Thoughts on OTA Sessions 2011

It wasn’t that this was a conference about marketing and creativity, because it wasn’t. Not at all. It’s billed as such, but that’s not the point.

It wasn’t that this conference had a slew of inspirational speakers, either, because to be honest not all of them were all that inspirational. Some of them sort of talked about themselves without offering any real insight, and others outlined their book for an hour, and still others tried hard not to drop names but couldn’t be helped.

But there’s something about OTA Sessions. Something pretty special. Something we don’t usually get in Sioux Falls.

OTA Sessions was about something and the speakers all offered context and though I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know, that’s not really what these conferences are for.

I didn’t receive any knowledge. That’s cool.

In it’s place, I received rejuvenation. All offered through three overarching themes.

Embrace your differences

Like Sally Hogshead says: it’s up to us to be ourselves. To steer clear of becoming someone we’re not. To find our difference and own it.

Being the underdog works. No marketing bull here, please – living in South Dakota is a constant fight to overcome our differences. It sharpens our tenacity and provides us with opportunities to embrace a landscape and culture that no one else can make claim to.

Our teachers and parents always tell us to “be ourselves, don’t follow the crowd, etc.” and we brush it off knowing we’ll grow into fantastic humans if we just get into the right cliques but, surprise!, we find that the best ideas and greatest moments come from those wackos who, for whatever reasons, clung to who they are and refused to be stripped of the junk they were born with.

Don’t patronize the differences. Just find them and make them great. Do that, and you’ve suddenly become interesting. What’s more: you’ve given yourself the freedom to brush off criticism.

Own your location

In the Midwest, most look to escape as fast as they can. Good for them. Maybe they’ll find their muse elsewhere. They have all of my well wishes.

That being said, I’ve got no patience for Midwest haters: the arrogance, the dismissal, the trivial comparisons. We’re not New York. We’re not Los Angeles. We’re nowhere, and that’s why we’re great – undeveloped by trends, we’re blank canvases, where creativity and innovation rule not out of vocation, but out of necessity.

To fill in the spaces, we must create.

Ultimately, there are two types of people who grow up in South Dakota – those who move away, and those who have the strength to stick around and make something with what they’ve been given.

On Friday, the Orpheum filled with the latter. Inspiring on its own, without the speakers, without OTA. Just that fact made me want to be better at what I do.

Accept your inadequacies

Because, ultimately, there are still people who still struggle with making something great.

For example: imagine you’re at a conference, surrounded by hundreds of intelligent people, watching speaker after speaker discuss their successes and insight and goals.

Before long you realize how far you have to go before making a significant difference in the world. How much work it is to be good at what you do. How much harder you have to work to be one of the great ones. How none of this is easy.

It’s a rush of forced inspiration, like adrenaline during a bear attack. To get from A to B you need a dose of reality-based C: a kick in the saggy pants and a yell from your idols – “YOU’RE STILL NOT WORKING HARD ENOUGH.”

Happens every time. It’s always just in time, too. For two years, OTA Sessions has been a constant dose of humble pie. With a side of whipped panic.

Ultimately, OTA – itself a twisted acronym that stands for “Originality + Action,” isn’t about creativity or marketing or social media. It’s about community. It’s about displaying the power of an active and blossoming community, filled with people who stay true to the region, who aren’t afraid to be themselves and aren’t afraid to break away from the typical cynicism of talented professionals and dive straight into a new project.

To make something great on the ground they live on. To celebrate their differences. To live thinking that “anything is possible” isn’t as ridiculous as it seems.

This was lovingly handwritten on April 3rd, 2011