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From TED conferences to South by Southwest, ideas festivals are booming

Names not Numbers has been described as "intellectual viagra"

Day conferences "not conducive to fostering really brilliant ideas," says Names not Numbers founder Julia Hobsbawm

These events are highly prized by some employers for professional development

London, England CNN  — 

It’s a windy and misty Sunday afternoon in March in the beautiful coastal town of Aldeburgh, Suffolk, and bleary-eyed travelers are disembarking from a coach after a two-hour journey from London.

But these are no ordinary tourists. Among them are some of the most influential names in British media and politics, and about 150 of them have descended on this sleepy town, best known for being the home of the late composer Benjamin Britten, to attend the Names not Numbers ideas festival.

Over the next few days, the attendees of this conference, which has been described as “intellectual viagra,” will indulge in heavy, and sometimes provocative, discourse around themes such as creativity, history and even neuroscience.

From the hugely influential juggernaut that is the TED conference to the invite-only Google Zeitgeist to South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, there has been an undeniable boom in the ideas movement, bringing together creative luminaries and thinkers to flex some serious brain muscle.

Julia Hobsbawm, Founder of Names not Numbers

In his book “Where good ideas come from,” Steven Johnson attempts to explain the phenomenon of inspiration and argues that peer-produced innovations is key in the process of developing ideas, by bringing together doers and a network of thinkers to create new things in a collaborative process.

At Names not Numbers, an event sponsored by CNN International, the combination of limiting delegate numbers and bringing together an eclectic mix of speakers to hold 19th century-style salons in a remote location is intended to create a more communal experience than a conventional conference, says founder Julia Hobsbawm.

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Founded in 2009, Hobsbawm, the daughter of Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, describes the event as an “experiential residential” that connects people from “different walks of life – business, culture, media, politics, academia, with each other in a very intensive setting.”

“The day conference is not conducive to fostering really brilliant ideas, so Names Not Numbers has always had the travel and shared cottage accommodation at its heart, as well as excellent content in the sessions themselves,” she adds.

Previous speakers have included the UK’s prime minister David Cameron, philosopher Alain de Botton and the pop star Annie Lennox.

This year, Dominic Young, a tech entrepreneur described it as an “amazing, legendary event,” from which he was “only just coming back to Earth.”

These events are seen as a real force for innovation and harness the power of bringing individuals across disciplines together to hopefully create serendipitous collaborations.