A Presenter’s Perspective on the First Dallas House of Genius

This guest post was written by Linda Nguyen, cofounder of YoBelly, a food/restaurant recommendation app . Linda participated in the first House of Genius event. HoG is a monthly event that brings together “brilliant, diverse groups of people to focus their collective creativity and experience to explore, discuss and solve important problems.”  This is a recap of Linda’s experience.

I learned about House of Genius the day prior to their inaugural session and immediately applied to participate. This wasn’t a typical tech networking event or a pitching opportunity. It was a platform to fuel problem resolution through collective creativity – a live forum that provided instant feedback regarding the presenters’ ideas.

Naturally, I sought exposure to this type of environment to develop on a personal and professional basis, because I truly believe that one can never be exposed to enough creativity, have all of the answers, or think their way is the best way. It all seemed mysteriously brilliant. I couldn’t wait to attend my first event to meet the other local entrepreneurs and engage in a brainstorming masquerade session. That was until I got a call at 3pm inviting me to be presenter at 6pm (within 3 hours)…

Now, I initially signed up to participate, not present, so I had to go back and review EXACTLY what takes place and what is required of the presenter. Before I go on, full disclosure must be given about me in case some might say I’m sensitive, which is probably true, now. I’m normally a planner with borderline obsessive-compulsive tendencies and ironically, I also operate at very high speeds. I speak of myself as if the aforementioned still pertains to me and keep forgetting sometimes that I’m four months pregnant; which explains why I’m much slower in execution and everything makes me cry even my mobile app daily downloads count.

So when I read that I’d sit through a round of back-to-back comments, suggestions, and constructive criticism from approximately 20 people whereby I couldn’t utter a word and just listen while they ripped my baby, YoBelly, to shreds, I literally started bawling. Like every big preggo girl though, I wiped my tears, put on my big girl, maternity pants and headed to The Grove for a “mindgasm” and “push to think outside the box” that took the form of a “constructive beating”.

The “Rules of the House” were very oddly refreshing and slightly uncomfortable, probably because we’ve all been conditioned by networking events to give our name, some background information, and swap business cards. At the House of Genius, those are all no-gos until AFTER the sessions have concluded. Something as simple makes perfect sense though, because we all have tendencies to “qualify” people and categorize them as helpful or not as it relates to our personal/professional objectives.

Working on a first name only basis, allows everyone to be more open and accepting of the ideas tossed around without “validating” the “reliability” of the suggestions and comments. As easy as it sounds, it was rather difficult to do, because we’re pushed to talk about everything else, BUT ourselves and the other person. It makes me wonder if we’re all naturally narcissistic when it comes to networking.

The format for the event is a bit different.

There are three presenters. They each get five minutes to present their idea/project with a problem they need help solving followed by three rounds of “feedback”. The first round is for the community leader/presenter panel to ask “clarifying questions” to better understand the idea/project presented and the presenter will address those questions as they are asked. In the second round, the presenter is not allowed to speak and is encouraged to listen with an open mind as they work around the table and approximately 20 community leaders and presenters combined, share their comments, suggestions, and constructive criticism regarding the idea/project. The last round was reserved for open dialogue between the presenters and the panel and was my opportunity to address any of the comments or concerns raised during round two.

I didn’t have sufficient time to prepare as a presenter for HoG and tried to make do with a fifteen-slide deck when this type of event called for just five slides. Needless to say, a lot of the “meaty” details were skipped. They also happened to be the concerns that were raised during the second feedback round where I couldn’t provide a rebuttal. The slides I did have and the information I did cover were NOT the message I wanted to convey based on the panel’s impression of the app.

While I was still recovering from the flu and pregnant, I am certain the knot in my stomach was not a derivative of either. It was so difficult to be open-minded and I struggled to not jump in during the second round. I wanted to say, “We’ve thought about that.” or “Yes, there’s a solution.” SOMETHING! I wanted to say SOMETHING to let everyone know that we’ve considered those issues and we’ve figured out a way to resolve it! If only I had more time to explain… But that’s the reality of it. We don’t have THAT much time or that second chance to explain in the real world.

In the final round of feedback where I was finally allowed to address the comments and suggestions from the panel, I had no idea where to start. There were so many… approximately TWENTY! By the time someone else brought up another idea, I almost forgot what was said three people ago. The ones that WERE fresh on my mind, I did say, “We’ve thought about that” or “Yes, there’s a solution”. For someone who prides herself on being open-minded and accepting of criticism, I definitely was not that night. I was guilty of defending my project, my baby, understandably so. I was also guilty of NOT listening to what is being said and being too quick to react, because I know my baby inside out and I felt like everyone in that room needed to as well.

The presenter/feedback sessions and structure is the secret sauce for bringing out the “genius” in the house. Surprisingly, at the end of it all, I didn’t feel like I’d been run over by an 18-wheeler truck as I anticipated. Put through the wringer, yes. Ran over and lifeless, no. In fact, I feel rejuvenated, hopeful, and wiser! I am now equipped with the knowledge of what I need to do, change, and improve. Most of the time as entrepreneurs, when we go to these tech-networking events to pitch and sell our ideas, sometimes we get good feedback, sometimes bad, but it’s rarely ever RAW feedback. “Raw” as in the kind that pushes us to re-examine ourselves, our message, and the direction of our idea.

It has been such an enlightening experience and an honor to participate in the House of Genius inaugural session. Entrepreneur, or not, I definitely recommend participating to fuel your own creativity and those within your community, because in the wise words of Henry Ford, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”

Apply to present or participate at the next House of Genius at http://houseofgenius.org/location/dallas/

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