Debbie Millman Introduces New HOW Conference

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You know Debbie Millman: In addition to her active contribution to Print, she’s a tireless advocate for design excellence, an instructor at the School of Visual Arts, a passionate and prolific writer. And in her “spare” time, she’s the curious and insightful host of the online radio show Design Matters.

Earlier this year, Debbie added “conference program director” to her extensive resume. When we asked Debbie to help curate a conference on leadership, she was hesitant. She felt that most conferences on leadership speak to how to win the rat race as opposed to how to really LEAD a remarkable life. We were intrigued, and then she was, too.

The result is her “fantasy” conference: a line-up that assembles the sharpest, smartest speakers and thought leaders she’s ever encountered, in one place, in one conference. It’s a brand-new HOW conference, under the HOW Design Live umbrella.

A Brand New HOW Conference

We recently caught up with Debbie in between events for her newly released book, to ask about her plans for the HOW Leadership Conference—new for 2014:

First, tell us what you’re working on now in your “day” job that’s cool and exciting. Aside from HOW Leadership Conference programming, what’s keeping you busy these days?

My new book, Self-Portrait As Your Traitor, is my latest endeavor. I just had the book launch at Rizzoli, and next week I head to Anderson University in South Carolina for the opening of my accompanying exhibit in the University Gallery and at ARTBOMB in Greenville, SC. In addition, my work at Sterling Brands and The School of Visual Arts keeps me busy as well.

DebbieMillman books

photo by Maria Popova

We have no doubt you’re one very busy individual! What sparked the idea for this event?

I love working on events and bringing people together for inspiration and education. I also love the HOW Conference—I couldn’t imagine not going every year—I feel like the HOWies are family. So it was a perfect intersection of my affection for the conference and my desire to add meaningful discourse to an already awesome annual event that bore the idea of the HOW Leadership Conference.

Sounds like the perfect marriage, Debbie.

We’re super excited about the lineup you’re assembling for the Leadership Conference … you mentioned that these are the very best speakers you could imagine. How would you characterize the people that you’re bringing together?

The HOW Leadership track will be a very special set of presentations featuring some of the most remarkable and innovative thinkers of our time. Speakers have been chosen from a diverse cross-section of disciplines to create an environment for participants that are one part learning, one part observation, one part renewal and one part elevation.

The common denominator that all the HOW Leadership speakers share is brilliance. Malcolm Gladwell in Conversation with DeeDee Gordon, Dan Pink, Seth Godin, Maria Popova, Karl Heiselman, Jake Barton, Paola Antonelli, Moira Cullen and the list goes on … they are simply some of the best minds in design and branding today. It’s like having a dream team of amazingness all in one place, over three remarkable days.

HOW Leadership Conference

Tell us about the format you envision for the presentations … how will that be different from your typical “stand behind the podium” kind of presentation?

The HOW Leadership track will offer something that no other design or branding conference provides: Every speaker will be at the peak of their power; every speaker will be sharing remarkable, real-life stories to inspire, educate and challenge the audience. Each presenter will be on stage for a 30-40 minute presentation and will be followed by a 15-minute Q&A with me. With each session, I hope to leave the audience motivated and moved.

In a broad sense, what will be the topics of conversation at the event? What are the big ideas you expect to discuss?

We plan on talking about leadership from every possible angle. As I was putting together the content and speaker recommendations, I kept in mind one of the greatest (if not the greatest) definition of leadership I have ever come across. It was written by David Foster Wallace, and it is from his masterful book of essays titled Consider The Lobster:

A real leader can somehow get us to do certain things that deep down we think are good and want to be able to do but usually can’t get ourselves to do on our own. It’s a mysterious quality, hard to define, but we always know it when we see it, even as kids…. If you’ve ever spent time in the military, you know how incredibly easy it is to tell which of your superiors are real leaders and which aren’t, and how little rank has to do with it. A leader’s real “authority” is a power you voluntarily give him, and you grant him this authority not with resentment or resignation but happily; it feels right. Deep down, you almost always like how a real leader makes you feel, the way you find yourself working harder and pushing yourself and thinking in ways you couldn’t ever get to on your own. In other words…a real leader is somebody who can help us overcome the limitations of our own individual laziness and selfishness and weakness and fear and get us to do better things than we can get ourselves to do on our own.

This is the mantra I’ve kept in mind in creating this event.

If you had one word to describe the state of mind of the person who walks out of the room after having heard these amazing speakers, what would it be?

How about three? (One is too lonely.) ENLIGHTENED. CONFIDENT. POWERFUL.

HOW Design Live 2014

Learn more about the program of outstanding speakers that Debbie has developed for the HOW Leadership Conference. Register for HOW Design Live before November 11 and save $500 off the
price of a Big Ticket.

Print's 2013 Regional Design Annual

Want more from Debbie Millman? Check out her cover design of the 2013 Regional Design Awards annual issue of Print Magazine, and more Millman designs throughout the issue!