Innovation and Entrepreneurship – Inspiration from #BigOmaha

Big Omaha BadgeLast week, I had the opportunity to spend the day at one of the nation’s leading conferences on entrepreneurship and innovation, Big Omaha.  Chances are, most of the readers of this blog have never heard of it and may even think I’m joking.  I’m not.  Look it up.

This was the first time in a long time that I paid for a ticket to attend a conference simply for my own development.  Due to being a speaker, I spend a lot of time at conferences.  Most of the conferences I speak at are focused on the advancement of a particular industry or profession and are attended by people who are managers and professionals  from generally larger businesses.

Big Omaha was very different.  This was my first time attending this despite it being the fifth anniversary and it’s held where I live.  I had wanted to attend for years, but the stars hadn’t aligned.  It finally happened this year and I’m so thankful it did.  I’m not sure what my expectations were going into the event, but they were exceeded.  I was energized and inspired.

As I reflected on the experience, it occurred to me that there were some powerful differences between the tone, content and delivery of the speakers at Big Omaha that stands in stark contrast to the traditional, more corporate conference that I usually attend.  As I thought about it, the design and experience of this conference versus more traditional conferences might shed some light on why start-ups and small businesses tend to be more agile at innovation.

Here’s what I noticed:

  • Candor and vulnerability were the norm.  The speakers told their own, often very personal, stories of the struggles and successes of entrepreneurship.  They shared their failures, pain and misgivings without varnish so that others could relate and find inspiration to keep going.  The message was clear: it’s not easy, but it’s worth it if you hang in there.
  • Failure was celebrated.  I think every speaker talked about how hard it was to grow a business and admitted how many times they failed along the way.  One of the speakers,  the CEO of a successful start-up, shared that their software development team fails something like 90% of the time in developing new products and features.  But, they use those failures to fuel the 10% that their business thrives upon.
  • The entrepreneur community is very supportive of each other.  Every speaker got a standing ovation.  Most of the speakers were good.  One, namely Mark Ecko, gave possibly my favorite speech I’ve ever heard.  But, not every speech was worthy of a standing ovation.  The thing was, it wasn’t about the quality of the speech.  It was about support, encouragement, and a “we want you to crush it” vibe.  It made me think about how this feeling of “community and support” doesn’t really exist within the other conferences I attend.
  • Authenticity abounds.  One of the messages that came through loud and clear is that you have to be authentic and stay true to who you are and what you love for your business to survive and grow long term.  The leaders and CEO’s who spoke on the stage were artists of business.  It was clear that they were creators and that they took their art very seriously.
  • Relationships matter.  These successful business leaders spoke of the relationships they have both in their business and personal lives as having significant importance to their success.  This wasn’t just about business relationships, but also personal relationships in their lives and the role they play in keeping things on the right track.

Big Omaha was a great experience.  While it probably has special impact on me as someone working to make a start-up business work, I think the lessons I gleaned have broad applicability to any business or group looking to stimulate innovation.  You can read more and check out some of the videos on the Silicon Prairie News site.  Maybe I will see you there next year.

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