He began the keynote with a spectacular performance to U2’s “Beautiful Day”. As Wahl painted, we began to see a face, then glasses, and soon after we made the connection that it was a portrait of Bono. While the song continued and video played at the back of the stage, he continued to put the finishing touches on the painting. Turning to the crowd he began by asking, by a show of hands, how many people in the room could draw. As you’d can expect, in a room full of technical conference attendees, very few raised their hands. He explained why most adults do not see themselves as creative, and why it is necessary to think outside the box when it comes to strategy. He spoke about how all preschoolers can draw with confidence. They want to show you, they have passion, and they have pride in their work. As he said they are “dying to show you their creative energy.” But passion dries up at a young age, as we start favoring analytical and professional interests.
“All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
Next Erik spoke about fear. He selected a member of the audience to play Fear Factor. He gave the volunteer an envelope. Wahl gave him two options: perform the instructions or pass the envelope on to one other person to perform the instructions. He chose to accept the challenge. When the volunteer opened the envelope the instructions read that the Bono painting was his to keep. Most people would have passed the challenge on, but as he demonstrated, sometimes risks are worth the reward. Wahl described fear as the acronym False Evidence Appearing Real. Fear is what cripples performance and hinders future progress. Wahl encouraged the audience to take a step away from our comfort zone and look at the future as a blank canvas. It is not always necessary to look at things in an analytical or practiced way. What really matters are the things that cannot be measured or justified. Relationships, passion, and ambition are examples of the driving forces for innovation and creativity of future organizations.
"If you are not afraid, you are not going strong enough." -Erik Wahl
During his second painting, Wahl created a portrait of Steve Jobs. He mentioned one of Jobs’ famous quotes, “Stay hungry, stay foolish.” He admitted to us, that as a child he was told he was messy and didn’t pay attention to detail. Listening to the critics, he gave up drawing and creativity for more and more “adult” activities. He began to memorize and regurgitate rehearsed responses in hopes of fitting into the standard model of excellence. He explained that as we approach adulthood, we are all taught to be increasingly analytical. While these skills are still necessary, they may no longer be sufficient in the competitive and inventive world we live in. After the disappointment of a failed business, Wahl was driven to create art at 30 years old. With his world turned upside down, he had lost what had defined him. He had, like many of us, tied his direct worth to his net worth, and once one of them was gone so was the other. He was encouraged to step away, go travel, and do some soul-searching. To him this meant to begin painting. He immediately felt the creativity unlocking the right side of his brain again. Additionally, he started to understand the best practices of business that he had struggled to understand before. Engaging both right and left sides allows the brain to function fully, using all its ability. Creativity is a practiced and disciplined skill that is extremely useful when being involved with teams, users groups, and other communities. Erik stated that many people say, “I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” They feel as though you are a creative person or you are analytical, but never both. Wahl explains that this is not the case. While society encourages individuals to become increasingly analytical, Wahl is encouraging people to use the right side of their brain and explore their creativity. Deep down we all have things that ignite passion and creativity in us; we have inspiration all around us. Our world is becoming increasingly competitive, with new ideas emerging which break outside of the comfort zone. Being innovative drives customer loyalty; with creativity comes unconventional solutions; with failure comes an opportunity to grow. Wahl motivated the audience to be confident, to be courageous, and to face the fear of failure. He concluded with a final portrait of one of the most creative minds that ever lived, Albert Einstein. In his inspiring performance he reached out to each and every one of us to change the way we approach business, and to expand out of our comfort zone. With his energetic style and beautiful works of art, he captivated and motivated the audience to live life a little more creatively.