What can you say about a business conference that features a Bhakti monk, a doctor who makes house calls, a DIY drone maker, and a cognitive psychologist who works with monkeys? Only this: You must be at Hello Etsy.
Top it off with America’s cutest jazz combo, a slew of creative workshops, and a sold-out house of very active makers, and I’m pretty sure it was the most unique event in New York on March 22-24.
“Being CEO of Etsy is the biggest privilege of my life,” said Chad Dickerson as he kicked off the event Friday evening. He talked about the human side of business and recognizing that our obligations to each other and the planet shouldn’t change inside corporate walls. “We are challenging the notion that people can’t come first in business.”
From sharing the story of Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 movie Modern Times, a satire about hopelessness for a future where man is enslaved by machine, to Gandhi’s belief in “production by the masses, not mass production,” to the stories of Etsy sellers around the globe, Chad described a world where the “people-powered economy” Etsy is creating isn’t just about commercial activity, but about the humanity involved in making a life, not just a living.
“I believe that today we are moving from the era of Chaplin’s impersonal, dehumanized work into a new world where spending time with people you care about, quality of life, and making money can all be connected under a new way of doing business. We’re in the early stages of re-humanized work, and the new industrial revolution is bringing people back to the forefront. Let’s make business more personal, more beautiful, and more joyful.”
Then, in a performance that can only be described as athletic, Jeremy Rifkin skipped the stage altogether and worked the main floor of the auditorium. He described a third industrial revolution, where authority is no longer top-down, but networked and peer-to-peer, with power literally and figuratively distributed.
Chad and Jeremy established two themes that flowed through many talks in the days that followed: the emergence of non-hierarchical, networked business structures — including all manner of formal and informal sharing — and love, including love of one’s work and love for one another.
Sharing and love? Is that any way to run a business? After a couple days at Hello Etsy, I think maybe it could be. Here are a few highlights of how those themes played out in the events that followed.
On Saturday morning, Yale primate researcher Dr. Laurie Santos stopped the show with “Overcoming Your Monkey Mind,” an investigation into why we make bad decisions. Her video of Monkey A flinging food at a researcher who consistently gave a tastier treat to Monkey B left us howling, reminding us that fairness is not an abstract concept, but is viscerally felt.
We heard from Jay Parkinson, MD, who is developing a new model for medicine. Employees on the service can schedule an appointment on the Sherpaa website, and a doctor will show up for a house call! You can follow up by Skype or email as often as you want, throughout your entire professional relationship. Jay had compelling data to suggest that when doctor and patient know each other well, good health is fostered and cost is reduced.
A major highlight of the conference was Saturday night’s speakers’ dinner at Etsy. On entering Etsy’s offices, I felt the way Elvis fans probably feel when they visit Graceland for the first time. I loved the handmade desks, the yarn-bombed heating ducts, and the solid conversation I had with Josh Wise, Etsy’s office ecologist. The food was delicious and the setting cozy with handmade napkins and dozens of personal touches. We were joined by the fabulous designer Eileen Fisher, whose daughter, Sasha, had suggested she attend Hello Etsy.
On Sunday morning, Michelle Long, Executive Director of the Business Alliance of Local Living Economies, gave a truly heartfelt talk on “entrepreneurs in love.” The best way to create lasting change, she said, is to establish a safe place outside the dominant system and model something new. What’s most important? How we treat each other. She quoted Gary Snyder: “Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there.”
I spoke that day, too, on sustainable patterns of living, and showed some vital connections we enjoy but might not always think about, like our connections to agriculture, as so many of Etsy’s beautiful items reveal.
Majora Carter described the pitfalls of urban revitalization, which often tends to gentrify neighborhoods and displace people, or reinforce poverty through subsidized housing. She introduced the fascinating concept of a “hinge” — a concentrated project that can swing a whole neighborhood in a better direction, providing its residents with the reasons and the means to stay.
That afternoon, the Pratt campus blossomed with workshops on everything from how to start an Etsy shop, to how to get funding, and how to stretch and prime a canvas.
So what did I get from Hello Etsy? I made some new friends. I heard some genuinely engaging concepts — I mean, sign me up for those house calls, Dr. Parkinson. But most of all, I was struck with how unique and unprecedented it all was. I had spent the weekend with a group of adults who talked about love and sharing, freedom and respect, making a living and making a difference. If this is the future of business, you had me at Hello.