Sure, almost all of the presentations here at Pop!Tech have been given in some form elsewhere. The information is out there, available mostly for free. There are websites, blogs, articles, videos and books which have all discussed the ideas that are being presented today.

The magic of Pop!Tech is that, unlike most conferences, it brings together divergent speakers discussing diverse topics, but all under a single theme which brings out connections that otherwise wouldn’t be obvious, and partnerships that otherwise would never take place.

There is one experience at Pop!Tech, however, that can’t be replicated anywhere else: live musical performances in the magical acoustics of Camden’s opera house.

If you have glanced at my Last.fm page recently you’ll notice that I’ve been listening to cellist Eugene Friesen a lot lately. It’s not just that I like Eugene Friesen – I like just about anyone with a cello in his or her hand. Like so many others, I have a huge man-crush on Yo-Yo Ma. Not only is he one of the most talented musicians alive today, but he also done more for cultural globalism and cross-cultural creative collaboration than anyone else I can think of.

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After listening to Rufus Cappadocia perform live yesterday – and doing some post-performance googling – I can’t help but wonder if there is some sort of correlation between the cello as an instrument and empathetic curiosity about the rest of the world. Rufus is a perfect example of a “xenophile” – the archetype that Ethan has been advocating and encouraging for so long now.

There is something else about Cappadocia – he plays his cello unlike anyone else you’ll see. (Pop!Tech will soon be putting up a video of his performance.)

If you listen to this interview on NPR, you’ll hear Rufus describe how competing with Spanish street musicians while busking for a living forced him to change his playing style. You’ll also hear with your own ears the eerie similarity between Jimi Hendrix and Middle Eastern music when played on the cello.

This is what traveling in other cultures does. It forces you to innovate. It forces you to question social norms about nearly everything.

I am reminded of a research study that Clay Shirky mentions in his book Here Comes Everybody. I don’t remember the specifics of the study, but essentially, the most innovative ideas in a large corporation come from the employees who spend more time in different departments. If you are surrounded by the same people all day long, it is much less likely that you will think of new solutions. If you are constantly surrounding yourself with new people and new cultures, you’ll surprise yourself by all the smart thoughts that pop into your brain.