Innovation Leader NY


The past week, I was in New York photographing the Innovation Leader New York Field Study. It was my third time working with Innovation Leader, and I couldn't wait to see my friends from the last two events: the Seattle Field Study and the San Francisco Field Study. Innovation Leader hosts my absolute FAVORITE events to photograph. The experience is incredible, and I'm glad to have had the opportunity to be part of it more than once in my lifetime. I love working with Innovation Leader and hope to continue working together for years to come.

To get to New York, I flew Jet Blue so that I could get some work done using the free WiFi and power outlets. Unfortunately, the outlets barely worked throughout the flight. My laptops, tablets, cell phone, and external travel chargers were all drained from the day's work, and quickly died. To make use of my time, I tried sleeping during the flight, but I had the unlucky middle seat. The seat in front of me was too far away for me to lean against, so no sleep for me.

By the time I arrived to JFK, I could barely keep my eyes open. I walked off the plane, and sat down for a minute. A few hours later, I woke up wondering where I was, yet feeling right at home when I realized I was still at the airport. I went to the bathroom to for my morning routine, cleaned out my empty Aladdin bottle, filled it with ice at Starbucks to make Soylent for breakfast, and settled myself into an awesome semi-private outlet space to finish the work I had planned to do during my flight. Exploring the city would have to wait until my next free day.

Once I finished my work, I ordered an Uber to Central Park. The drivers in New York are crazy! My Uber driver arrived at my destination in less than half the time that my GPS said it would take. Throughout the ride I was gripping my seatbelt, watching the road as the car jumped in and out of traffic and off-ramps, hoping that I wouldn't die! When I arrived at the apartment, I realized that I was missing a few outfits. Apparently, when TSA took everything out of my bag at RNO, a few outfits must have not made it back in. 

Sunday night I did get a full night's rest, but I still had a bit of jet-lag Monday morning. I headed over to check out the first day's shoot location, The Louis; one of the many iconic Manhattan event spaces located on the 4th floor of the Villard Mansion at the New York Palace.

After taking a few photos and meeting the venue's staff, I headed downstairs to relax a little in the majestic lobby. The entire building looked like something out of a fairy-tale book, or the modern day dream of where a princess would stay. As I unwound while basking in the luxurious setting, I became more and more fatigued, and wanted nothing more than to sleep for a few hours.

Once again, my plans to explore the city would have to wait, I needed to find a place to nap. I needed it pronto, and I was even willing to pay for such a convenience. I searched endlessly for a solution, and was almost considering giving up hope. However, I knew that in this techie and innovative world, there had to be a solution to my problem. There's always an app for that, whatever it may be. 

I found something called "Google Naps", but it seemed like either it wasn't real, or it no longer existed... I wish it existed! I thought about booking an AirBnB, but had trouble finding one nearby that was available last minute. Then I thought, "what if I just pay for a long massage, and sleep during it?" I found a local massage/spa/nap-bar place called YeloSpa. I was about to book it on Yelp, then Scott Kirsner texted me back, and saved my lethargic self by telling me about Breather. Within minutes, I booked a Breather only a few blocks away, and got an amazing nap in before the event. I woke up after my nap totally refreshed and prepared for the day's work.

2015.06.25 InnoLeadNY Breather 2
2015.06.25 InnoLead NY Breather nap

"Bre? It's so nice to see you again!" Scott Cohen greeted me at The New York Palace. Seeing Scott made this fairytale-like place feel real, while at the same time making it more magical. My excitement started to build as more people entered the room, while more smiles, laughs, and hugs were shared with familiar faces. I did my best to get headshots of as many people possible, while also capturing moments of old friends reconnecting, new friends meeting, and the happy congregation chatting away. 

I was so incredibly happy and thankful to be there, surrounded by my favorite type of people. I was being wonderfully spoiled by the amount of amazing conversation topics filling the air; crowdsourcing for people within the company, existing problems within the company, disruptive and incremental innovation, idea monkies vs. ring leaders, millennials, getting people to think about data, metrics, collecting data to make better decisions, etc. These are ridiculously my kind of people, and I'm in heaven whenever I'm surrounded by so many great minds and interesting topics. These are the people that change the world, one small innovation at a time, the risk-takers that can take something small and make it big. I'm so lucky that my job allows me to be around the type of people that constantly inspire me to be more than I am. 

The first room to shoot in had the challenge of low, off-colored lighting. Luckily, I'm well experienced shooting events indoor. The reception was a bit more of a challenge... There were multiple window curtains open, creating columns of direct sunlight. In a photograph it makes the person in the light look extremely bright with glowing clothes and harsh shadows. Anyone not in the light appeared extremely dark and dull in comparison. I had to move around a lot to get into just the right positions, so that the light would be at just the right angle to not make the picture look weird.

Near the end of the reception, I started to get extremely tired again. The catering server asked if I was hungry, and I explained "Yes, but I'm vegetarian". He smiled, and went back into the kitchen. Minutes later, he emerged with a custom-made plate of vegetarian food just for me! I thanked him, and he said, "Of course, I can tell you're working hard in there. Why don't you take a little break and go eat?" I went back by the Louis to get away from the cheery noise  and relax for a little bit. Scott Kirsner came over and we finally got a chance to chat and catch up for a bit. Scott said we probably have plenty of shots for today, and I agreed. On the way out, Calvin Smith asked if I was going out to cocktails with the group. Calvin and I had become good friends at the Innovation Leader Field Study in Seattle. I really wanted to go, but I needed to go home and rest up for the next day's activities. 

"Okay, today's the day I'm going to take the subway," I unconvincingly, yet forcibly told myself. During my walk from the apartment to Columbus Circle, I cultivated a list of reasons why I should take the subway, "It's cheaper. I would be saving money. I should know how to use it in case of an emergency. What if Uber ever went down? It's faster anyways, right? I could meet more locals and see what it's like to be a real New Yorker! If I ever lived here, I should know how to get around on the subway to help tourists out..." My thoughts ceased as I came to a halt in front of the cave-like stairway. "Alright, this is it." I took a deep breath in as I warily descended the steps down to the shady subway entrance and followed the flickering lights to the faint glow of the beaten-down payment machine to purchase my ticket. In the end, I couldn't do it. It's like my body froze and my mind shut off. I could hear the eerie whispers and laughter of the shadowy underground figures lingering in the dark, the stench made my empty stomach turn, and it was like being cooked inside an oven so hot that I felt like passing out. I couldn't do it. I backed away from the intimidating payment machine mocking me with its pure existence. Almost bumping into a beggar, I ran up the stairs, and got out of there as fast as I could.

Minutes later, my Uber driver came to the rescue, and we were off to BMW iVentures for breakfast, coffee, and networking. With a sigh of relief, I relaxed my shoulders, began prepping my camera, and confessed my fears while chatting them away with my driver. My Uber addiction was getting worse, and I couldn't help but Uber everywhere. I finally stopped procrastinating, and accepted the fact that this was the way it was going to be. I'm an Uber person now, there's no going back. Perhaps I should join Uber Addicts Anonymous.

When I arrived at BMW, there was a platter full of delicious breakfast items beckoning me over. My taste buds opted for cream cheese with a side of bagel and fruit. There was a dish the size of a pizza stone and as deep as a cake pan that was full of cream cheese. I was in cream cheese heaven! While eating my breakfast, a familiar face approached me, and I was even happier to see my InnoLead friend Luis Solis of Imaginatik, author of the book Innovation Alchemists.

One thing I love about event photography, is that you don't have to try to get people to laugh and smile. Everyone is always so happy to be there. I was wandering the room, snapping away as all these faces were grinning, hands were shaking, friends were hugging, and the overall energy was beaming. I could still see the twinkle in each eye, as they all gathered around for a conversation with Ulrich Quay, Head of BMW i Ventures.

Next, we traveled by luxury coach to Pfizer's innovation center for a conversation with Julio Corredor, Director of Worldwide Innovation, followed by lunch at the award-winning Apella, located within the magnificent Alexandria Center for Life Science. After lunch, I went around photographing all the whiteboard sessions dispersed throughout the building. Once I had enough photographs, I picked one of my favorite sessions, and settled in for an educative and productive break.

With so many bright and creative minds thinking alike and synchronizing in perfect harmony, we didn't want the whiteboard sessions to end. Outside, our luxury coaches were waiting to take us to The New York Times R&D Lab. When we arrived to The New York Times, we walked down a hallway lined with with little screens displaying data on the wall. If you had followed us along, you'd learn that the attendees of Innovation Leader are very talented at packing into elevators like fish. Amongst 20 or so other fish cramming into the elevator, Disney's Joey Hasty joked, "At least take us to dinner first before getting this close!" During our conversation with SVP of R&D, Michael Zimbalist, we found out that the NY Times once beat Yahoo in a hackathon! Though the day was long and full of excitement, I was still feeling more energized than the night before, and decided to go out with the group. 

When we first left the NY Times R&D Lab, I was focused on snapping pics of our members walking through Times Square. When we began to dissipate, I decided to focus on following others, as to not get lost in the exponentially growing magnitude of people overflowing the congested streets. The members soon diminished from my view, lost in the perplexity of foot traffic. With no one to follow, I kept heading in the same direction, until I finally decided to stop and search for the destination on Google Maps. When I stopped, other members of the group bumped into me, and asked, "Are we there yet?" I found out that a decent amount of the group was following me, thinking that I was one of the leaders and that I knew where I was going. "I'm just the photographer," I replied. One of them explained, "Oh, you just seem to know everyone."

On the way over to Urbo, I told them about the past events I shot with Innovation Leader. Brian Romansky and I had a nice long chat during our walk. This was a total relief because I thought he despised me after the other day when he asked me "Don't you know how distracting it is when you're clicking away? You should get a quieter camera." I would totally get a quieter camera, but they are expensive, and my clients would have to pay me more to compensate for the expense. The reality of DSLR cameras is that they have shutters and mirrors that make noise when taking pictures. I plan to someday buy a mirrorless camera like the Samsung NX1 and/or get a sound blimp

When we arrived at the vibrant, lively Urbo restaurant, we were directed up the spiral staircase to a private dining room in the Urbo Loft. The extravagant location was filled vivid lights, and had a marvelous view which overlooked Times Square. It was so great catching up with everyone and finally getting to focus on networking, but of course my photography senses were tingling, and I had to excuse myself from a few conversations to snap some quick pics. After a long, fun night, I copied the photos over to my computer, and then fell asleep to a movie. 

Wednesday morning, my Uber driver dropped me off at Google for breakfast. Unfortunately, me and several others were given the wrong address. The address was Google, but we were supposed to be at the entrance on a separate street. Google New York is HUGE. It took us abut 10-15 minutes to walk to the correct entrance. When we arrived, I was being directed to the front desk to create an identity badge. Like many other corporate headquarters, I had to show my ID and have my photo taken before entering the building. 

Breakfast was held in an Indiana Jones themed area of the office lined with rare frogs & bugs, surrounded by vines, caves, and exotic plants. While the rest of the group went on tour, I stayed back for a conversation with Google VP Alan Warren and Imaginatik CIE Luis Solis.The topic that stuck the most in my memory was how Alan stated that you should get your product out first, then figure out how to make money off of it. Throw it to the wall and and see what sticks. He said that Google literally does this with everything. 

We had the option to travel by luxury coach, but the next location was so close that everyone walked. Much like other accelerators I've ever been too, we watched some awesome startup presentations upon arrival at Work-Bench. Afterwards, we enjoyed some delicious lunch while conversing along the giant picnic bench-like table. For the whiteboard sessions, I was most interested in was Shawn Nason's session on "partnerships," so of course I went there first! Next I headed over to the session on "setting up labs," and last but definitely not least, I joined the room for the whiteboard session on "technology trends" led by Joey Hasty, Digital Innovation Director at The Walt Disney Company. This was the hottest whiteboard topic of the day, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay, even jumped in on some of the topics. The entire room's interest was highly sparked when I answered a question about Soylent, followed by a few minutes speech of why I drink Soylent and how it has improved my quality of life. Many stated that they now are convinced to try Soylent. After the whiteboard session, a few people asked me additional questions, the most interested and inquisitive was Erik Falck of The Hershey Company. We sat next to each other and discussed Soylent almost the entire bus ride over to Quirky!

While I did enjoy the tour and conversation with Chief Marketing Officer Bret Kovacs at Quirky, I couldn't stop thinking that this was it. After this, we would all part our ways, and I wouldn't see these people again for months. I observed all the people who had inspired me the past few days exploring the wooden, brick, and glass walls of the creative sharing environment. Being a photographer gives me a good excuse to be a people-watcher without seeming creepy. Luckily, I get to freeze these special moments to remember for the rest of my life. 

Walking out the door and looking at the shiny white limo-like bus with black windows. It reminded me of the "Gbus to MTV" that I used to always see in SF. It felt so surreal, seeing everyone part ways. Being there with them felt so right, I never wanted it to end. I wanted to keep brainstorming new innovative ideas with all these creative minds, I wanted to keep being surrounded by people that inspired, admired, understood, and supported me. I wanted so badly to get on that bus and be taken to another magical place filled with spectacular people discussing topics that actually matter to me. "It's so cool," Scott Kirsner stopped, and looked back at me, "I feel like your officially part of the team now, Bre." I smiled and chatted with Scott and the others one last time before saying our goodbyes. I ran to the intersection to grab a few shots of the bus before it took off. Watching it depart and fade into the distance was like slowly awaking from an amazing dream, not wanting to open your eyes and to just keep on dreaming. When it was gone, I sat on the curb to process my thoughts and get back to reality. I ordered my Uber, then started hastily recording my memories into the pages of my notebook before they left me too. 

Today, I had originally planned to spend the day playing tourist in the city, and seeing all the sights. It was my last chance, but I was much too tired to do so. Instead, I decided to head back to Sacramento to arrive early for setup at the Gold Rush Paper Show in Sacramento. I ordered a last minute United Airlines ticket from LGA - DEN - SMF. I couldn't wait to get to the La Quinta Inn to finally get some much needed rest!