This past Wednesday, the first ever Unexpected Connections  conference took place at the Beverly O’Neill Theater in Long Beach. The event, organized by Imprint Lab and MAEKAN presented thoughtful and inspiring discussions and speakers based in the worlds of tech, fashion, science, storytelling and innovation to discuss the future of creativity and how these worlds intersect.
While there were various topics and speakers pontificating their thoughts on technology and creativity, one constant theme reigned: retaining the human connection. Which is kind of what Unexpected Connections is about! Science and fashion together may seem like Unexpected Connections, but sometimes the most unexpected connections come from meeting strangers. This is where the wellspring of creativity comes from.
This inspiring event yielded so many interesting thoughts and ideas, I’ve gathered some of the most poignant quotes and soundbites from speakers in their proper context to delight and inspire more individuals out there to make their own unexpected connections. Here are 11 of the best quotes to spark your creativity. Shout out to Roy Choi for keeping attendees fed with his delicious Locol food truck as well!
1. “Knowing more kinds of people just makes you more creative.”
Technologist and academic, among other things, John Maeda appeared via hologram to deliver a resounding talk about how going out of your comfort zone can take you out of your element and inspire more creativity— it just requires us to be more open to be uncomfortable a bit and flexible, even if its by going out and meeting new people. Traveling to distant places is a luxury mostly for the privileged set, but you can meet new people anywhere, know how they’ve suffered and gain new perspectives.
2. As AI grows and algorithms determine what our tastes are for us, in the future “the critic and the editor will be important.”
So many great soundbites from John C. Jay, the current president at Global Creative, and who has been at the forefront of many pioneering fashion brands’ forays into blending high and low brow culture through his time at Fast Retailing, a branding and product design firm.
Jay has had enviable access to youth and street culture by keeping his ear to the ground and finding some of the most unique and forward-thinking artists, including Kanye West, mostly through happenstance and serendipity. Part of his success in his field is due to being open and curious— the Internet has been responsible for the decline in curiosity, Jay said. Critics and tastemakers will still be relevant in the growing information age, if they stay open and curious about finding new things and making connections.
3. “Start with the why.”
Jay continued his discussion on innovation by saying that— before innovations in technology are executed— we should be asking “why” do we need this, or what greater good does it serve. Its a question that gets asked less and less.
4. “You just have to show up.”
In conversation with Eugene Kan and Jason Mayden about the role of science in creativity, tattooer Jun Cha answered a question about how to push through creative walls and how to build discipline. Building discipline takes time, and within that time, one must actively ‘show up’ in a figurative and literal sense: show up to your creative task and do the work, and show up wherever you can to spark inspiration. It may not build results immediately, in fact it might suck, but the more you do it, the more you learn. This way you build resistance to that creative wall and poor discipline.
5. Silicon Valley is “the most innovative place in the world, and yet [everyone does] the same things.”
In discussing whether he feels some type of way working in Silicon Valley in a mission that doesn’t necessarily fit in with the typical SV tech bro mold, CEO of Super Heroic, a kid-centric interactive play company, Jason Mayden admitted he did, but he knows so many people working in SV tech that one thing they wish for is more time with their kids. They spend time making money to all afford the same cars and objects, but they buy into the culture too much and forget about what’s truly important and ephemeral.
6. “Human voice is the most elemental… with audio, we’re connecting with ideas and thought.”
In a conversation with Julia Huang and Lindsay Jang, KCRW CEO Jennifer Ferro was asked a question about the importance of the human voice. Ferro said that despite the competition with video, audio formats seem to be prevailing and on the rise with the growing number of podcasts, audiobooks and audiences tuning into news radio. It’s a good thing, because the human voice is something we’ve been accustomed to since we were all in utero. Tapping into mediums that help us connect with news and thoughtful discussions helps us learn and become more thoughtful.
7. “You know you’ve reached a very special place in your life when you can walk around with no shirt and hang around backstage and no one says anything.”
Artist David Choe opened his Unscripted talk with a truly irreverent entrance wearing only purple overalls and that line. It was the most off-the-wall event of the day, and Choe’s unfocused and brutally honest talk occasionally dropped pearls of wisdom to the audience. The artist, whose intro was described as the “NSFW part of the day” went personal but also poignantly meshed with the theme of building human connections with people around you, which was accomplished by Choe asking the audience to get up from their seats and hug their neighbors.
8. “I know the difference between speaking to a graffiti artist and a CEO. Part of being successful is being a translator and being a mediator between two worlds.”
The “Godfather of Streetwear” Jeff Staple was featured in a conversation with Eugene Kan and Karen Okonkwo, the founder of POC stock photo site TONL. He and Okonkwo discussed that part of being an innovator is being able to traverse different worlds and “speaking the languages” of each one. Staple knows the type of vernacular to use to connect with street artists, as he knows how to act around high level corporate CEOs. At the end of the day, your success counts on how well you do both and how you can merge the two worlds to work together.
9. “Be really intentional in where you find your imagery and push it.”
TONL founder Karen Okonkwo started her stock image company when she realized regular stock photo sites didn’t carry too many photos that included people of color. The launch of her company deeply resonated with many people who were grateful to feel represented in the mainstream, so with TONL Okonkwo has been able to build more representation for people of color while helping stock image photographers make some money. Doing so comes with a consciousness that she hopes other people can learn from and do too.
10. “All of us are in times of stress and anxiety, and are clinging to tribalism, the big question is how we can get out of it.”
Host of KCRW’s Press Play Madeline Brand said the above quote in her stimulating talk with journalist Helen Zia, and it was an epic conversation between two brilliant news minds who admittedly didn’t agree on a lot of topics, but discussed them respectfully and thoroughly. In this discussion moderated by Charis Poon, Brand commented on her observations of how politics have an effect on life these days, and how she wants to present a balanced approach to storytelling in news to enlighten other people on what other viewpoints exist in the world, to break out of our bubbles.
11. “Many speakers today have said that they’ve let go of worry by saying we’re all going to die, but we have agency. That’s part of being alive. So we’re alive— so what? What can we do now to make a difference.
Doing nothing is still doing something, and to do nothing is to exist as a protoplasm.”
Helen Zia’s last words in her conversation with Madeline Brand and Charis Poon were partly in regards to a quote, “The arc of history in the universe is long, but it bends towards justice” and partly in regards to how many of the speakers throughout the day relished the idea of how we’re all going to die, so small mistakes will happen and be forgotten. Zia said it’s important to be actively working towards even making a small difference in your world, because as we live in the ever present, we have responsibility to act. Even if you die, there will be others living after you, and we can make change now to make things better or more just for those in the future. Live in the present, but really live.