Last Friday was a CreativeMornings morning - a monthly breakfast lecture series for the creative community. I am always so excited when I manage to land a ticket. In fact, it’s a bit like a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory winning ticket moment. The tickets release at 11am the same week and in most cases by 11:01am they are gone.
My success came in the form of a golden ticket to hear Alex Chung, the Founder of GIPHY speak about this month’s theme - WONDER.
My experience with gif usage is basic - a quick text or email here and there. In fact I think it was my accountant that first sent me a gif in an email. It made me laugh first of all, then I realized that not only is he a brilliant accountant but he has a sense of humor too! Double-win. In any case, after hearing Alex I’m adding more gifs to my life! They’re expressive and just bring smiles - and well, we could use a few more smiles in the world.
For those of you that don’t know, GIPHY is the world’s largest source for gifs and animated stickers. I was mostly curious to hear Alex speak because of the topic of WONDER. A favorite word here at Birch Cove, and I wondered what Alex was going to say about it. Was he going to talk about how he just wanted to create and instill wonder in everyones life through funny graphics? Was it about having fun and playing at work and how you create that? I secretly hoped it was going to be about having volumes of fun and how he had used that notion to found a startup that, now in its 6th year is doing rather well, 50 million users and 7 billion gifs. That definitely deserves celebrating, and jumping up and down in a paddling pool like a raccoon in pure delight is probably the level of excitement I would feel at achieving such dizzy heights.
Listening to Alex, the top 10 comments and thoughts that resonated for me.
WONDER is: Curiosity, Doubt, and Play. Wonder is another word for Creating - creating magic.
Alex’s passion, curiosity and “Torschlusspanik” - the German word interpreted as “the gates closing in on you” - drives his desire to constantly learn and create. Alex shared his ideas list… the screen scrolled.. .and scrolled… and scrolled.
Alex lets go of ideas all day long. If they keep coming back to him and the itch keeps itching, then there is something to follow up on.
In Alex’s early years he got curious about soil - why didn’t burn when it’s just trees and plants? So, he experimented and tried to set it alight. Instead, he burned down his parents garage! In the process of calling for the Fire department he discovered the “Yellow Pages” literally had every single job listed - and there wasn’t one he wanted to do. His curiosity about life just kept growing. Enter taking a VHR and Commodore apart, and constant tinkering on gadgets and gizmos (which continues to this day). Meeting his first girlfriend via dial-up command prompt style chat - double cat fish (You’ll have to ask him about that). At University he discovered that sending 1,000,000 joke emails to his friend gave him the experience of learning the internet was not so much fun, and nor were the University administrators! Sitting listening to all of this, it struck me that Alex was, and is, completely driven by intrigued curiosity about how the world works and how it and us are all connected. He then experiments, and learns by doing to understand it.
Alex studied philosophy, computer science, engineering, ballet, boxing, and martial arts - there were more things but at this point my mind blew. I marveled at how one brain can absorb and apply so much information.
Alex realized that computer science and engineering is just about creating human interactions and mimicking the way we communicate. GIPHY is the answer to help us communicate emotions. Think about it, Google is for text strings, but gifs sum up so many emotions in just one picture. We like to share those emotions and get our feelings across, in the absence of words that often fail us. (At this point the team of Birch Cove-ers would have jumped up and down with glee at the fact that we are finally all turning our attention to feelings and emotions and learning more about them.)
Alex relaxes by constantly creating, trying out new things, tinkering with something to make it work, or make it break. I’ve learned this too - when you are in the flow with something and passionately enjoy, you don’t notice the time, your energy is full, and you recharge as you play.
Alex’s litmus test about ideas - if you’re going to commit to something, give it a year. If it’s a startup then it’s a 4-year commitment to see if it’ll fly.
Keep an eye out for Infinite Objects launching soon. It’s going to be amazing!
Alex has fun. He works with friends and enjoys his life. Now that’s a big reminder about what life is really all about.
Reflecting on last Friday, it was a WONDER-FUL reminder that no matter who you are, or what you are doing, keep uncovering what makes you come alive, and follow that.
When you follow what you are curious about, and you get excited about it, you get to play, and you become magnetic and draw people along with you.
Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses - There are plenty of people with your weaknesses as strengths, and your strengths as weaknesses. If we encourage each other in what we are good at, well… who knows the potential we’ll reach.
The CreativeMornings community was founded by Swiss NYC based designer Tina Roth Eisenberg - who to this day continues to be the kindest, most open, and grounded individual I've met and see speak in public regularly. Tina is one of New York’s treasures. The team and businesses behind CreativeMornings are truly extraordinary too. No matter who you interact with, they are professional, kind-hearted, spirited, tremendously talented and genuine.
A shameless plug for CreativeMornings - but seriously, since 2008 it has grown to be in over 200 countries worldwide and the quality of events and people that speak and attend is so inspiring. Without fail, after every single event I leave feeling lighter and brighter, with an extra spring in my step. Inspired with all sorts of ideas, and feeling like being creative is one of life’s greatest gifts.
The CreativeMornings Manifesto is always shared at each event, and read with passion and love, and it’s this I’ll leave you with today.