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The Creativity Conference Encourages Discussion and Collaboration

Ted Leonsis, Bill Clinton, and more convened at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

Before Friday evening arrives with festivities in prelude to the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner weekend, before the scent of celebrity makes us swoon, before Spielberg and Streisand and Shaq make the scene, let’s take a moment to discuss creativity.

That was the bright idea behind the “creativity conference” Friday morning at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Snag a few of the name brands in town for the weekend—Harvey Weinstein, Bill Clinton, and filmmaker Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild), among others—and ask them to wax broadly about the creative process.

There was a panel on Creative Industries and the New American Economy. And one on Generation Next and the New Creativity. Time executive editor Michael Duffy interviewed Eric Cantor. Bill Clinton’s speechlet closed the session.

Could have been dreadful. Four hours discussing how to be creative can suck the creativity out of a roomful of Apple designers.

But these sessions were at times engaging, lively, and occasionally provocative. The conference was sponsored by Time, Microsoft, and the Motion Picture Association of America. So it was heavy on tech and film.

Our own Ted Leonsis is accomplished in both, as early AOL senior executive and movie producer. He often made the most sense.

“We underestimate serendipity in creativity,” he told the audience in a small amphitheater. Try too hard at being creative and fail. Getting unwired helps. Seek creative bursts from reading, watching movies, seeing art and the people you associate with. “Most creative moments come from surprise.”

And failure, Leonsis told the audience, is required. Take Alex Ovechkin, star of the Washington Capitals. He has the most goals in the NHL. “But he also takes the most shots,” Leonsis said.

Walter Isaascon offered a sad but true fact when he said half of creative ideas are “horrible.” The president and CEO of the Aspen Institute and Steve Jobs biographer asked, “How do you say no without tamping down creativity?”

None of the panelists offered up a good answer.

Harvey Weinstein showed up brusque and direct. No surprise. The heavy-hitting movie producer called for legislation to make companies like Google or other “gatekeepers” pay for content they recycle. They can afford to pay, he was tired of getting ripped off, and the big Internet companies that use content for free are posing as “hippies.”

This was very much former senator Chris Dodd’s show. The chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America brought in the heavies: Weinstein and Clinton. Dodd liked what he heard and saw on the innovation front, and he’s hoping to bring a similar session to his former colleagues on Capitol Hill.

It seems highly unlikely that Democrats and Republicans would sit in the same room to hear about creativity, but that’s what Clinton suggested in his speech.

“The future will reward most richly those who are creative and cooperative,” he said.

If that’s true, Congress will go broke.

A webcast of the event is available online.

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