15 Seconds Festival & Aristotle’s Golden Mean

Have you ever been to a professional conference that’s as much about embracing innovation as it is about proceeding with caution? That’s as much about creativity as it is about morality? I’ve just left Graz, Austria, and the 15 Seconds Festival that happened here, in this beautiful little Austrian city that seems to be both modern and old-fashioned at the same time. There’s something really wonderful about maintaining Aristotle’s Golden Mean. Let me explain.

I, of course, don’t speak for the organizers of the event or for the event itself. I speak as an observer, as an attendee, as a human being in this gentle world, one who was lucky enough to spend a few days in the same room with 6,126 other people. And what were we all doing? I think, in a way, we were trying to find balance as our professional and personal lives continue to blur, to speed up, and to change dramatically. Whether it was intended or not, that was the underlying theme of the event. And I found it to be overwhelmingly inspirational.

15 Seconds Festival Layout

Before I delve into the different speakers, I’ll talk about the layout and schedule. Over the course of two full days–9 a.m. to 7 p.m.–and across nine different stages plus two workshop tracks, we saw, learned, and accomplished a lot. The venue, Stadhalle Graz, was spacious and aesthetically pleasing! It made the event that much better because layout of the stages was extremely effective. For instance, in one very large room, four different stages were active simultaneously, one in each corner. Two of the stages were “Silent Conferences,” meaning attendees got a pair of headphones, grabbed a chair, and listened/watched the presentation. The organization of this floor turned the potential acoustic distractions into a feat of sound engineering.

Aside from the stages, the festival had a courtyard with food trucks, an entire hallway set up as an art gallery, another hallway with various local vendors, and floor space for companies promoting their work. Every few feet, in little refrigerators, free still, sparkling, or flavored water waited patiently in glass bottles. The bottles were, of course, upon use, recycled. If you had questions about anything, volunteers were located and available everywhere to help you. The logistics of the entire event were well-thought out and professionally executed.

Speakers

As for the event itself, I won’t talk about every presentation and speech I attended. But I will describe a few to show the variety of the topics. As I mentioned above, this event was all about innovation, and sticking with that theme, speakers like Thibaud Dumas (Into the Tribe) and Dr. Newton Howard (Oxford University) presented their incredible research findings. Thibaud Dumas presented his research on hyper-connectivity and on our addiction to our technology. He warned of the consequences we’re already seeing due to our exuberant phone use and our need to stay constantly connected. Dr. Howard talked about his discovery that light can alter neurons in the brain, so much that light can “turn on or off a diseased state.” His work is ground-breaking in the neurological and medical worlds. Both of these presentations championed the genius efforts of these two men and of the scientific community.

On a stage close to the science one, Josh Higgins talked about his experience as a graphic designer for the Barack Obama Presidential Campaign, his experience as lead designer for Facebook, and his perspectives on culture within a company. Yet on another stage, Steli Efti, CEO of Close, passionately disclosed “The 7 Deadly Startup Lies Founders Tell Themselves and Others.” And, just to bring the point home, on the technology stage, Ralph Echemendia (better known as “The Ethical Hacker”) told his fully-packed corner of the room that we are not very safe at all when it comes to cybersecurity. (Crazy fact from that talk! On average, a company realizes someone hacked them 206 days after the original breach.) 

Now, where exactly does Aristotle’s Golden Mean come in?

It was everywhere, but let’s look at the talks themselves. In every talk I attended, each speaker, in one way or another, advised us to find a balance in our lives. Dr. Newton Howard thinks his new discovery can help humanity tremendously, but if it’s found in the wrong hands, it can cause irreversible damage. Thibaud Dumas didn’t call for the eradication of technology but for the awareness of the consequences of its prolonged usage. Ralph Echemendia didn’t say our cybersecurity efforts will always be useless; he said we keep working to solve the problem not out of financial motivations but out of ethical ones. Stelli Efti warned that as long as founders or entrepreneurs keep lying to themselves, they will never be truly successful. And so on and so on.

On the main festival stage, David Allen opened up the event and taught us that we need to adapt a “mind like water” mentality to avoid unnecessary stress. And on the same stage, Andrew Tarvin closed the event and advised us to be ourselves and find humor in our personal and professional lives to achieve true happiness.

In a world as highly fast-paced as ours, isn’t lower stress and more happiness hard to maintain? And isn’t Aristotle’s Golden Mean more applicable and necessary than ever?

I’ll let those questions echo in your brains as I say my closing thoughts. We live in a challenging age, one in which we oftentimes champion the wrong things in life. Therefore, it’s entirely too easy to lose balance. To maintain the Golden Mean, as I learned from the 15 Seconds Festival, I think we should individually insist on ethical accountability, we should promote free and critical thinking, and we should all daydream just a little bit more. Lastly, I want to give a huge shoutout to my Buckeye Interactive team members for supporting me as I represented our company at this great event! If anyone wants to know about anything in more detail, please comment below!