OFFF 2018 – Do the work

Heading to a conference like OFFF (the Oily Furry Fingers Festival*) is terrifying.

I’m not a creative. I’m not a designer. I was scared they’d figure me out and throw me in the sea. 

But in many ways I am creative, and I am a designer. My whole business is built on thousands of creative decisions, and designed solutions. 

So being able to learn from all of these other folks who have crises of confidence and turn that energy into amazing things gave me just what I needed. 

Being in Barcelona with a few other Cardiff based friends/creatives was a treat in itself, but the conference was where the real joy and inspiration came from. We learned all about how Querida took Dropbox way out of their comfort zone, how Gavin Strange and James White survived the Nintendo/Sega wars of the early 90s, and the work that goes into creating a whole new world like that of the 2017 Ghost in the Shell.

Conferences like this take your brain to a special place. It can liberate your mind to let in new ideas, but that can also be completely wasted if you don’t execute fast upon returning to the grind and simply let old habits take over again. 

There are three main lessons that I learned and I wanted to share them with you/process my thoughts.  

Passion projects

Some of the most engaging parts of presentations were not the speaker sharing client work, or the stuff that pays the bills, but the output that was done after hours, over the weekend or instead of watching Game of Thrones. 

The fascinating thing here is that it isn’t just the passion of the passion project that made it more enjoyable to watch, but the fact that those extra hours spent developed skills that created huge future opportunities.

The freedom from answering to clients also allows for additional creativity, which new clients are then attracted to. We need clients to pay the rent and eat, but they sure can stifle creativity. 

There were so many examples of products, breakthroughs and new services that came from passion projects, but these aren’t just restricted to creative industries. Steve Morgan, an SEO based at ICE and all round good guy, uses events and blogs to develop his skills outside of client work. These activities create new scenarios and opportunities to learn, and with a completely different energy.

If you don’t have a passion project, do you really have passion for what you do? Are you passionate about putting your skills to work even when you don’t have to?

Mindset 

Over the last year I’ve been sucked into the world of growth mindsets in a way I wasn’t expecting. I’d heard the phrase “growth mindset” a million times before, but I didn’t really appreciate how little I understood about it.

Carol Dweck, Angela Duckworth, and Shawn Achor were my introduction, although Matthew Syed’s Bounce is also a good place to start. The growth mindset places focus on your ability to grow – your skills, your abilities, your experience – to rise to new challenges, rather than rely on natural talents. 

This culture was so obvious in the speakers who shone at OFFF that I felt like it was an unspoken secret. The attitude needed to thrive requires an approach that involves switching off the ego and going through pain to learn. The lessons shared showed that their humility was rewarded with exceptional pieces of work. 

I am still learning how to practise growth mindset. I continually struggle in the battle to overcome my inherent beliefs, and doubts. But seeing so many people succeed thanks – knowingly or not – to this approach is totally encouraging. 

This was clearly demonstrated by 1st Ave Machine – say yes, work out how, and then move mountains to make the vision happen. They made the world’s smallest movie for IBM which involved atomic stop motion. When they first pitched it they were laughed out of the lab – but they made it happen, and the results are magical. 

Do the work

James Victore certainly divided the crowd. His cavalier delivery, casual dropping of f-bombs and extremely positive approach led some to a standing ovation and some to scoff and dismiss. But nobody dared to ignore him.

His talk was full of quote-friendly remarks, but one stood out for me, and sparked many additional conversations through the weekend – do the work. 

For many, this is a no-brainer, but I see so many people who claim to have a passion or desire to do something, but fail to do the work.

The powerful talks delivered were not from those who reached a point where they didn’t know what to do so stopped, but instead put themselves in a place of discomfort and learned how.

We all, some of us regularly, reach a stage where we do not have the established processes, skills or confidence to deal with the next challenge that we encounter. Some stop and blame it on a lack of cash or some other external factor. The ones who were stood on the stage at OFFF were the people who hit that block and faced it up.

The people who do the work are the ones who win.

Those who bail are the ones who fail.

Downsides

Of course, it wasn’t all great. The venue was fantastic, but really didn’t work for the number of people trying to get to specific speakers. While we caught a handful of outstanding people, we missed way more due to the queues and high demand. 

I figured this wouldn’t be so bad as all of the rooms appeared to have major camera equipment, only to find out after the event that none of the footage was captured to be shared. 

Scheduling is hard, but it felt like there was no split to absorb the crowd – everyone wanted to be in the auditorium to see Jordy Van Den Nieuwendijk but the queue was one in, one out, and long enough to fill the auditorium over and over. And this happened time and time again.

Next year, it would be great to be able to watch all of the missed opportunities to learn, so I hope this is something that is addressed one way or another. There are stacks of online platforms that could restrict access to ticket holders.

But apart from that it was brilliant, and something I’d recommend to anyone – whether you feel creative or not.

Now, it’s time to do the work.

*By Oily Furry Fingers Festival I of course mean the Optimistic Freckled Friends Festival

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