October 11, 2017 | Written by: Miriam Oglesby
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In mid September, in Frankfurt, neighbouring the International Motor Show, SXSW and Mercedes Benz hosted the first ever me Convention. An agenda bursting with inspirational speakers and a buzzing atmosphere, the me Convention is a completely new event which, over three days, brought together creatives from the design and technology industries.
John Cohn: “Work without play is just work”
From 15th – 17th September, held in the stunning Frankfurt Festhalle, the me Convention was like no other. Since the automotive industry is being tested to redefine transport, with the hottest topics being autonomous driving and electric mobility, this challenge fascinated the SXSW team. Joining forces with Mercedes Benz, the me Convention was designed to attract like-minded individuals to share and exchange out-of-the-box thinking and a passion for innovation.
An astronaut, a rapper, and a CEO discuss the future
Exchanges between Dieter Zetsche (Chairman of Daimler AG) and Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) captivated the audience; so too, did talks from the likes of Buzz Aldrin, A$AP Rocky, and our very own IBM Fellow John Cohn!
John is decorated with the highest title for IBM’s technical employees, he’s a self-proclaimed mad scientist who has been with IBM for over 36 years. I’ve just had my two-year anniversary, and together we are working on an innovation program for Watson Internet of Things in our global headquarters in Munich. Fortuitously, I was in Frankfurt for the Motor Show last week and could pop over to see John’s talk at the me Convention. Follow me behind the scenes!
John Cohn at the Lufthansa FlyingLab
The me Convention had an unusual start: official partner Lufthansa hosted a pre-event panel discussion like you’ve never seen before. The Lufthansa FlyingLab on flight LH 455 from San Francisco to Frankfurt, at an altitude of over 10,000 across the Atlantic Ocean, six top class speakers boarded the Airbus A380 to deliver presentations. They discussed the future of the six main topics of the me Convention: new creation, new leadership, new realities, new urbanism, and new velocity; this panel was a precursor to the rest of the high-energy and high-spirited convention.
Setting the stage ready for John’s talk
What a stirring speech! John’s talk discussed the importance of serious play: “especially when life is at its hardest, you need to play. Play more. Play like nobody is watching! Play for a purpose. It will get you through life.” It’s not perhaps the message you’d expect from an IBM veteran. I really liked how John started his talk in a blue suit jacket, removed it (along with the antiquated IBM stereotypes), and donned his tie-dyed, rainbow-coloured labcoat. Tackling hard and personal topics such as failure and loss, John shared how playing is essential for success. He also referenced IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, who said: if you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.
John Cohn presenting
Having worked with John for over a year now, I know how he feels before a talk: “I’m petrified. I’m always nervous before, it’s paralyzing. No, I’m not kidding!” compared to when I asked how he felt afterwards, “I enjoyed it! I enjoyed it because I could tell it resonated.” Comments I overheard from members of the audience afterwards included: “that’s the best talk I’ve heard” and “life-changing”. On the Twitter-sphere, it was described as the best session, inspiring, and contagious. The audience were dazzled. There were queues afterwards for an autograph or cheeky selfie with John. Oh, and we got one, too!
IBMer selfie outside the stunning Frankfurt Festhalle (left to right: Miriam Oglesby, John Cohn, Sven Semet, Mark Dietrich)
Find out more about what John and I are doing in the Watson IoT Center in Munich, in our hive for innovation.