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The storytellers will make your heart sing…and make you cry. You will make friends, you will develop new contacts, and you might even embark upon a journey that takes you places you never could have imagined. – Nicole Radziwill

We want our Collaborative Innovation Summit filled from stage to seats with people sharing transformation ideas and stories,” says BIF Creative Catalyst Saul Kaplan.

After all, it was out of the Summit that the hashtag #RCUS was coined — Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects. And from now until the Summit takes place in September, we’ll run a series of short interviews with former Summit attendees who’ll tell us in their own words why the BIF Summit is a must-go event and how #RCUS has changed their lives. Next up, Nicole Radziwill, Assistant Professor of Integrated Science & Technology at James Madison University, finishes the RCUS story series with an epic tale of serendipitous connection.

Here’s her answer to the question, Why got to the BIF Summit?

What I like most about the BIF summits is that they are magical. The storytellers will make your heart sing…and make you cry. You will make friends, you will develop new contacts, and you might even embark upon a journey that takes you places you never could have imagined. My long and meandering tale aims to share some of this magic with you — and I truly believe it’s only beginning.

A BIF RCUS story always starts with a “Patient Zero” — and the person who started the cascading ripple of an impact that’s changed the direction of my life to date is BIF8 storyteller, Valdis Krebs.

I can’t even remember how I met Valdis, but I know it was online and most likely in early 2008. I was a Ph.D. student working on my dissertation, using the methods of network analysis to develop a metric that would assess whether the quality of an academic journal was improving — or not. Valdis is an expert in network analysis, and I was honored to receive his guidance and develop a friendship. After he participated as a BIF8 storyteller he was bubbling about his experience!

“You’ve got to go!!” he told me. “You would fit right in. These people are all highly engaged, interesting, down-to-earth innovators and they’re all doing something different. You should plan to go this year. Really.”

Valdis is an expert matchmaker in his social and professional network. He’s one of those people that you really should listen to when he makes a comment like that. I didn’t make it to BIF8, but I was definitely intrigued, so I watched some of the videos online. I started to get that effervescent feeling of excitement that comes when stories spark subtle and profound insights that pervade your entire being.

Then, in November 2012, I got a message from BIF’s Chief Catalyst Saul Kaplan — who wanted to chat about my views and experiences in relating quality to disruptive innovation and business model innovation. We didn’t have an agenda when we talked, but he was just such an inspirer that I knew at the end of our conversation — I needed to put BIF9 on my agenda for September of 2013. And I did.

And that’s when the real RCUS began — the magical, serendipitous chain of BIF Summit-enabled collisions that’s connected me with my tribe of free-spirit innovators.

In March 2013, my partner Morgan and I presented a workshop at the headquarters of the Burning Man Project in San Francisco. We shared insights and techniques for how to bring the spirit and principles of the annual Burning Man event in Nevada into higher education. After the talk, James Hanusa and Heather White from the Burning Man Project introduced us to Evonne Heyning, who was working on a startup in Los Angeles to help people better personalize and manage their learning paths. They also told us that we really needed to meet Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, who was experimenting with new models for education and engagement in his Downtown Project in Las Vegas. (But how would we ever meet Tony? I had no idea. It seemed completely impossible.)

In May 2013, I told Valdis this was my year. I was going to BIF9. Would he be there? If not, did he know of anyone I should meet? He told me not to worry — I’d meet exactly who I needed to meet. Later, in August, Morgan and I spent the week at Burning Man in a camp organized by Evonne Heyning.

BIF9 was just three weeks after Burning Man. I was convinced that nothing could compare to the intellectual transformation I’d experienced out on the playa — that there could never be a group of people so engaged, so stimulating, so full of the desire to reshape our world through new models for business, and education, and inter-being. But I was wrong!

That’s what I found out when Peter Hirshberg got on the BIF9 stage to share his visions for the new cities of the future, the kinds of models that were paraded proudly at World’s Fair events in the past. As a key example, he provided Black Rock City, the temporary city created by Burning Man participants every year! He had been camped close to us on the playa just a couple of weeks earlier — and so had BIF9 storyteller Ping Fu, the advisor to Marc Andreessen and leader of an inspiring 3D printing company!

As I stumbled through the Trinity Rep Theater into the next BIF9 coffee break, in a daze of excitement to be around such intriguing and passionate people, I overheard the guy next to me say to his friend, “Wait for me, I just want to say something to Tony Hsieh really quickly.” I looked to my left, where Tony stood only five feet away.

Of course, I took the opportunity to say hi. I told him that James and Heather from the Burning Man Project had encouraged me to meet up with him to find out more about the Downtown Project. “Oh, that’s great!” he said. “Talk to Amanda Slavin over here, and tell her to get you signed up for Catalyst Week in March. We’re having a lot of the Burning Man Project people visit then.” Catalyst Week was another amazing experience — and we got to spend even more time with Peter Hirshberg, the speaker we had also met at BIF9.

But the serendipitous connections didn’t stop there. At Catalyst Week, we spent time with Duleesha Kulisooriya, who is Head of Strategy and Research for the Deloitte Center for the Edge. He works with and co-authors books with John Hagel, a BIF7 and BIF10 storyteller, so we’re very excited to spend some time with John soon. Turns out, John is also friends with our Burning Man camp coordinator, Evonne Heyning — and we camped with Duleesha at Burning Man just a couple of weeks ago!

The storytellers are not the only amazing people you’ll meet at BIF — the attendees are also top-notch. One of my favorite connections from BIF9 is Matt Murrie, the guru of the “What If?” conferences. (Everyone should follow him on Twitter at @MattMurrie — his feed is fun and inspiring.)  Matt also connected me with Steve Cooperman, whose Black Mountain SOLE project seeks to create alternative educational environments. All of us who are interested in reinventing the experience of higher education is really starting to come together for beautiful discussions. I can’t wait to see what new models come out of it.

The RCUS at the BIF Summit catalyzes so many ripples of impact! Morgan and I are so excited that BIF10 is coming up in just 8 days. We can’t wait for the next batch of random collisions…or to see what they stir up throughout the rest of the year to come.