Cannes Chimera Workshop aka The Forge

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Take thirteen of the most creative minds in the world. Mix in twenty wide-eyed and curious individuals from all walks of life. Pour in eight world-changing ideas. Simmer and stew for two days. You get the perfect recipe for organized chaos called the Cannes Chimera Workshop.

The near-freezing weather in Seattle did not cool down my excitement as I met up with the other participants waiting for the shuttle that would take us to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. As I exited the bus, the rain started to fall, making the walk a little challenging. I crossed the street and was immediately greeted by a sign hanging overhead near the entrance to the foundation’s museum. It simply stated: “Enter Curious. Leave Inspired.” This kept me warm the rest of the way.

The glass doors of the foundation looked imposing. Looking outside in, the uniformed security personnel looked stern and seemed to be guarding the national treasure. I was pleasantly surprised when they opened the doors and instantly greeted us with smiles. Along with the other participants, I was led across a hallway. There, inscribed on the wall, was an old African proverb that said: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” “This is going to be interesting.”, I told myself.

There was an awkward moment when I had to pinch myself as I saw some faces I’ve only seen in magazines and on award show websites. I guess it was like meeting your heroes for the first time. After a quick breakfast, the moderator asked all of us to gather around. The show was about to begin.

Flashback to a few weeks before the workshop – my team and I were busy preparing a solid business plan, complete with case studies, charts, and statistics. I felt good we had a great idea. I was ready. I was confident. I was wrong.

Flash forward to the workshop. The moderator called my team to present first. My eyes widened in disbelief. My throat dried up and I could feel the beads of sweat forming on my face. All these brilliant minds in one room were all too quiet. I began to go through the slides. Our business plan’s success depended on one unanswered question: How do I convince a game developer to buy into this idea? When I finished, polite applause followed.

The other teams had it worse. The Chimera members raised some fundamental questions. Others were grilled about their ideas. It was only 30 minutes into the first day. After that, we had eight five-minute consultation sessions with the Chimera members. The next session took longer as eight pairs of Chimera members went with each winning team to dissect, analyze, deconstruct and reconstitute each idea. At the end of the first day, some teams felt they had the worst ideas in the world.

But, the dinner that night was lovely.

The second day held a mixture of dread and anticipation for me. Would our idea come out unscathed? An amazing resource person from the Gates Foundation showed us the humbling reality of poverty and how rich countries have cut back on spending for poverty relief. But it ended on a positive note by the fact that in 20 years, world poverty has been cut in half.

After the talk, a pair of Chimera members would spend some time again with each team to iron out the kinks. Some gave practical advice. Some gave leads to people who could help. Some forced us to rethink our approach. Some challenged us to think bigger. I almost doubted myself a few times. But after an exhausting day, I knew we had something great to present.

So, I volunteered to go first. But a technical glitch had us present second. As I was presenting our new and improved idea, I saw nodding heads and widening eyes in the audience. The applause seemed louder this time around. I turned to my teammate and smiled. Achievement unlocked. Level 1 complete.

Looking back. I think the best thing that came out of this workshop was not arriving at solution or a clearer direction of where to take our idea. It was realizing that one really has to subject a great idea to all the scrutiny and criticism in order for it to come out better in the end. And, the most important lesson: If you believe that your idea can save the world and people say it’s impossible to do, do it anyway.

What would have made the workshop even better was the presence of connectors and enablers who could immediately see the feasibility and scalability of the ideas. But having said that, I am looking forward to the next stage.