“Leave your comfort zone behind.”

That was the advice for attendees of C2 Montreal, billed as the most forward-thinking business event in the world. According to Mark Olson, SVP of Business Development at Encore Live, they are not kidding.

But we’ll get to that in a bit. First, what’s a C2?

Named best international conference four years running, C2 combines atypical speakers with a festival setting that transforms guests into active participants. At every turn. No matter if you turn away.

In-Between Thought:

Experience isn’t always natural or easy, but it’s always beneficial.

Mark OlsonSVP of Business Development, Encore Live

No trade floors. No exhibitor booths. No tired tropes. Just three days that bring together globally based forward thinkers to redefine business by exploring an ever-important relationship: Commerce & Creativity. Experts as diverse as director Spike Lee to YARD’s co-founder Tom Brunet inspire disruptive thinking. And presenters like will.i.am wax on the merging of voice computing, artificial intelligence and computing devices to create tech that empowers businesses, people and communities. Where former Apple Retail SVP, Angela Ahrendts, discusses the need to transform a brand “from the inside out,” positioning it for future success. And where, this year, the 17-year-old founder of Zero Hour, Jamie Margolin, called out movers and shakers in the audience, saying that capitalism, colonialism, sexism and racism is most likely the root causes for the climate crisis.

In fact, climate change was on the mind of many C2 Speakers, as the theme was “The Time Is Now.”

To wit, the consensus was that after years of talk about climate change, workforce diversification, new business models and reaching for higher professional and societal standards, it’s past time to actually take action. She stated that global challenges require us to make impactful efforts, both individually and collaboratively—right now—to ensure a sustainable and inclusive future.

Pretty heady stuff, but wholly logical. Though what makes the C2 message different is the absolutely unexpected and utterly unpredictable way information is presented, disseminated and absorbed.

In-Between Thought:

Afraid is a word that’s not in my vocabulary. Be aware of danger, but don’t nurture your fear.

Guy LalibertéFounder, Cirque du Soleil, Lune Rouge & One Drop

That brings us back to the top of the page and the C2 Montreal challenge to leave your comfort zone behind in order to supercharge your ability to meet exceptional people, open your mind, find inspiration and take forward innovative ideas.

As seen through the eyes of Encore’s Mark Olson, the event designers manage to do just that, to a degree and in ways almost beyond words. For us, Mark did focus on two of his favorite elements of the conference, and how it facilitated conversations long after the three-day run. He even designated two expressions for his favorite moments.

“Fractured Learning”

To help commerce fuse with creativity, the space was masterfully created, not your typical ballroom with hard chairs and two screens. All through the conference environment Cirque du Soleil performers were doing that thing they do so well. And since the conference was built for extended networking and interaction, typical learning spaces were disrupted in multiple ways for groups and individuals.

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To further encourage interaction and conversation, you were put into laboratories, master classes, hands-on workshops and curated one-on-one sessions with strangers from different corporate backgrounds, which also made for unique learning experiences. Talk about outside your comfort level, one of those exercises was to stare into the eyes of a fellow professional you’ve never met for two minutes, then tell them what you like about them. “I don’t know if you’ve ever done that, but trust me, it’s an uncomfortable couple of minutes that feels a lot longer,” Mark noted. But he also acknowledged that it facilitated compelling conversations that would finish with peers drawing conclusions that were inimitably their own.

Lunch even made you hungry for interaction, as multiple food trucks broke up the food options, while smaller tables encouraged dining with a someone you didn’t know for conversations you never expected. There was also a bit of gamification, with RFP digital badges allowing attendees to tap together and get relevant info from everyone making a connection—name, company, email, phone—from a potential new colleague who has the potential to help change the future of your enterprise.

In-Between Thought:

I didn’t get to a place of influence because I was quiet. None of us will have any impact or influence if we are quiet. So don’t be quiet. Be loud as hell.

Bozoma Saint JohnCMO, Endeavor

“The In-Between”

Not to be confused with the upside-down from “Stranger Things,” the in-between may have been Mark’s favorite takeaway from C2. “Between sessions, while you walk, you were approached, stopped and challenged. Sometimes Cirque artists, as a character, would pause you, offering some conundrum to consider—and you’re immediately impressed with, ‘I wonder what this means; what am I taking away from this?’” He added, “By the time you got to your next session, you already had some intentional issue and mystery to discuss. There wasn’t a time moving from one session to the next that I didn’t think, ‘Wow, I didn’t expect that.’” The result was dramatic, with the in-between helping everyone lose their phone and get lost in a better state of learning.

So, from a fractured structure to surprising experiences that linked each session, Mark was impressed with the attention to detail, and realized one aspect was paramount. “You can be reserved, hold a bit back, but why? You’re absolutely challenged with these exercises, but you seriously only get out what you give in. So you might as well dive head first.”

Next year’s C2 Montreal theme considers going “Beyond Boundaries.” As we live in a world of many unnatural divisions, it’s an open invitation to travel off the beaten path and reflect on how to use imagination to defy limitations. So just give Mark a call, he’ll say you should C2 making a date in Montreal in May. Even better, he can tell you how Encore Live continues to learn how to make your company’s experiential moment more than a typical incident.

In-Between Thought:

Expect that things should constantly be better than they were yesterday or a year ago.

Athreya & Ayaan EsmailCo-Founders, Genis
Bruce Wilson

Author Bruce Wilson

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