Arianna Huffington, Cirque du Soleil, and Francis Ford Coppola all specialize in high-wire acts of different sorts. One more thing they now have in common: All of them appeared at the first-ever C2-MTL conference in Montreal last week, a high-wire act of its own.
Dedicated to the convergence of creativity and commerce—the "C2" of C2-MTL—the conference was housed in a refurbished factory named New Gas City that until recently had been lacking electricity (and, until the day the conference launched, was without functioning bathrooms). It had a rawness you don’t often see at business events, as well as unexpected theatricality, from a "reset chamber" at the entrance (where lights and sound would bombard the senses) to smoke machines in the main meeting space (for atmosphere). There were avant-garde art exhibits and an enclosed "boot camp" for creativity, orchestrated by ad agency Sid Lee.
I was on hand because C2-MTL was where Fast Company officially launched our 100 Most Creative People in Business, at a jam-packed party in old Montreal’s new PHI Center, which produced an eye-popping tribute video calling out each of the honorees in attendance. Earlier, I’d had the opportunity to speak at the conference about Generation Flux, which I’d written about in a cover story earlier this year. There were also several panel discussions featuring Most Creative People, moderated by Fast Company editors Jeffrey Chu and Teressa Iezzi.
But I’ll confess that the highlight of the event for me was unrelated to Fast Company. It came at the end of the second day, after Cirque De Soleil wowed the house with a series of dazzling demonstrations and lessons. Google Creative Lab’s head Robert Wong was set to follow, and earlier he had privately lamented to me about the timing. How was he going to follow an act like Cirque? Watching an amazing display of dexterity, balance, concentration, and beauty—a performer built a gravity-defying sculpture out of sticks, balanced together to perfection—I also wondered how Wong would fare.
I needn’t have. He took to the stage with humility and humanity, and proceeded to wow the crowd every bit as much as Cirque had. His presentation was not visually dazzling or death-defying, but it struck at the core of what C2-MTL is all about: Wong talked eloquently about surprise and delight, the need to exceed expectations—in our personal lives and in our professional lives. His ovation was as rousing as anybody’s, and for me encapsulated just how inspiring the mixture of commerce and creativity can really be.