Since year one, C2 has in many ways become a “creative reset,” a place where I can meet people and explore diverse ideas. It’s an opportunity to get out of my comfort zone, challenge my way of thinking and engage with this unique community. The event has always strived to create that perfect environment to open the mind and create new unexpected connections. This year, moving to a new venue (the excellent Studio Grande), a first in seven years, that opportunity to surprise and delight was even more abundant.
Each year, since my first C2 experience in 2013 as a member of their “networking commando,” helping connect braindates on a chalkboard (now a sleek app by e180), followed by years of supporting several of their title sponsors’ experiences, I have always had the pleasure of being part of a great group. This year, thanks to an invitation from the Quebec Government’s Ministry of Economy and Innovation, I had the tremendous privilege of interviewing three truly remarkable thought leaders. There are very few venues for attracting such high calibre and diverse thought leadership, hence why I’m always so excited to get involved with C2 every year: the best learning happens at intersections.
For example, on day one, Bekah Sirrine, Head of Global Creative for Instagram, shared how important building a sense of community – large or small, beyond the manicured and superficial – was at the core of her work building Instagram’s brand. The words “inspiring,” “authenticity,” “simplicity” and “meaningfulness” often came up. I obviously had to ask about the platform testing in-app transactions, with certain US brands now allowing users to buy directly via Instagram. An impressive opportunity to go from first inspiration to final purchase.
Day two had me discussing new business models and the role of looking out for the best interest of artists with Afo Verde, the Chairman and CEO of Sony Music Latin America, Spain & Portugal. He discussed how being mostly an artist himself, he saw the “big business” record labels as often doing more harm than good by seeing artists simply as money-making machines. His condition to accepting the role at Sony Music was to shift the business model to one where he could look out for the artist’s best interest; one which would lead to a longer, more mutually beneficial relationship with the record label
As a special way to end day two, braving the pouring rain, a group of us joined Daniel Hodges for an amazing Retail Store Tour. This was his first in our city, with a focus on innovative and inspiring stores in Old Montreal. Daniel's group organizes such tours for the NRF Big Show, Mobile World Congress and many other world-class events. A treat to have a tour expert like Daniel lead us through some of the most inspiring retail Montreal has to offer. We started off with the revolutionary Rad Hourani, who is using fashion to make a statement about gender unification. He was also generous in sharing his 15 year artistic journey, including how he was chosen for the very exclusive LVMH haute couture society. We then went to visit the uplifting Naif Style store, the insanely creative John Fluevog shoe store, a special behind the scenes look at iconic Montreal fashion designer Denis Gagnon's atelier and we wrapped it up with a detailed look at the new epicentre of Montreal high fashion, SSense.
On day three, as a testament to the diversity of thought leadership, we shifted gears into a broader yet very important conversation around the societal impacts of technology adoption with Dr. Jameson Wetmore, Associate Professor at Arizona State University. We spent a good deal of time discussing the privacy concerns around these new technologies we have so quickly adopted in our lives, without much consideration into the long term behavioural consequences. We went from blockchain to drones, encryption to government policies – it was a fascinating discussion.
Lastly, the Ministry invited me to present the Kantar/CCRC “Store of 2030 report” to a very select group of retail leaders. As with many presentations at C2, the people attending could very well be presenting, as they are all very accomplished in their respective fields – and this was no exception. My presentation spent a lot of time addressing the blurring of the lines between digital and physical commerce, as well as the need to do away with organizational silos that impede the needed culture of rapid iteration. This fits really well into next year’s C2 theme: Beyond Boundaries.
With all this, I didn’t mention the amazing speakers, workshops and labs, including always inspiring headliners such as Will.i.am, Spike Lee, and one of my favourite retail/business leaders, Angela Ahrendts who left us with these wise words: “Listen intently, plan properly and stick with it.”
The most important part, and my favourite aspect of any of these presentations, are the stimulating conversations that follow and the fascinating people we get to connect with at the most unexpected of intersections.
See you next year, C2. In the meantime, I'll continue to blur the lines of commerce and creativity.