While many conferences use apps to drive engagement, Epic International Summit bucks that trend in a big way: All attendees at the first edition of the summit—a business conference held on an oceanside campus in Ojai, California, in January—were encouraged to go tech free.
“It was optional but encouraged,” explained Steve Ralph, founder of the three-day event. “I thought I’d maybe get about 50 percent of the attendees [to participate,] but we got 100 percent.”
Ralph then turned to the workshop leaders, asking them to also take the tech-free pledge. While it meant presenting without PowerPoint or audiovisual tools, the challenge was met with enthusiasm. “One of our workshop leaders always presents with a clip from Friends, but obviously couldn’t do that—so she cut out the faces of the characters and reenacted it herself,” said Ralph. “It went so well. It forced her to be more creative.”
Creativity is what drives Epic International. While studying for his doctorate, Ralph delved into research on the growth of technology and its effects on creativity. “Research shows that when a person gets information overload, they downshift to fight and flight mode and won’t be in a creative flow,” he explained. “They’re not able to make strategic decisions. It becomes a question of, ‘Are we managing our devices or are they managing us?’”
Ralph launched the Epic International Summit to provide a space where professionals can come together to “disconnect from a tech-saturated world and disrupt routine thinking and habits.” In other words, it’s a place where creativity is stoked—and the innovative methods stretch far beyond disconnecting from devices.
“Creativity happens at the intersection of diversity,” said Ralph. From actors and entrepreneurs to university deans, the attendees had a singular focus: “To discover new insights and unlock creativity.”
One way this was achieved was through interactive sessions and workshops using meditative mixed media, storytelling, and design thinking—and even strategic play with Lego bricks.
“It was a three-hour deep dive into this methodology where you deal with business topics and instead of answering questions with words, you build a [Lego] model,” explained Ralph.
“Research is showing that because of the rapid growth of technology, companies that aren’t able to stay creative and innovative are going to be disrupted,” he continued. “That’s not going away. It becomes more important to be creative.”