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Personal Growth

99U Conference 2011: Key Insights on Idea Execution (Pt. III)

Why we should get creative with our business models, how fear can be a great motivator, and why we should be sprinters (not marathon runners).

More insights on making ideas happen from the 2011 edition of the 99U Conference
Soraya Darabi onstage at the 99U Conference.

SORAYA DARABI /// Co-Founder, Foodspotting + Digital Strategist

Soraya Darabi cut her teeth at the New York Times, leading the drive to integrate the Gray Lady’s content into the universe of social media. Now, as a co-founder of Foodspotting and digital media consultant, she’s at the leading edge of trends in social media. At 99U, Darabi shared her insights on “e-dentity disorder” – the condition of having fragments of your personality spread across many platforms – and how we can conquer it.

  • Take a beta approach to social media.

    As new platforms come online, we should be willing to experiment with the ones that seem relevant to us. If the platform works for you, keep using it. If it doesn’t feel authentic and/or useful, it’s okay to cut your losses, and move on.

  • You don’t have to be everywhere.

    Pick and choose the social media platforms that work for you and your career. You don’t have to feel obligated to be on this platform or that platform just because others use it. (That said, as above, be willing to experiment.)

  • It’s learning a new way to socialize.

    “Social media” and “media” are synonymous – in 5 years, we won’t have a separate term anymore. But for now, it can sometimes feel like the first day of high school. As one of Darabi’s interview subjects said, “Social Media forced me to go through adolescence again, because you’re learning a new way to socialize.”


Starlee Kine onstage at the 99U Conference.

STARLEE KINE /// Radio Producer & Writer

A radio producer for This American Life and a writer, Starlee Kine took the stage and instantly made the audience feel at ease – as one attendee commented, “listening to Starlee Kine is like sitting on a couch with her.” In narrating her trials and tribulations (including even one memorable phone call with Phil Collins), she spoke about finding ideas in everyday experiences and learning how to stay motivated to see them through.

  • “If you find something that you feel you belong to, become a groupie and a fan, and then a critic.”

    Learning from her experiences hiring for “This American Life,” Kine notes that to really impress, you need to deconstruct something to figure out how it works, and then voice what can make it better.

  • “The whole point [of This American Life] is that your own life can be really interesting.”

    Kine described how she can’t go through any experience without thinking about storytelling; there are lessons and value even in our routines and daily experiences.

  • On deadlines: “I recommend scaring yourself. Fear is a great motivator.”

    Kine admitted to committing to projects far more ambitious than she thought she could handle – the sheer fear of not living up to these promises was enough to ensure that she reached her goal.

  • Physical objects remind us of our processes and effort.

    As someone who works in the non-tangible world of radio (not to mention in the “digital age”) Kine suggests keeping meaningful tangible objects near to ground us, reminding us of the fruits of our labor.


Tony Schwartz onstage at the 99U Conference.

TONY SCHWARTZ /// President & CEO, The Energy Project

In his post as President & CEO of The Energy Project, Schwartz confirms what most of us know we’re guilty of – overextending ourselves and depleting our energy at work. Adopting the techniques that Schwartz has developed through his research on the science of high performance will help correct unwise working habits and fuel energy, focus, and productivity.

  • Myth: The best way to get more done is to work more hours.

    Most of us push through our natural work limits without realizing that our productivity suffers dramatically without regular breaks.

  • “We’re not meant to operate the way computers do. Human beings are designed to pulse between spending/renewing energy.”

    Schwartz introduced the idea of the 90-minute “ultradian rhthym,” which is the length of our natural workcycle, during which we can focus and work to our full capacity.

  • “Sleep is the most important behavior to get right in our life, and it’s the first one we get wrong.”

    Schwartz says, “Sleep is more important than food.” The vast majority of humans require 7-8 hours of sleep a night, though we’re quick to sacrifice this.

  • Be a sprinter, not a marathon runner.

    The key to productivity, Schwartz says, is to “recognize the power of renewal, and have a finish line.” He claims that “we’ve lost our finish lines.”


Yves Béhar onstage at the 99U Conference. 

YVES BÉHAR /// Founder & Chief Designer, FuseProject

From the $100 Laptop to a packaging system for Puma to a new chair for Herman Miller, industrial designer Yves Béhar regularly creates game-changing products with an eye towards sustainability. He shared his thoughts on thinking creatively about design at every single level – from the design itself to the business model to the product marketing.

  • Sustainability can be practical and fun.

    The traditional “green” mindset of making people pay more so that they can feel good doesn’t make sense, says Béhar. “Things that are lighter and sustainable should cost less.” FuseProject pursues lower costs and improved sustainability aggressively with all their projects.

  • Be there all the way.

    Béhar attributes much of his own – and his designs’ – success to being involved in the process of creating a product at every level: Whether it’s analyzing a product’s manufacturing on the factory floor, putting together a packaging approach that fully syncs with the product’s ethos, or mapping the business model for a new product launch.

  • Re-invent the business model.

    We often create incredible products, and then fail to extend our innovative thinking to the business model that supports them. FuseProject partners with many of its clients to achieve this, and Béhar urges us to “Get creative with our business models.”

  • “Where do ideas come from? From looking at one thing and seeing another.”

    Béhar closed his presentation with a call to action via this wonderful quotation from Saul Bass.

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What’s Your Take?
Did we miss any great insights from this year’s Conference?

Which insights resonate the most with your experience?

Comments (4)
  • Lesli

    We came home from the conference and shared all of our notes with the rest of the team. Next year, we will just wait for this update instead! Very well organized and succinct. Thanks Sarah and Jocelyn!

  • nigel

    I don’t think there is a part of this article that is not important to a creative, both established and starting out.  I enjoyed part 3 of the article, the points raised open your mind to how to innovate and move creatives to delve deeper into the processes that make us better creative.  I would have loved to attend the 99%, but the article did the work for me.

  • Frankdelcorso

     Jared Cohen said “Do not pursue ideas with an obvious conclusion.”  Doing this is a lot less comfortable than starting something that has an obvious and predictable conclusion and may make us uncomfortable enough to be really creative. 

  • interior design decoration

    I wish that there is a conference like this in my place. It is because the speakers shared their words of wisdom. Social media is really important and it gave a new meaning of interaction. Maybe I should learn how to manage my own time so that I could expel the myth, which is to work more hours to get more done, in my system. I hope that there will more conference like this in the future.

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