To passing patrons inside a Schaumburg, Ill., Maggiano's restaurant on February 6, we looked typical -- a small roomful of professionals, discussing big trends in accounting during a full day of presentations, interrupted by the occasional lasagna or iPhone buzz from the office.

But what they might have missed were the giant "Hobbit" slippers that all attendees of the second annual I C (Innovation & Collaboration) Opportunities "unconference" were shuffling around in.

Okay, so that's a big "might."

Our feet were cushioned, but the treading was as heavy as expected from an outspoken group of vendors, practitioners and thought leaders. This year's event, hosted again by New Vision CPA Group and its CEO, Jody Padar, borrowed a bit of J.R.R. Tolkien mythology in its "unexpected journey" theme. The motif came complete with character identities to assume and contracts to sign, but its counterintuitive implication was especially apt.

Comedian CPA Greg Kyte told us to "embrace the suck" during his humor workshop the night before, and while meant as a directive for improvising in comedy, the line resurfaced in later discussion. It takes courage to not only act out a cartoonish mafia dinner scene (as my group did in one of the event's several filmed sketches), but follow through on a business vision that could fail just as spectacularly. Participants shared stories of big risks paying off, including one firm's total shift to value pricing, along with strategies for nudging the uninitiated to explore new business models.

"People don't know what they want," was one of the day's most retweeted lines. "Listen to their pain points." This quickly coined the new phrase "Certified Pain Absolvers" over the active #ICCPA Twitter stream -- a fitting title for the profession's more fearless improvisers, Hobbit-footed or not.

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