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#FICP16 Day 1: Coming Together Despite Election Hangover

Opening keynote speaker and author Tom Koulopoulos made an impassioned plea for the need to break through old patterns of thought.

Waiting for my flight yesterday morning at Boston’s Logan airport, I was kind of dreading going to my first Financial & Insurance Conference Planners Annual Conference. Not because of anything to do with the conference itself, but whichever side you were on politically for our latest presidential election, yesterday was an emotional day. I was finding it hard to switch gears from ruminating on national politics to networking and learning mode. I don’t think I was the only one.

But we powered through. We smiled and exchanged pleasantries at the newbie networking session, during which FICP board members introduced themselves to us in casual conversation and then led us through a quick “how to navigate the meeting” presentation.

At the opening general session, you could almost hear the mental effort being made in the room to put aside the politics so many of us have been obsessing over and get down to doing what we’re here to do. This being my first time here, I'm not sure, but I'm guessing attendees are usually fired up out of the gate, and this time we were a tougher crowd. Albeit a record one, with around 700 participants, 261 of whom are planners.

But that’s one of the absolutely gorgeous things about meetings, isn’t it? That we all can, and do, set aside our differences to learn from each other better ways to do our work and show how it is possible to come together to tackle the thorny issues we have in common. In this case, producing the most effective events possible for financial and insurance participants.

A few thoughts and reflections from the first day:

• I love that the Omni Nashville Hotel, our host for FICP16, had a duo playing guitar and fiddle and singing as I waited in line to get my room key. I didn’t get their names, but they were awesome. The Omni itself, which I last saw on a hard-hat tour during the opening of the convention center here a few years ago, is so far flawlessly elegant and friendly.

• On a related note: Is music so ubiquitous in Nashville that people tend to ignore it? I was kind of surprised that hardly anyone but me applauded the lobby duo or the country/bluegrass band that played at the Hilton-sponsored reception last night. Which, by the way, had the best food and a noise level that actually allowed easy conversation. Particularly given the mood of the crowd yesterday, it was a good way to ease into the conference.

No one could ignore the blistering entrance of Nick Hoffman and Natalie Murphy as they played down the aisle at the opening general session.

• Lots of attention was paid to getting the crowd in the right mood at the general session. Nick Hoffman and Natalie Murphy and their All-Star Nashville Band raised the energy level admirably as they played down the center aisle before taking the stage. The super-fast video on what FICP has been up to this year also was a high-energy way to get through material that can tend to drag. The pacing was quick, and the sponsor messages interspersed video with speeches to keep things interesting.

• Keynote speaker and author Tom Koulopoulos lost me a few times during his presentation. (It may have just been my brain still changing gears.) That said, his message was one that we all should be thinking about (and acting on). A few of my key takeaways from his presentation:

- Forget about categorizing people by generation. “Generational thinking is a lazy artifact,” he said. People are now best described by behaviors, not age groups. I have been saying this for a while, so it's nice to have the validation! I know a lot of people in their 70s who are whizzes on social media and Skype regularly with their grandkids, and some in their 20s (though not as many) who want to eschew the whole tech thing and go off the grid at least occasionally.

Even before we got to the garlic mashed potatoes, tater tots, and short ribs at the reception, we had many flavors of popcorn to munch on during registration.

- This is one leap I had a hard time making: Koulopoulos went on to talk about the traits shared by Gen Z, such as their need to be technologically connected to their loved ones and peers 24/7. I guess the point was that, while this may describe mainly young people (like Koulopoulos’ son and daughter, who he used as examples), they’re not the only ones living hyperconnected lives? Or that this is one of the patterns we have to break?

- We tend to get stuck in patterns because we’re wired to be—“Any known is better than an unknown.” Mind-blowing aside: Check out this YouTube video he showed us—which way do you see the woman spin? About half our crowd saw clockwise, the other half counterclockwise. And no matter how hard I tried, I could not make myself see her spin the other way. He says the only way to break that pattern is to disrupt it (in this case, by blocking part of the image, which still doesn’t work for me. Uh oh, this pattern-breaking is hard stuff!).

- Forget about brand loyalty. It’s up to brands to learn from real data about how people behave and then promote loyalty by customizing their offerings. The message from Koulopoulos: Use devices to gather data you can use to inform the experiences you provide, which will in turn drive customer (or in our case, participant) behavior.

-We need to change the way we think about how we work together in the commercial realm. For example, he said, some of us older people don't understand why Easton LaChappelle, who makes and sells his 3D-printed prosthetics at a fraction of what commercially available prosthetics go for, doesn't use his cheaper process to reap a bigger profit. Instead, he actually opensources his process so others can copy it. What?

When Koulopoulos and his co-author asked Chappelle why, he said that how could he not give it away when missng a limb can be a death sentence in some parts of the world. But he still can make a profit while sharing. "Giving it away is not a zero-sum game for him," said Koulopoulos.

This is going to be a hard pattern for some of us to break because it's pretty entrenched, I think. But break it we must, he said, because the future won't be about being proprietary about products and processes and maximizing profits. The future instead will be about working together and sharing new ideas that will benefit everyone.

On to Day 2...

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