This interview is with Gregory Kennedy, Co-Founder of the Uncharted Minds Thought Leadership Series. He will be hosting, moderating and problem-solving at the Uncharted Minds: Design Gurus Summit on May 17th. Click here to get 20% off tickets to the event.
Q. What was the original vision for Uncharted Minds?
A. I had been sponsoring trade shows and events as a marketer for years. There was a two year period where I felt like I was spending almost half of all my waking hours at trade shows. I kept complaining about them. About how I didn’t like the food and I didn’t find the content interesting. Or that some event just wasn’t well put together.
So on a dare, someone challenged me to do better. One night over too many cocktails I came up with the concept for Uncharted Minds, and my co-founder, Kathie Green and I decided we would produce our own event series. We wanted to bring together lots of different ideas, concepts and people that we thought made San Francisco so interesting.
Our concept is simple. We focus on great content, great speakers and try to produce the best events possible. We get compared to TED frequently, which is really funny and a massive compliment. I don’t think we’re like TED at all. We’re not as good as they are. We just wanted to do what lots of others were doing at MeetUps and conferences.
When we started, I did make the case that quality content had to be the heart of Uncharted Minds. I will take the credit or blame for that. So in that regard, perhaps we are like TED. But, we never set out to do something so ambitious, like replicate TED. That’s crazy.
Q. You studied design but switched to marketing mid-career. Why the change?
A. Yes. Ironically, the person who created the Design Gurus Summit started out as a designer, but gave it up as a career.
I always loved design and still do. I attended an art high school and showed a lot of talent at a young age. By the time I was 22 I was designing websites and winning awards. I was even a guest of the French government and presenter of my design work in Lille, France when I was 23. What a crazy trip that was. But, believe it or not, something was always missing for me.
As I advanced in my career I became a creative director. Which meant I didn’t actually do much design anymore. I was managing a team, working on strategy, producing presentations, and doing a lot of writing. All of which I enjoyed and excelled at. So I switched. I went back to school and got a marketing degree. Lot’s of designers can’t understand it at all, but for me, it was the right move.
When a teacher asked what the difference was between a marketing director and a creative director, I said that as a creative director I was 85% marketer, 10% high school principal and 5% designer. Which meant I just had to give up the last 5% and it was pretty much the same job.
Q. What did your parents do?
A. My dad is in graphics, he is a typographic specialist. My mom is a therapist.
Q. What was your first job?
A. I used to spend my summers as a messenger for my father in New York City. Obviously, this was before the internet. Packages had to be delivered on time, all day long. I got to know New York City and the Subway intimately. I enjoyed being out all day long, walking around the city, taking the train, talking with people, just having a good time. I got to know everyone. People still recognize me everywhere I go in New York from growing up in Manhattan. The heat was brutal, though.
That experience made me value just how fantastic it is to work in an office, with snacks, coffee, and climate control. Call me crazy, but I think I am lucky to work in a comfortable office every day. Offices get such a rap, but there are definitely work environments that are a lot more challenging
Q. What career advice would you give to young people today?
A. Don’t be afraid of hard work, embrace it. Take on challenges that other people won’t or can’t do. Succeed at them and that will distinguish you from others.
I also think everyone needs to work on their personality and people skills. The technology is advancing so rapidly that your style, communication ability and approach to teamwork may be the only competitive advantage you have in the future.
My motto is — if I can’t out-think or out-manoeuvre rivals, I will just out-work them.
Q. How do you get speakers for events?
A. I get asked this a lot. It’s very simple. I just ask the most interesting people I know, or can find to be a part of what we’re doing. I also ask them as politely as I possibly can.
Q. Hardest part of producing an event?
A. The anxiety of not knowing if anyone will show up. No one wants to throw a party and have no one come.
Q. Favorite part of producing an event?
A. The energy and feedback that I get when it all comes together as planned.