding signage can teach individuals to safely navigate a conference center. (I see you INBOUND!) Design also moves people to action. From public service announcements to protest signage, design wields its influence all around us.

Many sessions at INBOUND touched upon my privilege as a designer to influence or inspire.

From Brian Solis’ talk on the intersection of business and designing for humans to Uber’s Bozoma Saint John’s energetic keynote about storytelling and more importantly story listening, the theme of humility appeared often.

To me, humble design is good design. If we design with a focus on humility, our work is more likely to impact the world in a positive way. Audiences want to see themselves in the products being marketed to them. Users, customers... humans will advocate unabashedly if their favorite brands and products reflect their own passions and serve to compliment the purpose they envision for themselves.

In fact, these “passion brands” as Jeff Rosenblum called them in his spotlight session at INBOUND, outperform the competition eight to one. That was another key takeaway I grabbed during the four-day whirlwind that was INBOUND.

 

More Takeaways

In a way, we were putting the themes from INBOUND 2017 - empathy, authenticity, listening - to work while still out of the office.

I loved the content at INBOUND, and I learned a lot. I mean, I witnessed former First Lady Michelle Obama energize a crowd of more than 15,000. And there was tennis great Billie Jean King, telling stories of fighting for equality with every serve. Still, the tidbits from such sessions pale in comparison to the memories created with my team. There are different kinds of takeaways and those that will remain actionable over a long period of time. I’ll take a good heart-to-heart over a lofty aphorism anyday.

INBOUND - and moreso the city of Boston - facilitated a number of opportunities to talk shop and plan for the future of #teamimpulse. Time spent brainstorming fresher ideas we could implement in our work and with our clients, was invaluable. Yet it was the bonding time I mentioned earlier that was worth the whole trip.

Sharing food and drinks, we learned more about each other as professionals and as humans. Moments like these are incomparable. They go a long way to strengthening unity and defining culture in any workplace.

In a way, we were putting the themes from INBOUND 2017 - empathy, authenticity, listening - to work while still out of the office.

Topics: Inbound Conference, INBOUND

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