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How to Change the World: 99U Conference Recap 6

How to Change the World: 99U Conference Recap 6
Published May 15, 2015 by Tanner Christensen
What if you were told that not only can you change the world, but that it’s your responsibility to do so?

Would you feel paralyzed or empowered? In the final moments of the 2015 99u Conference, Franklin Leonard, Kelly Sue DeConnick, and Casey Gerald give us the ammunition we need to overcome doubts, fears, and uncertainties, and help make a real impact on the world.

Franklin Leonard. Photo by Mackler Studios.
Franklin Leonard. Photo by Mackler Studios.

Franklin Leonard

Founder and CEO at Black List

10 years ago, Franklin Leonard moved to Hollywood after an idealistic stint in politics. He soon realized how difficult it can be to enact change in the film industry. Almost accidentally, he founded The Black List, a specially curated list of unproduced film scripts, each focused on changing the way people see one aspect of the world. Today, films on the list have been seen by millions of people around the globe, earned over $19 billion dollars, and have been nominated for 171 Academy Awards (and have won 35). In his talk, Leonard explains a shift in his own perspective on what it really means to change the world.

  • Use naivety to overcome fear. “I suspect most of us want to change the world in some capacity,” said Leonard. “Some have found [that desire] paralyzing.” The way to overcome the fear is to embrace the fact you don’t know everything. “The one thing I know, is that I don’t know much, I’m reminded of that fact every time I turn on the news…Use this as an excuse from whatever fear of failure you may feel.”
  • Stop trying to change the world. “I am often reminded that it is not possible for one person to change the world. It’s too big, it has too many people, it is too chaotic,” Leonard asserted. Attempting to change the world, he explained, is an often futile effort because there’s just too much of it for any one person to tackle. Instead, Leonard said, the way to make an impact is to focus on influencing and empowering others, one person at a time. “Stop trying to change the world," he explained. "Change the way other people see the world. Maybe, just maybe, [that way] you’ll do that first thing, either in your lifetime or long after you’re gone... Doing it this way makes it a little easier.” 

Kelly Sue DeConnick. Photo by Mackler Studios.
Kelly Sue DeConnick. Photo by Mackler Studios.

Kelly Sue DeConnick

Comic Book Writer

For more than a decade, Kelly Sue DeConnick has worked as a leading writer in the world of comic books, most notably on Captain Marvel and Bitch Planet. Through her career, DeConnick has found that the best way to inspire, lead, bring people together, and motivate those who need a push is to make them uncomfortable. She shared her "Five Steps to Becoming a Professional Discomfort Provider:"

  • Lead with your heart. Characters in comic books are illustrated in a way that reflects their true character: those with inflated egos might run forward with their head out front, while those who lead with their heart tend to stand tall, heart forward. DeConnick makes a case that we, too, should lead our lives with our heart. “When I do my best work,” she said, “I am leading with my heart. The goal is to proceed with courage…When you do, you find your way to a level of honest, uncool, messy humanity. This is your goal.”
  • Find your people. “The point of art,” DeConnick declared, “is to connect us to ourselves and to other people.” The reason this matters is because it builds a bond that can strengthen and amplify your work like nothing else can. “There is comfort in the revelation that, even when we feel in our bones that our pain is unprecedented, there are likely others who do too…Seek out the artists and friends whose work pushes you to be vulnerable, because they are your people.” 
  • Foster community. “Uncomfortableness is contagious, as are courage and enthusiasm,” explained DeConnick. When you find your people, you must be willing to share not only the things that make you uncomfortable, but also the things that challenge and excite you. That’s how you create an impact and continue to grow your community.
  • Listen. It’s one thing to share your story, but to really grow and be able to influence your community, you must learn how to listen. “We can never hope to transcend our own experience, because it’s the only authentic source that we have…but I also believe that as creators it’s our job to try,” said DeConnick. How do we do that? It’s about learning how to actually listen. “Listen with your whole heart and imagine how the world must look from another perspective.”
  • Seek to be uncomfortable. “On the other side of discomfort is growth,” DeConnick advised. It’s our job to show others that, while being uncomfortable can hurt, it won’t kill you. “Doing the right thing is not a passive act," said DeConnick. "You don’t get to be a good guy just because you figure you’re not a bad guy.”

Casey Gerald. Photo by Mackler Studios.
Casey Gerald. Photo by Mackler Studios.

Casey Gerald

CEO and Co-Founder of MBAs Across America

After graduating from Yale, Casey Gerald and his friends wondered what would happen if, instead of “marching off in pinstripe suits to slave away in a cubicle,” they set out to the heart of America to put their MBAs to work helping entrepreneurs. The result is MBAs Across America, whose message is simple but vital: There’s a new way of changing the world, and each of us has a part to play. Gerald gave us the three aspects of his "New Playbook of Change":

  • Give yourself permission. Whatever you need to do to move your work forward, don’t wait for someone else to give you permission. “In this network of chaos, we don’t have to wait on a gatekeeper to green light our ideas any more. In this new playbook, we give ourselves permission," said Gerald.
  • Recognize that we are all entrepreneurs now. “There’s this whole un-exotic underclass of people and problems that are overlooked and undervalued, and it’s time we do something about it,” Gerald exclaimed. The way to do that is to acknowledge that we are all entrepreneurs now. “It’s not the what but the why that is at the heart of being an entrepreneur.”
  • Define your purpose as the new bottom line. “There’s no line item on a balance sheet for ‘give a damn,’ but it’s the most valuable thing you’ve got in the business,” advised Gerald. What’s the one thing you give a damn about? To find it, Gerald says, “Put your hand up to the world and say: ‘It’s my turn, how can I help?’…If there’s a question burning in your mind, a problem that won’t let you go, if there’s a friend or stranger whose problem has become your own, if there’s a gift you have that has led you here, then you have found your why.”

More 2015 Conference Recaps:

Part One: How to Fuel Collaboration & Innovation
Part Two: Rewiring Your Mindset & Avoiding Burnout
Part Three: Self-Awareness is Key
Part Four: How to Build a Business

Part Five: Tap Into Your Creative Genius
Part Six: How to Change the World

More about Tanner Christensen

Tanner is a digital producer who makes things to help creatives do more of what they love. Follow him on Twitter or learn more on his personal site:

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