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Reflecting on EPIC Summit 2021

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What a refreshing weekend at EPIC Summit! I just took part in EPIC Summit 2021 and am feeling so rejuvenated and energized. As a creativity expert, I usually feel mixed feelings when I see an event about creativity and innovation. Most events add innovation to their event programs, but rarely do they truly go beyond introducing their product or inspirational speech. And the participants walk away thinking, “that felt good but… what do we do after this?” It leaves people hanging and wondering if that is all there is to innovation: something fancy, flashy, and big. But EPIC is different – and this is why, I was so happy to be part of the EPIC Summit. 

This was one of the many events I had to cancel in March 2020 due to the pandemic. I’d just decided to buy my tickets and flights but as the pandemic was declared only a few days later, it resulted in the Summit being canceled. While I am looking forward to going to this in person some day, I was ecstatic that it became accessible virtually. While there are many things I’ve grown to enjoy during the pandemic, one thing I deeply miss is all the conferences and events I frequented. 

I used to travel every month, if not every week, attending new events, meeting new people, learning new things, and getting new inspirations to do something new. But now, thanks to the internet, I can do everything from my home in front of my laptop, which is incredible. However, there’s something else special that you can’t get unless you meet people in person that you miss. This is why, I was so inspired, impressed and encouraged by how Dr. Steve Ralph and his EPIC Society team organized the Epic Summit in September 2021.

What is the EPIC Summit?

EPIC INTERNATIONAL SUMMIT 2021

It’s the creativity and social innovation summit you’d definitely want to attend. EPIC stands for Experiential Learning, Pause, Ingenuity, and Community engagement and designs the summit experience based on these four pillars. The event first started in 2019 was recognized by BIZBASH as one of the Top 15 Most Innovative Meetings in North America, right along with Google, Collision, SAP, and IBM’s mega annual events. The celebration of pause meant unplugging and really bringing people together in person to reflect, reconnect and reimagine. And while the pandemic has made it hard to do so, it has not stopped the group from reinventing to find a virtual way to connect and innovate.

The event is led by EPIC Impact Society (501 c3) that provides an immersive opportunity to gain valuable innovation tools, improve creative problem-solving skills and generate breakthrough ideas through the 3-day program. 

The event is unique in its interactive program design and also in who it aims to attract. Participants are not just from tech companies, nor are they just the people with innovation title. But rather, they are from diverse backgrounds who are leading innovation or in a journey of honing their craft as an innovator in their communities.

In the first event in 2019, for instance, EPIC Summit had participants like Joe Rhode (Walt Disney Imagineering, Senior VP Creative), Ewan McGregor (Award-winning actor) and Dermut Mulroney (Actor; accomplished cellist), Gigi Johnson (UCLA Center for Music Innovation), Brian K. Muirhead, (Manager, Mars sample return formulation; NASA/JPL), Paul Allen (Founder, ancestry.com), Madlin Mangrum, JD (Gallup Certified Strengths Finder / Digital well-being coach) and Lene Jensby Lange (Founder, Autens; Denmark). Speakers also came from diverse backgrounds. 

I was honored to be one of the speakers and share the room with many other experts like John Chester (Founder, Apricot Lane Farms & Filmmaker of the award-winning documentary “The Biggest Little Farm”), James Haven (Actor, producer, advocate), Ben Everard (Exec. Producer, ‘Laundromat’ starring Meryl Streep and Gary Oldman), Melissa Disney (Voice of Oscars, Emmy’s, GMA’s etc.), Kathy Eldon (Creative Visions Foundation), Jacqueline Lloyd Smith (Founder, Strategic Play Group®, LTD), Chris Denson (Innovation Crush® Podcast) to name just a few.

To sum it up, it’s more than just another event. It’s an experience that feels like it transcends time. If you didn’t get a chance to go this year, be sure to subscribe to their emails for future events – hopefully, I’ll see you there in person.

Photo Credit: epicimpactsociety.org

What I Loved

Where do I even begin? One of my favorite aspects of EPIC is the reminder of how human-centric innovation and creativity are. Innovation and creativity are born out of people, made for people, and impacted by people. What matters just as much as the end result is who the designers and producers are. What they thought and why they wanted to matter. We don’t talk enough about it in general, and even less so in design. So many events or sessions are often lecture-based, or speaker position based. What EPIC has done, both in terms of program design and substance, is remind people that there is no speaker versus participant; we’re all here to learn, share, and grow. I appreciate this humility because we could all come more openly, humbly, and with curiosity.

While I have also included my typical love in designing breakout sessions, interactive question prompts, and whiteboard sessions in my workshop “Rethink Creativity: How Creativity & Curiosity Can Save You From Burnout” too, I dove further into my personal reflection to reflect on how to create an honest dialogue space for participants to co-create more deeply together. And I’m not alone. 

My second favorite aspect was how diverse the learning and connecting opportunities were.

When I caught up with my friend Van Lai-DuMone, Founder and CEO of worksmART Advantage that provides creativity teambuilding exercises and leadership training, and delivered a workshop on celebrating diversity, she dove deeper into her personal stories. Even more so than usual for this session in order to bring that human-centric problem-solving approach.

Photo contribution: Van Lai-Dumone
Monica: What do you hope others would find from your session?

Van Lai-DuMone, Founder and CEO of worksmART

My session is titled, 'Stronger Together by the Sum of Our Differences'. And in it, we will be using creative problem-solving tools to uncover the unique characteristics we each bring to the table to create possibilities for ourselves and others. I hope people leave feeling inspired and equipped to apply their innate strengths to any situation they walk into and any team they are a part of.

Monica: Why is this event different than others?

Van Lai-DuMone, Founder and CEO of worksmART

Every aspect of this Summit is built with the intention of elevating creative leadership to ignite social transformation. It is not industry-specific. It is universal and inclusive. And that really speaks to the principles of my work, which are that we are all creative, good ideas can come from any level of an organization, and creativity is everybody's business!

Monica: What are you most looking forward to the event and why?

Van Lai-DuMone, Founder and CEO of worksmART

I am most looking forward to reconnecting with colleagues and friends and meeting new people in the EPIC Society community. This organization attracts the most innovative and creative people from around the world, and every time I attend one of their events - I gain new ideas, skills, and friendships!

Amani Roberts, a DJ, Professor, and Author, shared how he discovered this to be a unique opportunity to share his passion for DJing and teambuilding in a unique way through EPIC.

Monica: What are you most looking forward to the event and why?

Amani Roberts, DJ, Professor, and Author

I am looking forward to the small intimate sessions that will be hosted by some very cool and smart people. I am excited to see how everyone adjusts to the virtual experience and adds some flavor to it.

Monica: Why is this event different than others?

Amani Roberts, DJ, Professor, and Author

I believe the curation of unique speakers is very unique and I am honored to be a part of the content.

Monica: Why is creativity important?

Amani Roberts, DJ, Professor, and Author

Creativity allows new solutions and ideas to have a voice and live. Without creativity, our world would be very vanilla and boring. Life would not be worth living without creativity.

Coonoor Behal, Founder of Mindhatch a design thinking firm, and Jason Williams, Managing Director of The Society of Innovation at Purdue Northwest, shared during their Entrepreneurship Panel that it’s key to rethink how we define creative capital to turn innovative ideas into viable entities. All while keeping the human at the center.

Monica: What do you hope others would find from your session?

Coonoor Behal, Founder of Mindhatch

I hope people take away from the Entrepreneurship Panel a newfound passion for change and productive risk-taking in their lives.

Monica: Why is this event different than others?

Jason Williams, Managing Director of The Society of Innovation at Purdue Northwest

In my experience, there are very few events that do a good job of blending the academic learning of innovation so well with the mindful connectedness (and disconnectedness) with other creative and fascinating humans. EPIC is a fun blend of learning, summer camp, and community.

Monica: Why is innovation important?

Coonoor Behal, Founder of Mindhatch

I think innovation is important because it is the only signal we have that we are responding to our current circumstances and have the courage to make them better.

Monica: Why is creativity important?

Jason Williams, Managing Director of The Society of Innovation at Purdue Northwest

Creativity is essential for innovation. I have had the pleasure of helping organize hundreds of workshops, conferences, and events related to innovation. When people are given an opportunity to practice being creative and are made to feel more creative, they walk away empowered as better innovators.

Are you starting to see how EPIC this event truly is? There are so many layers to EPIC Summit that felt special and different. This is why, even when you ask innovation experts like Jacqueline Lloyd Smith shares how EPIC has a special place in her heart. Jacqueline not only attends but also facilitates a lot of innovation and creativity workshops as the Founder of Strategic Play Group where she provides training in LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® methodology from the LEGO® Group, and she shared with me how she believes events like this paves the way forward for meaningful collaborations.

Photo contribution: Jacquiline Lloyd Smith
Monica: Why is this event different than others?

Jacquie Lloyd Smith, Founder of Strategic Play® Group

This event is so different from others because it seems to draw from interesting industries like the entertainment industry, global businesses, education, and research. I also think that the values and underpinning philosophy of EPIC is aligned with my personal and professional philosophy and so I feel that the conference emerges as a network of friends and people who respect and value each other’s contributions. This paves the way forward for interesting collaborations to emerge.

Photo contribution: Jacquiline Lloyd Smith
Monica: What do you hope others would find from your session?

Jacquie Lloyd Smith, Founder of Strategic Play® Group

I really hope we can introduce people to the power of play and open their hearts and minds to the value of using a creative 3-D application like LEGO SERIOUS PLAY to help solve some complicated and messy problems. We also want to spark people’s curiosity regarding their personality style so that they can understand how playing is connected to not only imagination and learning, but to problem-solving, and creating a better future.  By understanding our preferred way of playing we can compare and contrast how others may present their play styles which allow us to collaborate in ways that bring forth the best results.

Photo Credit: strategicplay.com

Though of course the third part I love about EPIC is the design of the experience that permitted us to meet one another beyond just the workshop or panel sessions. I can’t wait for how it would feel in person and I want to thank Steve and the EPIC team who really went out of their way to think about how we could use the virtual space to model that in-person experience as much as possible.

The experience was mainly on three platforms – Hopin as the central calendar, Zoom for all sessions live to participate, and Mibo for networking. What I appreciated was not only having these diverse options yet organized paths for people to engage but also how actively agile they were and listening to what people were looking to experience. For instance, during the preparation stage initially, all sessions were expected to be on the Hopin platform. We were informed how we may have only up to 20 people on camera per session and if we’d need breakout rooms we may have to have a different Zoom link. Speakers shared their thoughts, saying how they wanted to create an interactive experience and were hoping that it was going to permit more flexibility.

EPIC Team not only listened and heard these insights but was willing to pivot last minute to honor the comments they shared on behalf of the participants’ experience. In less than 10 days they were willing to take on the feedback and pivot to make all sessions now possible on Zoom to release the limits of how many people can be on video and join for different experiences. Hopin is still key as that’s where you’ll find all the Zoom links but I loved that they were listening and really modeling the agility and listen to adapt and understand. That behavior was modeled throughout the journey for as speakers shared their session they would listen to participants’ body language and insights to adapt and adjust real-time to create a unique experience.

I asked the EPIC team more about their experience putting the event together.

Meet three people from the wonderful 2021 EPIC Summit team:

Monica: Why is EPIC Summit important for you?

Dr. Steve Ralph, Founder, EPIC Impact Society

The EPIC International Summit is important to me because it provides a unique space where international professionals can gather to share and exchange ideas, methodologies, and innovative tools that foster creative leadership. Through the cross-pollination of industries represented and the focus on experiential learning, there are a lot of opportunities for new insights and innovative solutions to develop during the event.

Dr. Monica Mallet, Community Relations Director, EPIC Impact Society

EPIC is important to me because I am in a unique and fortunate position to have witnessed the evolution of EPIC from an idea, into one of the most successfully implemented, creativity and innovation experiences to date. EPIC is driven by core values that are in alignment with my priorities, purpose, and strengths, so as we grow, I will continue to evolve with EPIC.

Alex Dolven, 2021 EPIC Summit Virtual Production Team

It was only about a month and a half ago that I first heard about EPIC, and it wasn’t until our first few team meetings on Zoom that I realized the magic behind it. The team members and the supporting community around EPIC are the kind of people who meet challenges with optimism and open your mind to new possibilities and perspectives. For me, EPIC quickly went from a job to a stewardship of an incredibly special (virtual) space for this creative community to connect and blossom.

Photo credit: epicimpactsociety.org
Monica: Why is creativity important for you?

Dr. Steve Ralph, Founder, EPIC Impact Society

Creativity is important for me because it gives options, possibilities, hope for challenges that seem impossible to solve. One of my biggest passions is to produce experiences that help unlock creative potential in others. It is so amazing to see people discover the creative potential they have and how that can be applied to life challenges and to achieve goals.

Monica: What was unique about the community engagement and design for this event?

Dr. Monica Mallet, Community Relations Director, EPIC Impact Society

EPIC is unique because we had to intentionally design a community engagement platform like Mibo with built in icebreakers and entertainment to create a unique experience due to the virtual format. Moreover, we have to rethink and redesign our sessions to include experiential elements because we wanted our community to be active participants.

Monica: What was your biggest takeaway from hosting EPIC? Why are those lessons important for you?

Dr. Monica Mallet, Community Relations Director, EPIC Impact Society

Learning to embrace ambition while retaining thoughtful organization was a new exercise for me throughout this process. The team at EPIC was not afraid to explore the territory beyond “safe bets” in this virtual setting, and I think the result was a more dynamic event that matched the vibrancy of its audience. My takeaway is to try and sprinkle my work with elements that creatively and playfully push the boundaries of what initially seems practical.

Alex Dolven, 2021 EPIC Summit Virtual Production Team

Learning to embrace ambition while retaining thoughtful organization was a new exercise for me throughout this process. The team at EPIC was not afraid to explore the territory beyond “safe bets” in this virtual setting, and I think the result was a more dynamic event that matched the vibrancy of its audience. My takeaway is to try and sprinkle my work with elements that creatively and playfully push the boundaries of what initially seems practical.

Monica: Any tips you’d share with others who organize events on how they can do it meaningfully?

Alex Dolven, 2021 EPIC Summit Virtual Production Team

I always start planning a virtual event with a list of needs (networking, chat, live-streaming, etc…) and then begin matching specific digital tools with those needs. At this point, one of my most important jobs becomes creating resources to support all of the event's stakeholders in learning the digital tools. This includes web pages, videos, 1-on-1 tech rehearsals and more. If I can foster comfort and confidence around the virtual platforms involved, I find that people can more easily see the potential for technology to enhance rather than hinder their role at the event.

Photo credit: epicimpactsociety.org

What I Learned

While I’m pretty good at always finding things to learn at any event I attend what I loved learning and being reminded of from EPIC Summit was the importance of creating, seeking, and enjoying a holistic experience. I have to admit, I still had a handful of meetings, commitments, and workshops that were also booked in between the conference that prevented me from attending the three days fully which I regret not being able to do so but because of the way they designed the journey, the preparation, the welcoming and intentionality this was most likely one of the few events that I genuinely attended as much as I can because I couldn’t wait to be there. It’s because it wasn’t designed for “learn from me I’m knowledgable” but more of “let’s experience and learn together to be a better creative and innovator and person.” That’s grounding and that’s the type of experience and space of learning that I missed very much. It just made me miss that feeling of can’t wait to experience this in person and invite everyone! 

I do a lot of guest speaking and workshop participation and I commend also on how thorough and thoughtful the EPIC team has been throughout the whole preparation, communication, and guidance. It felt welcoming, professional, and easy to engage and follow up. Even the tech call was the most heartwarming and well organized even compared to big names that I’ve spoken at where I’d join a haphazard rush conversation where the host made the guests feel confused and a big disrespected unintentionally. They don’t mean it, it happens I understand but this is why the care and impact they have done from the backstage to the full experience EPIC really speaks volumes. The experience is shaped by the details not just from the flashy logo and when you see how those details are different it’s no surprise why the full experience is different. 

And Steve confirms how much care he has put into the process.

Monica: What are you most proud of doing having lead this virtual in 2021?

Dr. Steve Ralph, Founder, EPIC Impact Society

What are you most proud of doing having lead this virtual in 2021? - I am extremely proud of the EPIC team I worked alongside during this process. When you have a multilayered event like the EPIC International Summit, it is truly a team effort to make it happen. I am grateful for the EPIC team, with each person bringing their passion and unique skills to the experience. From program design to community relations and tech production, the EPIC team made this a wonderful experience.

Monica: Why should people attend in the future?

Dr. Steve Ralph, Founder, EPIC Impact Society

If someone is looking to grow as an innovative leader, the EPIC International Summit provides an inspiring, disruptive, and experiential learning centric event with a  community of creativity thought-leaders and facilitators from around the world. The program design at the Summit is intentionally quite varied. We have everything from themed panels, workshops, exclusive interviews, artist spotlights, and more. This, in addition to the mix of professionals from different industries attending, help foster an enriching and transformational experience.

Leaving EPIC was one of the few events that made me truly miss seeing people in person because it felt so close to that experience with the interactive sessions and Mibo – what a cool way to connect! Look where I got to hang out! 

It also reminded me to stay more courageous and resilient. The way we work, collaborate, live, and innovate has changed forever. No time to simply say – I miss or I wish. If something is missing, go create it. If something is feeling off, go listen to wonder what can be improved, There is always a way when there is a will and I appreciated that EPIC reminded me there is always a path when we seek it.

Photo credit: epicimpactsociety.org

Thank you, EPIC for an epic adventure full of reflection and creativity. I now leave with more questions than answers which is my favorite way of learning and can’t wait to see you all very soon in person and in the meantime online.  

Again, a reminder, if you want to join, sign up for 2022 now to be notified as they are already now working on the next program soon. In the meantime, check out their many resources such as podcasts and other initiatives that they lead to empowering creativity for all. A mission we stand by and why we are a partner to EPIC and look forward to doing more together.

About the Author

Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang, Founder, and CEO of InnovatorsBox® and Author of Rethink Creativity is transforming today’s workforce through the power of creativity. She helps companies rethink culture, leadership, and team development by making creativity practical and relatable regardless of industry or job title. She has worked with clients worldwide including Fortune 500 companies, higher education, government, and nonprofits. Monica’s work has been recognized by The White House, Ashoka Changemakers, National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), and Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). Prior to InnovatorsBox®, Monica was a nuclear nonproliferation policy expert. She holds an M.A. from SAIS Johns Hopkins University in Strategic Studies and International Economics and a B.A. from Boston University.

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