This past weekend I spoke at The Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization Conference ( CEO) at McCormick Place in Chicago. I presented to around 70 students interested in entrepreneurship.
This was one of the first times I presented a keynote I have been giving frequently called “Discover Your Why?” to a diverse group of students- few artists were in the room. The focus of my topic is to discover how to share with your potential customer, your audience, authentic moments that show empathy and allow connectivity to flow between you and your prospective customer as quickly as possible. Besides becoming far more memorable to someone, it is an essential ingredient to finding those customers who really want to be close to you and do business with you.
And while I have delivered this presentation now a great number of times, it is always a challenge for me to get through it without a great deal of emotion surfacing somewhere in it. My passion comes from my deep belief that mankind desperately needs to learn that a quality successful life flows from what the arts have to teach and offer. Skills of empathy and deep connectivity are key ingredients to ones ability to create, persuade and express innovative ideas. But without this understanding, why do the arts matter? After all why should they when we have ipods, iphones, video games, xbox, web surfing, and You tube? We certainly don’t need them any longer for their entertainment value. And access to endless television/cable channels, Red Box on every corner and other forms of non-human-interaction opportunities at our disposal seems to be increasingly what society seems to crave; MORE isolation– more time alone.
As artists, “our tribe” has known for a long time our livelihoods and existence are threatened. And beyond the denial, comes the reality that we have been missing the essential skills we need to change our destiny as well as the macro view we need for our profession to offer the world what we really CAN DO for mankind. For centuries we have been taught to turn inward to develop our skills. And as a result, we have learned to selfishly create for an audience of one: OURSELVES. And the result is that we have forgotten what our gifts were given to us for- TO CONNECT OURSELVES TO OTHERS- and deliver the real and deep VALUE others need us for –to help them discover who they really are.
I so fear the arts will continue to slide into the quicksand and leave no footprint of our impact behind because we don’t as a “tribe” understand that in every form- the arts have only one deliverable; to bring healing, (revive) inspiration, bring connectivity to ourselves and others,and restore hope and dream making to mankind. And we can deliver it in SO MANY UNIQUE AND INNOVATIVE WAYS- if we embrace entrepreneurship and understand its time for us to grow and change. The thought of living in a world that cannot recognize the vital need for empathy and connectivity, and is willing to continue to sideline the need for the arts and creativity to be deeply embedded in the development of the human mind, brings me to tears. Really.
And for better or worse, during this presentation, I am usually hard pressed not to shed a tear for this very reason because it is SO CLEAR every time I speak how GREAT THE NEED is from the connections I make to the hearts and faces in my audience. While there is no doubt that we need our education system to focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) HOW CAN WE NOT UNDERSTAND the DEEP need for STEAM to fuel growth and change?
The A for arts creates the fuel we need to BECOME who we as a people and society want to be. The value of Empathy and Connectivity CANNOT BE FORGOTTEN AND LEFT BEHIND or we risk true change, growth and progress. And our tribe knows something is deeply wrong. Everyone I know is talking about how there are NO GIGS. And this is NOT new news- it just keeps getting worse… Thanks to LINC and their Artists and The Recession Survey from 2009 we now have the numbers to back up what we know in our hearts to be true.
In this particular presentation, I was given the chance ( thank you CEO!) to see if my message resonated with an audience largely comprised of STEM students. Not only did my message resonate with them but I had a long line of students wanting to tell me how devoid their lives are of experiences like the one they shared with me in the room. Repeatedly, the same kind of statement was made as I worked through the line: ” I am afraid to be authentic and show up to others in my life.” The reasons they gave were numerous: “because others are mean, competitive, sullen, arrogant. Because when I do show up I am ignored or feel even more alone…” But in the end the collective message I heard was clear. ” I need more authentic interactions in my life and to figure out how to express who I uniquely am!” In fact, when several very reserved-hard-to-read- looking women came up to me their eyes filled with tears.
You see artists and creative folks have such an INNATE ability, through the discipline of learning an art-form as well as because of our PASSIONATE desire to express ourselves, to relate and CONNECT to others; and yet few do or are taught the value they can bring to others by finding a way to. It’s no wonder we have trouble building an audience, selling our work and relating- largely- to others- and as a result are not “at the table” in important global conversations. By not leading with our essential ingredient and cultivating an environment where it is valued, we are asking to be forgotten.
We have some real reinventing and learning to do to sell our message clearly and authentically to have the commanding presence we need to connect ourselves” to a room”.