I recently returned from New Orleans where I attended the IABC Southern Region Conference. Having spent some time in the city earlier this year, I fell in love with the city's vibe, culture and people (not to mention the food). What struck me most on this trip were the amazing stories I heard from the locals. Stories of both extreme heartbreak and inspiration - many could be heard just by talking to people on the streets.
The last night of our trip was spent in a rather Bohemian part of the city called the Faubourg-Marigny. It is here that I met one of the area's most fascinating street poets - Matt. The idea was that Matt would listen to your story, then come up with a poem about your experiences. I'd heard about the concept in other American cities, and decided to test Matt's talents. In a manner true to form of a street poet, Matt was able to craft a poem that was not only witty - but was also able to capture the essence of how we felt on our last night in the city. Overjoyed about the people and places we saw on our trip, yet sad that we would be returning home soon.
In his book "Reinventing Work: the brand you 50", Tom Peters said that "A brand is a metaphorical story that's evolving all the time..." and that "stories create the emotional context people need to locate themselves in a larger experience." This is especially true in a city like New Orleans where stories - and the characters they represent - provide an outlet to the sometimes harsher aspects of life.
A great brand story can be found anywhere. The tagline for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau is "You're Different Here." It's true - although it's also true that things are different there. There's a spirit and resilience in the people of New Orleans that I haven't found matched anywhere else in the world.
One day while wandering through the French Market, I started chatting with a local jeweller. His brand is called "Art Made in the Ghetto." His pieces were amazing, and I ended up buying a few of them. His name is Russell Gore and his story is both heartbreaking and inspirational. Born into the "projects", Gore vowed to become a success and worked his way out of poverty to become a student of commercial art and photography. During Hurricane Katrina, his wife died in his arms. He fashioned a gold medallion out of his wife's gold and still wears it to this day. An incredible example of inspiration and success in the face of extreme poverty and heartbreak.
The story of New Orleans is the story of its people. Life is meant to be lived here. People realize that each day could be your last, and live their lives according to this belief. To experience New Orleans, is to be reminded that people's stories matter. They give life meaning - and give people a reason to believe and move on with their lives.
It is with this spirit and with the spirit of all the Matt's and Russell Gore's out there - that I encourage each and every one of you to just take a moment to enjoy life. Make it spontaneous - and don't forget to dance along the way.