At a C2 conference, there is no trade floor, no rigid schedule and absolutely no chance of passively sitting in the audience as a speaker lifelessly moves through their PowerPoint presentation.

Established in 2011, C2 stands for commerce and creativity. It holds its flagship event in Montreal annually and has expanded to other world cities, including San Francisco, Copenhagen and Berlin.

Eschewing the silo mentality that develops in single industry conferences, C2 embraces multi-disciplinary collaborations and swaps out forced networking for something called ‘Braindating’.

It promises guests a sprawling, multidimensional event where attendees can expect to brainstorm with strangers in the dark, be flung into the air on a suspended chair and make new friends while sharing an umbrella with a fellow attendee in a simulated rainstorm.

For Martin Enault, CEO of C2 Asia–Pacific, the conference pushes people outside of their comfort zones and celebrates the results. “One of the key things we do is create the right context, the experiential, that forces people to think outside the box,” he says.

“We focus on how to leverage creativity to transform business, but we also make it a fun environment where the participants are the focus of the event.”

”We focus on how to leverage creativity to transform business, but we also make it a fun environment.”

At any time on the C2 program there are between 10 and 20 activities going on, including the conference’s experiential labs. C2 is adding new labs all of the time, but they can include things like ball pools, which promote what Enault calls “meaningful play”.

Martin Enault, CEO of C2 Asia–Pacific
Martin Enault, CEO of C2 Asia–Pacific.

It’s a new kind of business event for a new business world, one that promotes the value of lateral thinking and creativity.

Enault says these skills are necessary in this new era of consumer power. “Companies like Uber, Airbnb and Spotify, what they’ve done is listen to the consumer and built ideas that respond to demand and put the consumer in control of their experience.

“What we do is help business leaders understand that market reality and how they need to look at the world from a different perspective.

“They need to adapt their mindset not only so they are never surprised by disruption, but so they can actually use it as a tool instead of having it be their enemy.”

Apple’s Wozniak to head Down Under

While the focus isn’t on keynote speakers as much as it is on other events and activities, C2 Melbourne will have some star power with the presence of Emergent CEO Holly Ransom and Lakshmi Pratury, founder of INK, who will deliver presentations.

Ben Shewry (Head Chef of Attica in Melbourne) is also scheduled to speak and Enault says that anyone, not just chefs, can learn from someone like Ben. “Creative learning can be applied to any industry and it’s not about replicating exactly what he’s done. Our event is about understanding how people like Ben are achieving incredible things and helping people apply those same learnings in a masterclass, workshop or live session.

“One of the key takeaways from C2 is being able to see the world in a way that you learn from everything and stop focusing only on what is coming out of your own industry.”

Apple co-founder (and Segway polo enthusiast) Steve Wozniak is another drawcard. “We had Steve at the Montreal event last year and he was one of the highlights of the program.

“His ability to talk from the heart on what he believes in, and to give a different perspective to people, is truly spectacular.”

C2’s link with Cirque du Soleil

The C2 event was initially established by creative agency Sid Lee and Cirque du Soleil. Enault says it maintains some of the circus’s pioneering spirit in its DNA.

“In the same way that Cirque du Soleil turned the old notions of the circus on their head, we’re doing the same with business conferences.

“We still collaborate with Cirque du Soleil daily and the creativity they have is truly remarkable.

“But what is even more remarkable is the fact that the performers put their lives at risk every single time they go on stage. When you apply that to a business setting, you see the possibility of an environment where mistakes are not possible yet you have to be extremely creative.”

The conference’s closing celebrations have also become a real feature, with LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy and Arcade Fire’s Win Butler (in DJ mode) popping up at past events.

C2 Melbourne takes place at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre and surrounds on 17–19 October 2018.

Want more from Martin Enault? We spoke to the CEO of C2 Asia–Pacific about the meaning of creativity and why it matters in business today.