99U ‘food for the brain’

99U, New York, in which I participated included 25 leading researchers and creatives minds who came together to impart pragmatic insights on how to make ideas happen. There were counter-intuitive insights on idea execution such as ‘Embrace vulnerability’, ‘Stop chasing a passion’, ‘Cultivate a “get better” (rather than a “be good”) mindset’.

Researcher, writer and TED presenter Brené Brown shared her personal experience. She quoted Theodore Roosevelt, a quote that changed her entire perspective: “It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.” Other insights from Brown included:

  • Without vulnerability you cannot create. “There is only one guarantee,” Brown stated. “You will get your ass kicked.” 
  • Find a balance of when to listen to your detractors and when to keep charging forward.
  • The three critics that will always be there are shame, scarcity, and comparison. Know who your critics are and what they will say. Then, quickly move past it.
  • Don’t die thinking–”What if I’d stood up?” 


Tony Schwartz, Founder & CEO of The Energy Project advocated embracing a more holistic way of viewing the world and the creative process.

On a practical level this means training ourselves to strategically switch between right-brain and left-brain thinking when problem solving. He proposes:

  • We each stand on the shoulders of what’s come before us.
  • Frustration leads to incubation. 
  •  Value what is valuable in others.


Michael Wolff, the world-renowned designer and creative adviser who formerly co-founded Wolff Olins, spoke with 99U Editor-in-Chief Jocelyn Glei and Behance’s Chief of Design Matias Corea to share some insights from his incredible design career. Among the nuggets shared:

  • “Brands become successful because of how they make people feel.”  Wolff believes that people won’t remember what you did or what you said, but they’ll remember how you made them feel.
  • “It’s really easy to pat yourself on the back.” One of the pitfalls of young designers is that they are easily satisfied. If you stay satisfied, Wolff warns, you may find yourself knowing a great deal about very little and very little about a great deal.
  • “People can see how you behave.” In a story from his youth, Wolff described the time when he realised everything about your behavior can be seen. He suggests that very few companies realise just how transparent their actions are to their customers.


Craig LaRosa, principal at Continuum, helps to design and develop products, services, and business models. In his 99U master class, he guided us through some strategic ways “service design” can improve customer experience:

  • “When designing services, always be in beta.” Building prototypes and failing is the first step towards success, so always be willing to change and alter your process.
  • Look for the gaps. A successful customer experience is a seamless and holistic one. Avoid outsourcing parts of your service to others. Instead, LaRosa encourages us to think of your business as an all-inclusive ecosystem.
  • Learn from others. Exploring other experiences outside of your industry can help you gain insight. Be mindful when you are purchasing a service from another company in your personal life. You’d be surprised how successful experiences are similar across all businesses.


See my previous blog on 99U

Eric Winton

Director, New Millennium Business

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