Archive for April, 2010

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“DESIGN THINKING IS THE NEXT COMPETITIVE EDGE”

April 29, 2010

When I left the corporate world, I freed my innovative designer self from the constraints of keeping thoughts of consistent outcomes, proof, and best practices guide my every waking moment, and allowed myself the freedom to see the world as a place that welcomes new ideas and lets me do meaningful work to make a difference.

Oh yes, the successes of that past life left me with an understanding and appreciation for that old world of efficiency and predictability. I continued to use those skills to manage my business, as well as when interacting with my client and designing events to meet desired outcomes. So instinctively, I have been able to maintain a good balance between those two differing mindsets. Little did I know that would become the wave of the future, predicted by some to be the evolving business model that will fuel the “New Economy”.

But lately in what I term my own version of “When I get old, I shall wear purple”, I may have allowed myself to tip a bit too far into this “wonderfully open and optimistic way of being.”

So it was good to be reminded by Roger Martin in his recent book THE DESIGN OF BUSINESS of some great guidelines – that will help make his prediction that “Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Edge” come to fruition.

As background, Martin postulates there must be balance between Innovation which explores problems whose solutions can’t be found in past experience or proven by data and the Efficiency model most companies obsessively rely upon. Both are needed to regularly generate breakthroughs and create value for an organization. His model proposes a reconciliation between the prevailing point of view of the Creatives who deliver a world of originality and invention but normally are not sustainable long-term, and the tried and true Analytical organization that build size and scale and carefully maintain status quo.

Martin suggests that neither do well alone in today’s world and the business world would be well-served to integrate these two diverse approaches into one in order to achieve a competitive edge going forward.

What particularly resonated with me were five things that designers must do to be more effective with colleagues that sit at the extreme of the reliability spectrum in the corporate world:

1. Reframe the extreme views as a creative challenge. Designers must embrace the challenge to find creative ways to help the analytic see value in looking at a creative solution

2. Empathize with that colleague. Too often the designer shows lack of respect for the analytic which only leads to rejection. Designer must be mindful that we are responsible for understanding the client needs and wishes. Engage to learn what they are worried about; what is their greatest hope or worry. Learn what would be minimally acceptable conditions needed for them to embrace the design solution. How much risk will they be willing to absorb?

3. Learn to speak their language. Productivity, consistent outcomes, proof, best practices are comforting. Break-through, new to the world, and “awesome” are considered dangerous, and uncertain or guesswork are downright scary!

4. Translate unfamiliar terms of the design world into familiar terms the analytic can understand. Learn to use analogies as a means to provide substantiation based on past events. Encourage sharing of data and reasoning but not conclusions.

5. When it comes to proof, use size to advantage.

In summary, designers need to appreciate legitimate differences, seek to communicate on client terms, using tools with which they will be familiar, and stretch out of our own comfort zones to understand and interact in the comfort zones of the client.

This all makes sense to me and I am chagrined to think I needed to be told that so many opportunities for improvement lie before us. These are simple suggestions to keep in mind that can help each of us in this industry. If we want corporate business, we need to understand corporations and their needs and put away forever, the idea that a great idea for a WOW event will automatically liberate those buckets full of dollars being stored someplace to fund parties. We need to use our skills to understand our customer before we can see the pathway to meet their needs.

At the same time, since I know advancing knowledge is a core drive for me, I’m glad I stumbled onto this whole new approach to design of business philosophy that has been growing and tested in universities across North America for the last 5-10 years. I think I can catch-up and get back on track so I can remain an informed and competitive player as the economy goes through this latest great transformation – predicted, by the way, before we knew about the Great Recession of 2007-2010!

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THE DAWN OF A NEW BEGINNING

April 28, 2010

Little did I know last February, when after a disappointing local ISES chapter meeting, I blogged about risk management in “The Over-Looked Competency”, that ISES and its media partner, THE SPECIAL EVENT would soon have an opportunity to demonstrate to all members, attendees and followers their expertise level in that discipline. This morning, we have a live and un-folding case history, that handled effectively, could become a break-through to elevate our level of professionalism as event designers and producers.

Today, in the context of S.B. 1070 just passed by the Arizona legislature, the selection of the theme of TSE 2011 seems foretelling of a significant situation that will impact the show.

No matter which side of the immigration discussion we each represent, we now have a “risk situation”. For two days, we have witnessed reactions in the national press, and by last night we learned that the first upcoming conference planned for Scottsdale had cancelled. By this morning, our industry on-line trade publications have started to run news and opinion articles about whether groups planning conferences, meetings or events in Arizona should cancel and rebook elsewhere. What initially may emerge as an ethical vs. financial discussion, most likely will be discussed and rehashed for some time, but I expect that cancellation and attrition clauses will so heavily impact the financially-challenged conference organizer, that after much discussion, the TSE will remain in Phoenix.

And so, the Dawn of a New Beginning in Arizona based on immigration crises initiated by the passage of S.B. 1070 can become The Dawn of a New Beginning in providing some significant learning opportunities at TSE – if the organizers are willing to look past the standard learning levels of their conference and make this a powerful learning experience.

ISES in its name alone reflects the multi-culture and multi-racial makeup of members and many attendees of TSE. There will be those that may be threatened by the risk of racial-profiling. I expect there will be those in the international community that will question who we are as a country. And there may be those that could conceivably fall into the net cast widely in Arizona, and for one reason or another may not have proof of citizenship or international documents showing visitor status on their person at all times.

This may well impact the TSE on two levels.

The first, of course, after negative PR, is the potential negative impact on attendance from those that feel threatened or wish to protest the law. Setting aside the emotion involved in that, this could represent a major financial risk to TSE and potentially an educational risk for those among us that recognize that our International members, just by the nature of being international, represent a large body of the forward-thinking members of our organization. If they don’t attend, why would I go if my purpose is to engage with and learn from these people?

The second impact comes on-site during that conference, and the exposure attendees may have to the implementation of this law. If one’s path crosses those of a law enforcement officer, and there is reason to believe you are not a citizen, it will now be illegal for that enforcement officer NOT to ask for your papers. If you do not have them with you, under S.B. 1070, you may find yourself apprehended.

This Arizona law represents to TSE a first level of risk – that which can be minimized with good planning practices. Any failure to assess, evaluate, create contingency and emergency action plans, and develop communication plans broadcasts incompetency within our industry.

I urge TSE to give serious thought to this situation, renegotiate as you can from a position of strength, then focus on contingency planning and worst-case scenarios to minimize these risks. And then, add the situation to your education track – not to broadcast how well you handled it and tell attendees how to do it right, but to start a dialogue between organizer and attendee – reach out to those who questioned, or have been impacted or have expertise to question and share points of view so that all involved leave TSE with an impactful learning experience –that Dawn of a New Beginning that gives us all something to take away that we can begin to implement back home to start making a difference.

It would almost be worth attending the TSE 2011 Out Reach Meeting next month as a spectator to witness how plans to step up to the challenge emerge and are shaped in a responsible and effective manner.

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I’M NOT GOING THERE AGAIN…

April 26, 2010

This winter, while attending an industry conference, I was approached by the organizers to see if I was interested in assisting them with developing the educational track for their 2011 conference. I was, and wanted to hear more, so we agreed to talk further once the planning began.

So for the remainder of my stay, I carefully observed the educational practices in place, and recognized, as I expected, that it reflected a 20th century structure that adhered to learning principles known to us in the 1980s. The experience was a fairly standard – what Jeff Hurt would call a Walmart experience-with some personal interaction at registration which disappears into an abyss as one travels the maze of long halls trying to find, amongst the sea of “something for everyone”, a transformational message. You know, the kind that inspires you to do something differently once you return home to your office.

As with most large conferences today, efficiency trumped effectiveness, with no balance of formal and informal learning formats – except for those few moments we, the attendees, created on our own. Logistics and seminar “time slots” trumped audience involvement, engagement and empowerment, leading to some pretty ineffective attempts at adult learning. At best, it took on a format appealing to a novice in the industry with little apparent thought to methods needed to retain attendees, add new followers and grow the conference. At worst, it displayed most of the conference planning myths that serve as roadblocks to learning.

Although I did have some concerns, I was energized and eager to take on this challenge, as I knew my longtime experience in the industry and interest in adult learning could make a difference. Ever cautious, however, to not make a hasty decision, I carefully laid out my concerns and devised conversational questions that could help me glean whether or not the concerns could be alleviated or overcome. I tried to hold back my desire to facilitate change, with common sense and thoughtfulness about how I could mitigate the risks involved to them, and to me. Then, off I went to discuss the potential opportunity.

From my perspective, the conversation did not go the way I hoped, but was what I certainly expected. Through-out the discussion, concerns grew rather than were put aside. I returned to my office, still enthused about the opportunity, but knowing full well, the pit in my stomach was the intuitive signal that this was not a project for me.

I recognize that the analytical organization is built to maintain the status quo, and I would need to work extremely hard to strike a balance between that and my thoughts if I wanted to change the structure and process to move forward towards my own vision of results. At the same time, fulfilling my responsibility to understand and respond to client needs and wishes, means I need to appreciate the legitimate differences, empathize with the client, and have time to show the advantage of change and what it would mean in their world. Neither time nor proposed compensation support that I would be able to accomplish this.

So I wrestled all weekend with what I should do. Only after another night of “sleeping on it” did I clearly see this morning, that I need to say no. Although I strongly believe there are no “right” answers, and that once we began the process, we would need to move to a collaborative solution, I also know patience is not a strong suit of mine, and ultimately, disdain for those not open to change triumphs in my world and rises to the surface. At all costs, I want to avoid that. I like these people; I like their organization. I like what they are trying to do in the industry. I shouldn’t force my passion for and commitment to new adult learning models upon them if they do not see the benefit. I’ve been there, done that, with not so good results once this past decade. I am not going there again. At the same time, right choice or not; I am disappointed I am not going to be involved.

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A WHOLE NEW WORLD

April 25, 2010

Over the years, I have been fairly active in the arts and culture scene here in the metro area. From long time memberships at the MIA and MHS to rotating season tickets for the Guthrie to the MN Orchestra, Hennepin Trust Theatres and local dance and theatre companies through-out the area, I sampled and enjoyed what MSP had to offer. I’ve had concert series tickets, dance and lecture series tickets at the University, and was a frequent visitor to the Dakota at Bandana in its first iteration-not to mention the occasional event from the Penumbra to ballet to a jazz concert to an exhibit at the Science Museum, the Walker, or the Soap Factory that caught my interest. I’ve experienced the wonderful world of the Capri with friends, many a neighborhood arts crawl, and a variety of culturally diverse pageants and celebrations-not to mention some absolutely wonderful fund-raising events that support the local arts and culture scene. I was even privileged to assist with events in conjunction with the opening of the new Guthrie and the re-newed Walker.

But one medium I have never experienced either here or during my extensive world travels in my youth was the opera. I am not sure why – mostly, I think, because it seemed intimidating. I had never been exposed; I was sure I would not understand it; and more certain that I would not like it. Although I had been intrigued by the Grapes of Wrath production, time passed, and I missed the opportunity to experience it.

But last night, a dear friend invited me to the closing performance of the Minnesota Opera season – Salome, and a whole new world opened up before me-proving once again, I guess, that it is never too late to learn! The English captioning certainly helped- as did I think, that it was in German- where if I really concentrated, I could understand a phrase or two along the way. I was captivated and so glad I accepted the invitation.

This morning, I found myself re-reading the program and making a note to get tickets – at least for the Garden of the Finzi-Continis next April – if not some of the earlier productions!

So another wonderful Spring Weekend – from a field trip with a friend to explore Target Plaza and traverse its entire circumference; then on to a visit to the Arboretum to see the 36,000 blooming tulips, early spring blossoming trees, and lunch; to helping another friend do a set for a special family wedding being filmed for TV, and then, after a nap, off to a great dinner and conversation followed by the Ordway for the opera; to finally, to spending a rainy Sunday afternoon by myself-browsing amongst the book stacks-as I think and puzzle about a pending consulting opportunity. What more could one wish for?

I’m sure with that kind of weekend, I will be well-poised for a great week. Here’s hoping the same to all of you!

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A CALL FOR REFORM

April 21, 2010

Twenty-five years ago, I led a team of people experimenting with melding traditional meeting and event planning with multi-media production within one organization. We had a loosely structured model we applied to corporate events as appropriate. We opened with an impactful general session to communicate the overview of our client’s message to the audience. We used a few tools including stage sets, 35mm slides, 16mm film, performers and speakers as appropriate to keep the audience attention-because we knew that retention of what we read or heard was enhanced by visuals.

In addition to that all-important overview, various breakouts allowed for attendees to access the details of the larger perspective they witnessed in the general session. In both cases, that communication was one way – with our client telling the audience what they thought the attendees should know.

This was very common at the time – whether production and planning was a collaborative effort shared by multiple companies at the direction of the client, or delivered by a single-access multiple service resource like us.

One point of difference at the time was our frequent inclusion of the product expo and/or social event that followed the general session – carefully themed to reinforce the message conveyed within the General Session- which gave the audience a chance to see and touch the client product. We instinctively were adding the opportunities to touch, smell and taste to help us create memory joggers that ultimately linked to the message for the needed change in behavior and it gave the attendees a chance to talk about the message among themselves. We got results. But only now, 25 years later am I really beginning to understand why!

Although I have remained an advocate of the adult learning model over the years, only recently- because I may have an opportunity to take on the development of the educational track for client conference and trade show- have I launched a targeted quest to update myself on latest theories and applications. And as I have thought, and researched, read, and dialogued with the experts, I keep thinking – there is so much out there today, why have those of us that understood the basics of learning all those years ago, been distracted? Why haven’t we followed this as it developed, and continued to introduce change into this industry gradually, instead of today having to call for a revolution?

Perhaps we were so invested in what we were doing at the time, we were not open to new ideas. Perhaps we were simply captivated by the rapidly-emerging technology for more bells and whistles that we could demonstrate the next time around. Perhaps big shows in the general session let us play with new tools and feed our own sense of curiosity, so we lost track of our purpose and of the audience needs. Whatever the reason, the fact remains: as advances were made in the understanding of how the brain works and how we learn, we have dug in and held on to something that does not work. And now we need to make it right.

It occurred to me this morning that had we not ignored this evolution of learning, the CIC might not be launching their latest study to stave off criticism and produce the story of why our industry is an important and good investment in the current economy.

So I challenge every single one of us that boast we are purposeful, message-based, and outcomes-focused, to look at learning theories today and join together to innovatively reshape our approach, improve the reputation, track record and return of our events, meetings and conferences. We owe it to our clients, the attendees, and to ourselves.

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WEATHERING CHANGE

April 19, 2010

All around us, we see the world has changed. In the late 1990s, we anxiously awaited the “New Millennium”; after 9/11, we prepared for the “New Normal”; then despite knowing we were traversing through an artificial bubble, we waited for our turn to become financially independent and able to live that coveted life of leisure, and today, we are struggling with just what is the “New Economy”.

Most of us would not score high points for assessing and adapting to what goes by a lot of names but is simply the ever-evolving and changing world in which we live. Over decades, centuries and even millenniums, there are those who welcome change and push forward, and there are those of us that are sure we are on the brink of the end of the world in total because we see changes that do not fit within our own paradigms. In the end, for those of us who do not change, our own world does eventually end.

Today, the news is filled with stories of companies, banks and investment firms that combined greed with change and found a way to justify fraud, ponzi schemes, and excessive risk as they put themselves first. Then the bubble burst, brought the firms and investors down and threatened the well-being of our country.

In another example, as change brought dwindling sales, one company closed their national sales offices, tried to reinvent themselves overnight, pretending to be something they were not as they tried to survive. It wasn’t long before they were sold off for pennies.

As the world changed, one company chose, not to change their thinking, but to change only their vocabulary and moved from an open dislike of an evolving industry to calling an out-dated version of their own available product by the name of the growing industry. Thinking one can trick its customers has led them to live today, on the brink of disaster.

Protecting one’s current position in an industry immobilizes some; aversion to risk discourages others. And some simply are hanging on to the thought that “everything old is new again”-just trying to wait it out, as they complain and exclaim, “poor me”.

But yesterday, an inspiring Strib story concerning Deluxe Corporation illustrates a successful method to weather change.

Deluxe- the company formerly known as Deluxe Checks- was heavily impacted; not by a downturn in the economy, but by an upturn in technology. As online banking and check cards grew and use of checks dwindled, Deluxe revenues fell. They understood they could not just hang on until that old check system recycled and flourished again. But they also understood they had some time. So they looked for and found a niche among their customers and are now moving to build themselves into a one-stop shop for a variety of services for small business owners. Check-printing still represents 60% of their business, but their long-term vision is allowing them to leverage the old so they can finance and grow the new. In short, they recognized change, and then proactively and positively prepared for it. Their investors agreed; their stock rose.

This is not just a story about our clients; this is a story applicable to the event industry as a whole. We have had ten years to prepare for the changes that have been evolving in corporate and non-profit meetings and events. How well did we observe the signs, recognize change was coming, and move forward proactively and positively to support purposeful, measureable, experiential events? Nowhere in the foreseeable future will delivering an event for event-sake be the norm. Change does not happen to fit our own timetables. We need to weather this change by becoming a part of it, so that the world does not move on without us.

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IT’S COMING TOGETHER

April 18, 2010

Friday, I made my first visit to Dancers Studio still-under-construction space and event venue. And now I am getting excited!

First of all, at 9 in the morning-despite a traffic-stopping accident on Cedar Lake Road that closed a lane of traffic, I still made it from 50th and 100 to the site on the edge of St Paul, parked, and walked in the door in less than 25 minutes! That was good news and tells me that accessibility from all points in the metro area is indeed a selling point to add to the growing list of positives. I like that.

For those who have not heard the back story, Dancers Studio, deemed best dance studio in the metro area by Mpls/St Paul Magazine, has been in business for 24 years – most recently located on Snelling Ave not far off I-94. Their space in the old Fire Station was charming and soon they were experiencing requests to rent it for events. They listened to their customers and accommodated them. So over the years, they taught dance, staged their own events, held weddings, celebrations, and events, and grew right out of the space. That’s another good sign. I like that.

I met Marcy McHenry on a flight returning from Vegas and the Event Solutions Conference. With the looming move to a larger space that will allow sit–down dinner events for 450 people, Marcy and Shinya invested in the learning opportunities for herself and two of her staff so they would be better prepared for clientele that will be attracted to the larger space. We spent most of the flight back talking about the venue, its unique size much needed in the metro area, and how to best market and support events they would like to attract to the site. I like that.

Within a week, I had joined a great team of partners assisting the McHenrys, their energetic staff, and the Dancers Studio in making a successful transition that allows them to expand their event business from mostly the social market to that which includes corporate events and non-profits. I like that.

Hardwood floors through-out; an inviting (and large) lobby; 5400 sq ft in the main ballroom; two smaller ballrooms for dance use, which offer additional space for reception, silent auctions, and are visually accessible through glass walls; a great neutral color palate of grays and charcoal; retractable chandeliers and disco balls; seven lighting tracks that run lengthwise through the space; parking for over 200 cars and access to more; a full catering kitchen; one permanent bar/lounge; and several options for storage. I like all of that.

So I was already looking forward to doing my first event in the space when I had an opportunity to do a walk-through on Friday. There were no disappointments in what I had been told, but better yet, there were some surprises I did not know about. It is important to note this venue is doing its best under the direction of Ross Anderson, Project Manager, and Advanced Energy Consulting to think “Green”. I like that.

Next week we should finish visits to support vendors except for determining the preferred list of caterers and will continue working on developing the support documents you all need to determine if this is the right venue for you – from pricing to site plans and floor plans to standardized quotation formats and contracts, lists of preferred and recommended vendors, and custom timelines for each event. I like that.

We plan to do a soft opening since June already has several event bookings (and the first sizeable non-profit is already committed for November!) so we will be able to test, evaluate and refine the space and how it works through the summer. We’ll keep you posted on the progress, but in the meantime, you may want to check out the “Moving” page at http://www.dancersstudio.com/studio-were-moving.php for status updates and a general site plan.

I like how it is all coming together, and I know you will like to hold your event here sometime soon!