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L.A. mindwalks are meetings for the social and socially conscious

Add 'Projectfresh' to the other interdisciplinary brainstorming sessions in L.A. such as TED, deLaB, farmlab and Mindshare LA.

January 06, 2011|Ramie Becker, Special to the Times

Los Angeles, you're getting smarter. Or acting smarter, anyway. Judging by the runaway success of interdisciplinary idea-jam conferences like TED, intellectually spiked salons deLaB and farmlab, and the brainy bacchanal of Mindshare LA, the Los Angeles area has become a hub for gatherings that combine the social and the cerebral. It's a brave new world here for upwardly mobile Angelenos who want to simultaneously make business connections, feed their minds and fill out their virtual little black books.


FOR THE RECORD:
Projectfresh: An article in the Jan. 6 Calendar about the interdisciplinary brainstorming session Projectfresh failed to mention that its Jan. 11 event, "Conscious Capitalism and the Brain," at the Downtown Independent Theater in Los Angeles is co-sponsored by the George Greenstein Institute. —

A "mash-up of the minds" is the overarching goal of many of these events. For example, at TED (which stands for technology, entertainment and design) conferences, 18-minute presentations place avant-garde musicians like David Byrne and Andrew Bird next to world-class cell biologists and cutting-edge game designers. The goal is simply to germinate ideas.

The newest event on this expanding idea-scape, "Projectfresh," comes from Doug Campbell, co-founder of Mindshare LA. The goal of Projectfresh is to give its patrons a chance to probe further into concepts raised during Mindshare's sometimes-bewildering mix of presentations. Whereas Mindshare sets Wiccan high priestesses next to cosmological physicists, Projectfresh tones down that frenetic atmosphere. Of course, drinks and mingling follow.

"The evening's format is definitely more single-topic focused and action-oriented," says Campbell, "Instead of three or four short and punchy presentations about wildly diverse topics, Projectfresh nights will focus on one topic, more or less, and allow for more discussion from the audience."

Following the presentation, Projectfresh attendees can brainstorm on implementation of the ideas they've just been marinating, and be given a follow-up action to complete before the next event. Campbell adds, "It's an experiment on how to turn inspiration into action."

This Tuesday's topic, "Conscious Capitalism and the Brain," acts as both a primer on socially and environmentally responsible business models, and as an introduction to the emergent field of neuroeconomics — the study of human decision-making in the marketplace. The evening's 90-minute presentation plunges into a subject very much on the minds of Generation Y entrepreneurs and scholars alike, led by Claremont Graduate University's neuroeconomics professor Paul Zak and neuro-consultant M.A. Greenstein, who will discuss the complexities of coupling personal values with profit.

Greenstein explains, "In an age where we are seeing massive amounts of greed and irresponsibility on the part of Wall Street and sub-prime markets, how do we develop a profit motive that acknowledges noble purpose, people and planet?"

Also engaging in the discussion is Nick Kislinger, who served as chief of staff to the California Secretary of Education under then- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He's also the co-founder of the Hub LA, an online and real-time "habitat" for entrepreneurial innovators.

The idea of conscious capitalism is the pursuit of a so-called triple bottom line: people, planet and profit. It sounds good but certainly isn't free of controversy. Plenty of critics say that profit-oriented pursuits cause the very problems they attempt to solve, including such eminent theorists as provocateur Slavoj Zizek, who lays out a considerable argument that the idea of "socially responsible business" is something of an oxymoron. Still, the idea of a more charitable and environmentally responsible consumerism is hitting home with many people, including old-school businesses. For example, new company BeDo (bedo.com), run by a former Coke CMO, helps big companies like Johnson & Johnson become more socially responsible.

First the discussion, then the application. Since it's Projectfresh, that means cocktails on the theater's rooftop, which appeals to the social creature in all of us.

Mindshare LA's co-founder Adam Mefford sees these real-time gatherings as representing the next level in social networking, post- Facebook. The 30-year-old designer and entrepreneur lives in downtown's cultural hub, the Brewery, and has witnessed the rise of several such salon-style gatherings.

"This trend blends the pride people feel for their profession with their baser carnal motivations, offering progressive Angelenos the opportunity to preen their smarts while in the search for mates," he notes. "Many of these people are incredibly busy, they don't 'go out' very often, so when they do, they want it to be a quality experience, and be around like-minded people."

Mefford's soon-to-launch endeavor is a series of events called "Currency," which will provide an arena for entrepreneurs to discuss their projects.

Other local cultural institutions, such as downtown L.A. architecture school SCI-Arc, have also been hosting mash-up style discussions on weighty urban issues for years. The fallout? Surely the city's young and young-at-heart must be learning something.

Or they're getting some dates out of the deal. Being business savvy and socially conscious has become sexier than ever — as well as exceptionally au courant. Programs like Projectfresh are filling a need that is only getting bigger. In a recent Time magazine article, "What Gen Y Really Wants," writer Penelope Trunk says about young adults: "They just want to spend their time in meaningful and useful ways, no matter where they are."

calendar@latimes.com

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