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'No Such Thing as Useless Knowledge': Louisville's IdeaFestival Returns

When Kris Kimel founded IdeaFestival 13 years ago in Lexington, he says it wasn’t an easy concept to explain. The celebration of innovation and creativity lacked a tangible hook – it’s not based on a product, it’s not targeted at one industry. Is it a tech conference? An arts festival? A business seminar? Well, yes.

“It wasn't the easiest thing to communicate," says Kimel."We couldn't give away tickets,” he adds with a laugh.  Thirteen years later, IdeaFestival is a success, evolving from a curiosity to a sold-out event. After its early semi-annual days in Lexington, the festival moved to Louisville in 2006 and became an annual fixture at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts. IdeaFestival 2013 launches Wednesday morning with Scientific American columnist Marina Konnikova's talk on "Mindfulness, Deep Observation, and Sherlock Holmes," 9 a.m. in the Bomhard Theatre. Konnikova is the author of the new book "How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes." Official events conclude Friday evening with a Mother Falcon concert. A full schedule of official and affiliate events is available here.The festival's come a long way since those tentative early days, and Kimel credits recent and significant changes and disruptions in our global economy and technology that only continue to accelerate. A key part of growth and creative thinking, Kimel says, is getting people to think about things differently, and that's IdeaFestival's specialty.“You know, now, there’s been so much disruption, and I think people are really starting to understand that it’s true, the only competitive edge any of us have, whether we’re artists or CEOs of companies, is to out-innovate the competition,” he says.“Cutting-edge innovation, not just marginal change, happens at the connections, at the intersections of different disciplines,” Kimel adds. “It happens at the connection points between business and technology and the arts and design and education. The ability to understand those connections, see them where they might not be obvious and reconstruct them is key.”The loose theme leads to an eclectic slate of speakers, ranging this year from a guerilla gardener to research scientists involved in groundbreaking products like Lipitor and Google Glass. Sometimes it’s the person who catches Kimel’s eye, and sometimes it’s the big idea, but one thing binds them – they can communicate their ideas and experiences to a broad audience in a non-technical way. Kimmel also looks for a bit of provocative flair. He wants speakers who will jar the audience out of their comfort zones.  “The one thing that everybody shares in common, regardless of their background, is that they’re great innovators, and that innovation is innovation, and there’s no such thing as useless knowledge,” he says.IdeaFestival has built a solid audience, but it is a conference on innovation, so the event continues to evolve and grow. The presence of a robust slate of spin-off affiliate events, like today's Louisville Music Awards and Tuesday's StartuPALOOZA, which are not programmed by IdeaFestival, tells Kimel and his staff that IdeaFestival is working.“We’re excited about that happening. We always wanted to see that if we were successful that we would seed other discussions and experiences that we could support in some way,” he says.  Festival passes are sold out, but many affiliate events are still open for registration or require no tickets. Remote viewing tickets for individual speakers are available at the Kentucky Center box office. Events in the Bomhard Theatre will be simulcast in the Kentucky Show! theater next door.(Image via Shutterstock)

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