‘UnThink’ at the CNP Expo

May 21, 2013

Creativity, adaptability, disruption, crayons and “unthinking” were the themes that energized the CNP Expo’s first full day. Erik Wahl, an artist, author and entrepreneur, opened this year’s event with a keynote address that explored how creativity, which he said is systematically trained out of us by our education and business experience, actually can be turned on its ear to become the “new corporate capital.”

CNP Expo Wahl, who creates paintings of cultural icons in minutes during his presentation, said he was as susceptible to “left-brain” training as anyone. When told in fourth grade that he wasn’t an artist because he “couldn’t color within the lines,” he gave up art and excelled within the rigid educational system. Only years later, after a failed business venture after the age of 30, did he turn back to art as a way to disengage from that failure.

“At the point of physically putting paint on canvas, the side of my mind that had been intentionally repressed for so long began to creep open,” he said. “I began to see a lot of those core formulas, strategies and best practices I’d worked so hard to memorize in business school from a little different perspective.”

Wahl exhorted the CNP Expo’s nearly 500 attendees to treasure imagination and creativity in business because, “at the end of the day, culture is going to eat strategy for breakfast.” Building emotional connections is what drives customer loyalty, not merely streamlined execution and strategy. And using creativity to do that, he said, isn’t reserved only for people who are “born with it,” as many think.

“The idea of creativity, within a mature company or even within ourselves, has been broadly diagnosed as being a genetic trait,” he noted. “That we were either born with or without it. But what I’ve researched and experienced in my own life, is that it is a learned, practiced and disciplined skill that every single one of us can tap into and plug back into our organization.”

Wahl created three paintings onstage during his presentation. A portrait of U2 lead singer Bono was given away to an audience member as an example of the value of taking risks. Another of Apple Founder Steve Jobs was created upside down to demonstrate how perspective is important. The third, depicting Albert Einstein, perhaps the greatest creative thinker ever, will be raffled off to Expo attendees who make a donation to One Fund Boston in support of victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.

The CNP Expo continues today and extends until Thursday at the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate in Orlando, Fla.