City Weekend

Hold the business cards! Hong Kong professionals ditch typical networking to get inspired and connect

Group draws on volunteers worldwide for its events and rides on popularity of TED talks to tap into desire for shared purpose

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 November, 2017, 10:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 5:31pm

For anyone who’s sick of conventional networking events in Hong Kong that feel like a soulless marathon of business card dissemination, an alternative has been gathering momentum in the city over the past three years.

More people are gathering through a monthly talk series by a start-up called CreativeMornings, listening to inspirational ideas over coffee and breakfast.

Riding on the popularity of TED talks, the free networking community has grown to 177 chapters in major cities all over the world. All chapters are run by volunteers, mostly comprising young professionals eager to feel inspired and share a sense of purpose.

“When I come and see people having a really good time, being inspired and witnessing a really awesome talk myself, that’s the rewarding part,” says George Derisley, an accountant who works for a local tech firm.

Derisley served as host for a CreativeMornings event last Friday at a space in Sheung Wan operated by co-working group Garage Society.

The combination of bite-sized talks, creative performances and free breakfasts has proved a winning formula: the Hong Kong branch recently celebrated its third anniversary with a morning themed on death, perhaps ironically.

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The theme did not, however, dampen attendees’ spirits. About 100 people, mostly young, well-dressed expat professionals, mingled over artisan flat whites and organic granola before the talk. The vibe was hip yet relaxed, with not a suit in sight.

Derisley is quick to explain that the themes for each talk are chosen centrally and then relayed to all the CreativeMornings chapters around the world for each one to interpret in its own way. Previous themes tended to be inspirational: “Beyond”, “Survival” and “Serendipity”.

For Derisley, the most important thing about the community is that it remain open and inclusive to “everyone from every walk of life, every industry, every demographic”, regardless of whether one works in a creative field or not.

“We want to basically have a good event and allow people to escape and meet others in a relaxed setting,” he explains, noting the goal is to create a platform for doing good, such as featuring a sustainable company or a message about equality.

In that vein, making long-term friends is just as important as dropping business cards on whomever shows up. Another major draw is the event’s flexibility; audience members are never obliged to attend several months in a row.

“There’s definitely a community feel, but with no strings attached,” he adds.

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The organisers are explicit in telling invited speakers to steer clear from making a business pitch. “People come to have a good time and be inspired,” Derisley says. “They come knowing that they’re not going to be sold a product.”

“Many companies are realising the benefits of creativity and innovation and are making a conscious effort to attend and partner up with events like CreativeMornings. Other industry trends like the growing number of start-ups, freelance career makers and co-working spaces all contribute to our growing popularity.”

Many companies are realising the benefits of creativity and innovation
George Derisley, CreativeMornings

The event’s creative focus was evident in its opening 10 minutes featuring immersive performance artist “I am”. Next came a 20-minute presentation by businessman and author Simon McCartney, who detailed his death-defying experiences climbing mountains in Alaska in his youth.

“You have to be really determined and prepared to commit totally to what you’re doing,” McCartney recalled of his extreme mountaineering past. “When it comes to climbing like that, there’s no backing out once you start.”

Climbing has enhanced his life in several other ways, he adds. “It helps me deal with risks. I go into some very high-pressure business situations where people become very nervous, and it doesn’t trouble me to argue over millions of dollars.”

McCartney was part of a pioneering first in ascending Alaska’s Mount Huntington in 1978. He returned to the US state in 1980 to scale the southeast face of Denali, which measures above 20,000 feet in elevation and is the highest peak in North America. He braved sudden avalanches, frostbite and starvation, as detailed in his recently published memoir, The Bond.

“People climb for different reasons,” he said to a crowd receptive to hearing the motivational tale. “I was clearly trying to prove a point to myself.”