7 Purposeful Takeaways From PSFK 2017
These were the biggest a-ha moments from this year's conference
“Innovation with Purpose” was the theme of our PSFK 2017 conference and this year’s speakers both inspired and challenged us to look at things in a new way and tackle our work with a renewed sense of purpose. From the 75-year-old grandfather who is reinventing what it means to be both a senior citizen and a digital citizen, to a former inmate who now runs a prison-style boot camp at Saks Fifth Avenue, these were some of the stories that left an impression on us this year.
1. If the map doesn’t make sense, re-draw it
There are 4 billion people in the world living without addresses. UK-based startup what3words has solved this problem by splitting up the earth into tiny 3-meter squares and giving each one a unique 3-word address. The company’s COO Clare Jones took to the PSFK stage to discuss a far less cumbersome alternative to GPS that’s also more accurate than traditional street addresses. The result? People in countries around the world are now able to receive packages and life-saving services in a way that was previously impossible, all with a little re-thinking of how we view things that previously seemed set in stone.
2. When the door is slammed in your face, keep knocking
ConBody founder Coss Marte brought down the house at PSFK and received a standing ovation for his moving personal story of transforming his life post-prison. After facing continued rejection trying to find work after serving a 7-year sentence, Marte emphasized how faith and never giving up on himself lead him to create ConBody, a dream which started in a prison cell and is now operating a pop-up store at Saks Fifth Avenue. “Now there’s a prison on 5th avenue,” he said.
3. Be the first to say yes
When filmmaker and Warrior Poets founder Morgan Spurlock set out to dissect the world of branding and advertising through his film The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, he learned an important lesson. “Nobody wants to be first to say yes, but everyone wants to be first to be second,” he said from the PSFK stage. Morgan emphasized the importance of brands taking risks and taking their criticism seriously, as well as the innate power of storytelling to help define a brand’s values without beating the consumer over the head with it. “Getting it into the hearts, the hands, the minds of your audience. That’s your greatest accomplishment,” he said.
4. Imagine biology as a new platform for design innovation
Christina Agapakis, creative director at Ginkgo Bioworks, discussed how she uses her background in science and collaborates with engineers, designers, artists and social scientists to explore the many unexpected connections between microbiology, technology, art and popular culture. “I like to say that biology is nanotechnology that works,” said Agapakis, citing biotechnology that uses super strong spider silk in lab experiments for tech products.
5. Listen and empathize with your consumer
Having tested their sex toys with real, live human beings, Dame Products knows a thing or two about empathizing with their consumers. Speaking at PSFK, Dame co-founder Alexandra Fine discussed how the company is disrupting the sex toy market by doing something most other companies don’t: listening to consumer feedback. She emphasized that understanding her customer’s complex needs allows the company to better formulate products and craft more intimate experiences for users.
6. Don’t allow excuses to stop you from trying something new
Ji Lee, creative lead at Facebook, discussed his family’s Instagram project, Drawings for my Grandchildren, where his father posts daily drawings for his grandchildren who live far away. While the project has been an enormous success, going viral and attracting nearly 300,000 followers, as well as bringing his father a renewed sense of purpose, Lee said it was difficult at first for his father to learn how to use the photo-sharing service. His message: if my grumpy old man can learn to use Instagram, what’s everyone else’s excuse for not doing whatever it is they’re afraid of?
7. The way we tell stories is going to change, and that’s okay
Abigail Posner, Google head of strategic planning, brought to the stage a view of the future of virtual reality, which she says is going to fundamentally change how people tell stories. “How close do we want to get to reality and why? And what does it mean for content creators and storytellers?” she asked the audience. The answer, of course, is that VR is already changing the way stories are told, and is bringing people closer than ever to being fully engrossed in those tales. “VR isn’t just hype. It isn’t just gimmicky or meaningless, but very meaningful,” she said.