As a technology entrepreneur, I’ve been to my share of conferences. In the early days of building my North Carolina-based digital consultancy, it seemed like every month I was boarding a plane to spend a few days networking and listening to incredibly smart people. I hoped that by the time I stepped on the plane to return home, I’d have a new breakthrough idea, or an amazing new business relationship.
After attending dozens of conferences and listening to hundreds of speakers, very few conferences make the cut these days. Techonomy is one of them. I’ve rarely missed an annual Techonomy conference for two reasons: the people and the content.
Some of the amazing people I’ve met at Techonomy:
- Dave Morgan, CEO of Simulmedia, and I were in a breakout session last year on media and direct-to-consumer trends. We met up later in NYC for lunch, and he helped me understand some key political dynamics at one of my largest clients. His perspective was wildly helpful to me as my firm renegotiated a large contract.
- After meeting at Techonomy, John Chambers (Cisco’s former CEO and currently chairman of JC2 Ventures) and I stayed in touch. After I was diagnosed with colon cancer last year, he helped me craft my announcement to key clients, and also gave critical guidance on selecting a new CEO for my firm.
- At dinner a few years ago at Techonomy, I sat next to Scott Cook, the founder of Intuit. He was famous for how he incorporated experimentation and customer-centricity into his culture, and was a personal hero of mine. We chatted for hours about how he accomplished it
- One year I met Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn. We discussed how LinkedIn was essential to how I grew my company in the early years, and ways to improve its subscription flow. (Later, he accepted my LinkedIn invitation.)
The second reason I love Techonomy is the content. It’s not just about how “technology” and the “economy” align anymore. Yes, it’s about technology, and it’s about our society, and it’s about how we can understand how technology is both driving –and threatening – global progress. It’s about exposing us to the big things that truly matter in our world. It’s about thinking deeply about things that we rarely think about at all. It’s about putting away my business cards and opening my mind.
Some examples of great content that has changed my worldview:
- In a hallway at Techonomy, I chatted about the future of AI with Rodney Brooks, the serial entrepreneur and former director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). According to Rodney, we are in a “hysteria” about what AI will do to jobs. In his view, there are many obstacles that scientists haven’t yet overcome that would be necessary for the dominance of AI. (They include spatiotemporal contiguity, causality, translational invariance, etc.–all way over my head!). In a nutshell, Rodney believes that AI is buzzy hype that will take much, much longer than expected to come to fruition.
- Last year, one of my favorite topics was learning about the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. These are 17 targets for the planet by 2030 that our global society can work on together to address our most pressing problems. They include things like “Reduced Inequalities,” “Responsible Consumption and Production,” and “Industry, Innovation and Instructure.” I found them inspiring, actionable and relevant. (And, they’re more interesting than learning about the latest iPhone announcement or the most recent round of funding for already-bloated startups.)
- I had dinner with Carl Ganter, one of the most inspirational speakers at last year’s event. He’s co-founder of water-related nonprofit Circle of Blue, and he spoke about a looming global water crisis. Carl says that 700 million people will be displaced by water shortages in the next decade. Onstage, he showed photos from his travels to water-stressed regions, and woke me up to the importance of global water systems and how we are all connected to each other.
I’ll be at Techonomy again this year in November—for my 5thtime. I look forward to catching up with David Kirkpatrick, Chambers and Weiner again this year, as well as countless new innovation leaders.
Now that I’ve put my own colon cancer into remission, I’ve become an activist aiming to raise awareness about preventing this too-common disease. I’ll be sharing data I’ve collected about the rise of colon cancer in young people, and how genomics is helping to use AI to detect it early. But more importantly, I look forward to continuing to be part of a community of people who care about how technology can do the right thing in our world.
To learn more about Techonomy’s next event, and to request an invitation, click here.