Columbia Conference Aims To Inspire Action By Asking ‘What If?’ (Video)

“What if the Olympics were used as an alternative to war?”

“What if McCarthyism and the Red Scare never happened?”

These were questions discussed at The What If…? Conference last year. On Friday and Saturday, the third What If…? Conference will be held in Columbia. Education, technology and entrepreneurship are this year’s topics.

The conference started as a campus organization at Westminster College in Fulton. In 2010, Matthew Murrie and Andrew McHugh co-founded The What If…? LLC, an event, content and consulting company that encourages people to ask questions and take actions.

The previous two conferences, held at Westminster, attracted about 200 attendees each. The founders hope this year’s event draws 300 people to a new location, downtown Columbia concert venue the Blue Note. Tickets to the conference, which also cover three meals and a post-conference concert, range from $55 for students to $249 for VIPs.

When McHugh was a philosophy student at Westminster College in Fulton, he was “angry and frustrated” to see people very apathetic about what they were learning. He talked with Murrie, who’s an English teacher at the school and has teaching experience in five countries. The two men co-founded What If…? In an attempt to reengage students in their fields of study.

Murrie calls himself an “edupreneur,” which he defines as someone who works to “educate and create other entrepreneurs fixing real problems in the world.” Via What If…? Conferences, entrepreneurs can find problems to solve and idea makers can meet potential investors. Attendees from around the nation are set to join this week’s conference.

The What If…? Conference has some similarities to TED events but differs from those in its emphasis on interaction and action during the conference. After each eight-minute presentation that poses a What If…? question, there will be a 30-minute breakout session. During the first 10 minutes, attendees write down ideas sparked by the preceding presentation. In the second 10 minutes, people break into small groups and discuss the things they’ve heard. The last 10 minutes require conference-goers to team up and conceive of three to five steps for taking action on the topic. McHugh said the format aims to promote “active curiosity” by encouraging group thinking and interaction.

McHugh and Murrie both work other jobs to support themselves and sustain What If…?. They say it’s more challenging, but also more meaningful, to operate an idea-based company in Missouri, as opposed to on the coasts where innovation conferences are more abundant.

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