Curiosity-fueled WhatIf conference makes MU debut

“What if Mizzou had a very large incubator for student-run businesses?” University of Missouri Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin asked as he delivered the opening remarks at the Whatif…? MU conference. “How would this place change?”

Loftin encouraged conference-goers to imagine a world with no boundaries.

Matt Murrie, WhatIf founder | Courtesy of Matt Murrie/Twitter
Matt Murrie | Courtesy of Matt Murrie/Twitter

The conference, held at MU’s Cornell Hall on April 11, was the latest offering from Whatif…? 360. Matt Murrie, a former English professor at Westminster College in Fulton, founded the organization in 2010. Whatif has put on several events since, including one last year at Columbia’s Blue Note.

WhatIf events encourage curiosity and are based on the premise that asking questions is at the heart of change. The conferences feature several rounds of speakers posing thought-provoking questions in eight-minute talks, followed by sessions during which attendees engage in discussion about those questions.

Murrie and the Whatif team combined with a group of student organizers to bring the event to MU this year.

Whatif MU attracted about 70 attendees, according to Erin Meyers, one of the conference’s student organizers. The event was free to attend, thanks to support from local sponsors.

Meyers said she was especially excited about the “What if Cheerios were used against you?” talk by Teri Walden, the founder of Columbia-based EnCircle Technologies, which helps individuals with autism develop skills for the workplace.

Speakers with a mix of backgrounds and expertise posed a variety of questions to Whatif conference-goers.

“What if e-commerce was see-commerce?” asked Sarah Hill, chief storyteller and human media strategist for Veterans United.

“What if you could say the right things to the right people at the right time?” wondered Tron Jordheim, chief marketing officer for StorageMart.

“What if all of us could be social entrepreneurs?” asked R. Eric Staley, a professor at MU’s Harry S. Truman School of Public Affairs.

Murrie said he created Whatif to help students implement ideas. Now, he finds himself working to execute his own big idea: growing Whatif.

A Whatif event is scheduled for St. Louis in late May. Conferences are planned for Los Angeles in June and Denver in July. Murrie said he hopes to have two or three dozen universities hosting the events by next year.

“What I’m really passionate about is to convert curiosity into energy,” he said. “Curiosity is this great equalizer. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, where you’re from, what language you speak. We’re all born with curiosity, and we can all become curious.”

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