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September 2012

Bikinis + Burkas

By Michelle Russell, Editor in Chief

Michelle Russell ConveneWhen different disciplines intersect, creativity results — and meetings should be at the crossroads.

I love stumbling upon references to conferences in general-interest magazines. So when I read the first line of an article in American Way, American Airlines’ inflight magazine, on my way home from a recent trip, I was intrigued: “Have you heard the story about the neuroscientists who were driving up and down the Las Vegas Strip looking for a convention venue when suddenly — while staring at 100-foot billboards of Penn & Teller, Criss Angel, and David Copperfield — they realized that the magic shows of Sin City might hold secrets to the brain?”

The rest of the article had nothing to do with the convention that had brought those two researchers to town. But it was a fascinating read: the neuroscience behind sleight-of-hand tricks, why laughter is a necessary ingredient in magic shows (not just for the entertainment value, but because of an important connection between emotions and attention), and how the research conducted by those neuroscientists — as a result of their epiphany moment on the Strip — could be critical to understanding how to treat people with Alzheimer’s and in evaluating those with autism. (Read the full article.)

The story reminded me of my inter-view with neuroscientist and Iconoclast author Gregory Berns several years ago. The brain is a “lazy piece of meat,” he said, and when we take ourselves out of our everyday environment — so that the brain has a hard time predicting what will happen next — fresh thinking and creative ideas occur. It’s another reason why conferences inspire invention, and why the physical spaces and places in which they are held matters.

The article also reinforced the message behind the book The Medici Effect, by Frans Johansson, who in July kicked off PCMA’s inaugural Global Corporate Summit in Scotland — from which I was flying home when I picked up that issue of American Way. (Read my write-up of the summit.) As part of his session, Johansson presented interactive exercises that challenged us by putting two dissimilar things together — work/life balance plus conference registration, for example — in order to come up with an inventive idea. It worked. And it was way more productive, interesting, and fun than tackling an issue in a linear way. (Watch a video clip of Johansson’s session, in which he shows what happened when an unlikely entrepreneur put bikinis together with burkas.)

But Johansson’s premise — that diversity breeds innovation — was already sewn into the fabric of the summit, even without the interactive exercises. When 25 meeting professionals from different corners of the globe and different industries — from McDonald’s to Microsoft to Monster.com — share their perspectives, there isn't a lazy piece of meat in the room.

Sidebar: Of a Piece


An original Keith Haring illustration from 1985 graces this month’s cover, and we think it’s the perfect complement to Convene Executive Editor Christopher Durso’s on-site coverage of the 19th International AIDS Conference. Haring, who was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988 and died two years later, established the Keith Haring Foundation to support not-for-profit organizations that assist children, as well as groups involved in education, research, and care related to AIDS. Proceeds from our license of this illustration support the foundation.

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