One of my favourite tutors at art college recently died of Ovarian cancer. She was a brilliant lady who passed away far too young.
She said a strange thing. At least, to the arrogant teenager I was then, it sounded odd: “You will learn just as much from each other as you will from me, so make sure you keep coming in to the studio.” Nonsense, I thought. You have so much more experience and we are all just starting. How can you say that?
I miss her.
One of the many reasons I mourned her passing was that she was genuinely dedicated to the success of her students. Since attending other institutions, I’ve realised this is actually a rarer quality than I would like.
Not long after the beginning of my course in Graphics, she gathered everybody in my class around her – about 35 of us – in our 1990s lumberjack shirts and baggy jeans. She said a strange thing. At least, to the arrogant teenager I was then, it sounded odd:
“You will learn just as much from each other as you will from me, so make sure you keep coming in to the studio.”
Nonsense, I thought. You have so much more experience and we are all just starting. How can you say that?
So, alas, I didn’t pay heed, and studied alone for much of the time. I did alright in my degree, but certainly felt estranged from the folk who did follow her advice. Many of them got jobs as soon as they finished their degree. Two of them ended up as design rockstars, zipping from celeb bash in New York to poolside party in Los Angeles.
Of course, I’m not jealous at all.
The time came to make up for my error when a charming client badgered me to come along to the ECF Conference. “It’s brilliant!” he said. “Most of what I know about how nonprofits should do digital, I learned there.” I was a little excited but also skeptical. He nagged me about it so much that eventually I relented and decided to investigate.
When I looked at the agenda, I was not sure if I could leave my team alone for a whole two days, and requested special permission just to be there for one. The organiser, Duane Raymond, called me up and said “This is a pretty extraordinary conference. You really need to be there for the whole time to make the best of it.” I laughed and said “I’m sure I’ll be fine. I’m a creative type. I’m used to this sort of thing.” Duane, accommodating chap that he is, agreed to make an exception for me.
A couple of hours in to ECF, however, I realised that I had made a big mistake. Not because I didn’t get it – but because I got it too well. I immediately wanted as much time there as I could.
Why? This conference is one where all participants make up the agenda as they go along. Each morning, we gather and decide on the things we want to learn about from each other. We end up with something like a smorgasbord of learning, all ad hoc.
I was enthralled by the intelligence, varied experience and knowledge that comprised each session. All this from people who wouldn’t usually get to a conference podium for even ten seconds.
Pages of notes were flying out of my fingers. I had a stack of business cards several inches high. My head felt full of shiny new ideas. I even made new friends.
I’ve been back every year since.
I strongly encourage you to attend the conference that has given me so many opportunities and skills. To learn from other people in the same situation as you.