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Excuse Me, Can You Tell Me How to Get To C2MTL? Yes, Just Look For the Ferris Wheel

FerrisWheelApproximately 4,000 attendees converged on The Arsenal this morning, in Montreal’s rapidly gentrifying Griffintown neighbourhood, to participate in the fourth edition of C2MTL, the business conference that’s more than just a business conference.

C2MTL curator Jean-François Bouchard addressed the crowd, assembled in the cavernous Solotech room, stating that the bottom line for the conference was to “Get shit done.” And “speaking of getting shit done”, he introduced Montreal mayor Denis Coderre, who arrived on stage staring into his phone, appearing to be engrossed in the act of composing a tweet, a gesture entirely in keeping with the screen-heavy nature of the event.

Bouchard took pride in pointing out that 85% of the conference’s $10 million budget was raised privately, which does set it apart from other large public events typically sponsored by, and heavily branded with, government funding.

Speakers will include Alec Baldwin, Chelsea Clinton, Andre Agassi, Kimbal Musk (of Elon’s brother fame), and dozens of other influencers, thought leaders and disrupters, who will spend three days brainstorming through an immersive ambiance of unconventional business leadership and meticulously assembled scaffolding.

There is also a Ferris wheel out back.

Taking a meeting high above the conference floor.

Attendees can sit in straight back chairs perched in a circus net 18 feet in the air, adding a frisson of danger to their meeting.

Or they can strap on an Oculus Rift and enjoy an immersive multimedia experience designed by Ubisoft.

The theme for this year’s conference is “choices”, meant to throw a light on the various choices, big and small, that we make hundreds of times each day.

And while the overall vibe of C2MTL does seem a little ultrachic, with its non-stop techno soundtrack and impeccably dressed attendees, what the conference does successfully is push one side of an argument that appears to be  winning out in even the stodgiest business circles over the last several years.

That message is that the status quo simply will not cut it anymore. With the rise of start-up culture, and the installation of unconventional business people like Stewart Butterfield and Andrew Reid and Ryan Holmes as leaders of a new establishment, regular business leaders are taking notice and several are even changing their ways.

One thinks of Canadian Tire, for example, taking out a space in the Communitech Hub and opening a Big Data centre in Winnipeg. Or of megacorporations like SAP adopting both the rhetoric and practice of design thinking and co-innovation.

The wind blowing change through the business community may be amplified for effect at C2MTL, to the point where it resembles a rave more than a business conference, but its message of “innovate or else” couldn’t be more clear for anyone conducting business in 2015.

If that’s a little heavy to take, you can always ride the Ferris wheel.

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