The opening day of a conference dedicated to big ideas, futurism and economic development drew more than 1,300 participants at the Raleigh Convention Center, a record turnout for the 25th year.
Created by former Gov. Jim Hunt to incubate forward-thinking ideas, the Emerging Issues Forum has become a wonkish happening and has drawn marquee-name speakers such as author Thomas Friedman and scientist Carl Sagan.
The keynote speaker Monday was Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a moderate Republican who is widely considered a leading candidate for the 2012 presidential election.
"We live in a time of change that's unlike any that human culture has ever seen," Pawlenty told the audience.
This year's conference was dedicated to the theme of creativity and included participation from artists and cultural organizers from across the state. As the specter of unemployment and the recession hovered over the conference, speakers touted brainpower as the path to recovery.
Here are some highlights from Monday's session:
Conference organizers distributed a CD of music recorded by North Carolina natives including Thelonious Monk, James Taylor, John Coltrane, Ronnie Milsap and Earl Scruggs.
Nnenna Freelon, a jazz vocalist and six-time Grammy award nominee who lives in Durham, offered an impromptu lunchtime rendition of an old-time spiritual she learned from her grandmother. During the lunch break, Freelon was interviewed on stage by North Carolina native Charlie Rose, the PBS talk show host, with her husband Philip Freelon, one of the nation's most prominent architects.
Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Denniston advocated greater spending on green energy. "We can continue business as usual, and we'll be buying windmills from Europe, batteries from Japan and solar panels from China," Denniston said.
Roger Martin, a professor at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, denounced what he called the self-serving myth that this nation lags in engineering and science. He said the key to creative thinking is the study of literature, history and other liberal arts.
"We seem to be headed to a world where we're ever-exalting analytic thinking over creativity," Martin said. "If anyone here thinks we're going to fend off the challenge from India and China by being more analytical, then I have one thing to say to you: Good luck."
Entrepreneur-author-speaker Tom Kelley, who has written two books with "Innovation" in the title, said that endorsing creativity means being willing to accept failure. He said the creative spirit is built on a foundation of empirical data. "Go out and see what humans do as opposed to what the marketing brochures say they should do," he said.
john.murawski@newsobser ver.com or 919-829-8932