Archive for October, 2010

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ELECTION IRONY (with Nov 6 postscript)

October 30, 2010

The MN 2008 Senatorial Elections were “too close to call” leading to a recount.  One party won; one lost…and was sure that the recount was mishandled.  Remember the process?  Each candidate had a representative watching, verifying and challenging.  It took forever; and from it rose the slogan – “We are Not Florida”…and yet, human nature I guess, the losing party was not satisfied. 

A neutral entity reviewed that recount process, agreed with the recount results and reconfirmed that we have a voting model well-deserving of being considered one of best in the country and we all thought we could move on.  Not so fast…the losing party was not satisfied. 

Out of all the angst, I felt we, as Minnesotans, had won – not necessarily because of the winner named, but because we did find discrepancies and short-comings in our voting system, and have over the last two years, moved to correct and tighten the process. Is it perfect? Probably not.  Is it still worthy of being a model for the rest of the country?  Probably.

Not so fast.    Our friends on the right – you know, those proponents of less is more in terms of government oversight and involvement? They are still whining today that the system is broken.  They continue to advocate for more and better oversight.   Just like they don’t want Medicare touched…Just like they expect immediate action from government in time of crisis.  You know, fix the economy NOW…create jobs lost over five years NOW…fix the oil spill NOW…give Minnesota flood relief NOW. But I digress.

LET IT GO MY FRIENDS!  Al won, Norm lost; the world did not end.  We really don’t need polling parking lots filled on Tuesday with weeping repos trying to get in as official challengers to observe and make sure our voting system is honest.  Get over it and put an end to this nonsense. There will be another senatorial election; its just a couple years away.  You’ll get another chance.

Or am I missing the point?  Maybe the issue is not oversight – is it simply that they object that “We Are Not Florida”???!!

NOV 6 Update:  Little did I know we were headed to a repeat!  And yet I don’t regret voting for collaboration rather than the extremes of right or left.  In fact, I had to chuckle as I heard Republicans continuing to rage about fraud and recounts and their target for blame became Tom Horner!  Without Tom Horner, Emmer would have won you know, because all those votes were misdirected Repos. 

More important, I am convincing myself, that yes, the Minnesota Republicans wish they lived in Florida.

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WE’RE ALMOST THERE

October 30, 2010

Here I sit.  I know where I vote; I know when during the day I will vote; I know what the ballot looks like because I have reviewed the sample for our precinct.  I’ve listened to and read the positions of candidates on that ballot.   I just don’t know for whom I will vote-at least for Governor!

That’s a very different question in my mind than who do I think is the best candidate to lead this state out of the mess we are in. Unfortunately, despite four decades of a successful career in the business world, I’ve emerged as a moderate independent thinker that tends to lean a bit left of center.  And so elections are not easy for me…I generally do not buy blindly into either party line.

This year, I am generally appalled at most of Emmer’s positions compounded by his naiveté and a blustery good old boy personality of “I know best” so at least one candidate is eliminated from contention.   But I am also not totally convinced that Dayton is our man- despite agreeing with him on many things including the tax-avoiding snowbirds I think of as the migrant moochers.  And we all know the theory of voting for the independent just means throwing your vote away.

But then, has there ever been a candidate that scores 100% on alignment of problem identification AND proposed solutions?  I don’t believe so, and to think otherwise tends to broadcast that the voter who thinks so is most likely close-minded, uninformed, and often driven by fear and uncertainty masked as an “I know the truth” attitude-no matter which truth-right or left-they have endorsed.

In the end, I believe most in that big portion of voters in the middle, assess candidates and vote based on whomever we feel will best address our own particular issues in a manner that resonates with us.  This year is particularly hard, for the world has changed and the two main political parties continue to insist on 20th century slogans, actions, and criteria for judgment.

But we live in a different world today, with no rules to guide us.  As for me, I don’t have a clear vision of what that changing world means and how it should be addressed, but am at least comforted in the fact that I recognize it is a different world.   And I do know that open-mindedness, listening, idea exchange, and above all, collaboration, represent the most appealing pathway to explore this new world in which we find ourselves. 

Tom Horner, with little chance to win, is the only candidate I think understands that.   And only a candidate with that approach can make progress on issues that are important to me.  I am fairly confident he would get input, collaborate, and select an action to go forward.  Would he also monitor, assess, modify, abandon and replace campaign action plans if they are found not to work? 

We should all recognize that we don’t know what we don’t know until we are in the midst of something –no matter how much we do ahead of time to alleviate that void.  So what we think and commit to today may change tomorrow and to succeed, we need to modify our thinking as we move forward.

 Generally, I believe Horner’s record shows he can do that.  But has he been scared by the old school political and media measurements from the 20th century that have been placed on Obama- who won by the way, because he recognized a new century and time to change?  Or will Horner be able to objectively look at a plan that perhaps cannot work, abandon it, replace it with something else – all in the spirit of “We didn’t fail; we just have not succeeded yet”.  And more important, can he manage the voters’ expectations to allow that to happen and thus, be viewed as making progress, not failing?

I just don’t know.  It is asking a lot.  But my heart tells me, I should not vote based on who I think will win, or who I want to keep out of office, but  for whom I think is best suited – even if that means my vote cast may be considered by some to be thrown away.

I can always hope that, assuming Dayton still wins, the votes for Horner will be significant enough that Dayton will recognize it would be wise to include Horner in some significant role in his administration, and collaborating and working together, more of my issues will be addressed!

Yup, I am the eternal optimist- despite witnessing how polarized our world is, and how brutally Obama has been judged – so far.

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ADDENDUM and FOOD FOR THOUGHT

October 26, 2010

After posting “ONE MORE WEEK”, I was about to move on to the tasks at hand covering my desk, when I had one additional thought.

I expect many of you may not be avid MinnPost.com subscribers and so would be unfamiliar with the Cityscape Column. So for those of you who follow me for my Event ramblings rather than my political opinions, I thought perhaps the entire interview with Dean Fisher would be of interest.

www.minnpost.com/steveberg/2010/10/25/22660

Check it out – although it covers much about about our political world today, it gives us a glimpse into the future and the impact design will have on that future.

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ONLY ONE MORE WEEK…

October 26, 2010

“Only one more week, but first comes Halloween” was my mother’s response when as I child, I would ask in anticipation, “Is it my birthday yet?” Unfortunately, because a week’s time was not an easy concept to grasp at that age, I focused on Halloween as the culprit. If there was no Halloween, it would be my birthday. And so I grew up disliking Halloween – an attitude that still has impact as it is my least favorite of all holidays!

In my 20s, birthdays moved from thoughts of cake and presents to celebratory drinks…and once again I thought I was cursed because early November birthdays meant the celebration was “always” (maybe twice in a decade) impeded because of election day and at the time, the “no selling of alcohol until the polls closed” rule. So not only Halloween, but Election Day interfered with my celebration.

Today as I sat at my desk and thought “only one more week”, I had to chuckle. Yes, one more week until my birthday, but what I was actually thinking was we only will be subjected to this incessant madness of negativity, disrespect, shouting, twisted truths and misjudgments one more week and then the elections will be over.

Most think of this as a mighty struggle between two political parties that both think they have the “right” answers and the right governing philosophy. I think of it as a mirror of my frustrations with my industry. Both reflect symptoms of human nature-and our difficulty in accepting change.

Both our government and our industry, I expect, are caught in the classic struggle of stick to what we know, judge based on history, protect the past and our old “truths” vs. exploring, moving forward, experimenting, and searching for new ways and new truths because those old truths have failed us.

The Cityscape in MinnPost yesterday featured an interview that caught my eye, in which Dean Tom Fisher, Uof M College of Design, indicates we are in an exciting time, at the cusp of a renaissance …the problems we face in the 21st century are profoundly different than those we faced just a few years ago.

Fisher suggested that the meltdown of 2007-2008 brought us into an entirely different era while the political arguments remain the same – and from my perspective, mostly irrelevant! And yet we accept this tremendous cacophony of the 2010 Elections and governing cycle as just the way it is.

A glimmer of hope, however, as Max Lenderman in his blog this morning pointed out a new trend in Advertising –when after their marked loss of revenue as a result of old thinking, a few are now venturing forth to reinvent themselves to become relevant again, and even using experiential campaigns as TV spots with good success.

If Ad Agencies after 50 years of “reigning supreme” can recognize this new world we live in, perhaps there is hope for politics (and our own Event industry) as well. Perhaps by 2012 Election Cycle, we will have moved to authentic discussions that demonstrate innovation, interaction, engagement and collaboration. To quote Dean Fisher, “this is no longer about managing situations. It’s about finding leaders who will tell new stories about the reality we’re in….we operate as if we’re still in an age of survival of the fittest, of competition, of setting up political enemies and polarization, about Democrats and Republicans when the real world now depends on mutual support and cooperation. ”

Unfortunately, I’m afraid that for all of us to recognize this will take much more than “one more week” !

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MISCELLANEOUS RAMBLINGS

October 25, 2010

For a month now, I’ve been struggling with a short attention span and have jumped from one thing to another – seemingly accomplishing nothing. Maybe that is because I have no major pressing project to keep me focused – or maybe I just don’t recognize that perhaps I have returned to “normal”. Or maybe it was simply the distracting wonderful Minnesota October that signaled – don’t waste this time – it will soon change.

This morning, with the courtyard filled with withered brown leaves but a noticeable absence of summer birds not yet replaced by the wintering friends that choose this space to survive the harsh cold; and the gray skies and forecast of rain for a week merged with piles of beginning thoughts all over my desk. I am determined to “clean house” and get my thoughts organized. And that first step is to address that disorganized pile of paper to my left which I optimistically call “future blog topics”.

So, motivated by my “cleanup mode”, here are some thought-starters that have not yet been developed into anything meaningful – although I sense there are important thoughts here!

Trend Followers vs. Trend Setters: Maybe I am too harsh in my on-going criticism of our industry’s take on trends. I am beginning to think the question “What are the Trends” mean for many in our world, “What are your clients asking for?” Perhaps for many event professionals the philosophy of “give them what they ask for” is the guiding principle – and so, they think of trends as being driven only by their customers- who generally are 2-3 years behind emerging trends. They want to copy something successful or a“wow” they have seen in a magazine, or heard about, and thus they request it be done for them as well. And it is. Sometimes, very expensively. And is that so bad – to be the source that fulfills a wish or a dream?

Perhaps I am simply a member of a smaller group that due to my nature always questions why? That my curiosity drives me to ask about cultural and learning trends that can be expressed in Event Design – and thus, I care less about what the latest color is than I do about how can I use color to facilitate the message, help people learn, and most of all, engage. And is that so bad – to be at the forefront of a changing world? Someone has to be – or we would still all be doing theme parties rather than marketing events.

I expect there is room for both approaches in the wide audience of those needing assistance with their event.

Bling is Back: I read this morning that luxury shopping after an 8% decrease in 2009, has soared. Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Hermes, and others have experienced double-digit increases in the first 9 months of 2010. And who is leading the pack as the consumer? A few days ago, I wrote about Lederman’s “Brand New Day” and the economical upswings of the BRIC…and yes, you guessed it, CHINA had a 20% increase in luxury purchases last year, and is expected to grow by 30% this year. By 2015, China is predicted to become the third-largest market for luxury goods.

And immediately following that article, I saw another sign. A book review of “Three Stations” by Martin Cruz Smith included this description: “Here is Moscow, bingeing on capitalism, greed and lust…and the image is unsettling. The rich and famous rub elbows with the down-and-out and the infamous in this superb performance. “

It is unsettling, isn’t it? To think that the BRIC countries are replacing the USA in so many areas we measure for success and importance. I need to spend more time processing this…how do we turn that emerging trend into something positive rather than threatening?

A New Economy: Two years ago, as we realized our folly and saw our worlds as we knew them crash, we recognized that we had falsely created something that was not sustainable. We understood that women entering the workforce in the 70s and 80s generally fed an economic growth within families and for our country that allowed an increased in our standard of living. And then by the 90s, still looking for sustained growth, we had another cultural shift, and second jobs and long hours pushed that economy forward. By the 2000s, we no longer had those untapped resources, and turned to borrowing on home equity to continue the perception that we were still growing. And for many, the local, national, and international ponzi schemes were the only way to achieve status and reputation.

Two years ago, the politicians and pundits alike talked about a false economic standard that was not sustainable and that we were experiencing a needed adjustment. What happened to that truth and how did it get buried in the rebellious dissatisfaction that in the 2010s, we are not perched on the precipice for another “feel good” ride?

And finally, the last thought for the day.

Tax increases vs Tax Cuts: Can someone just explain to me why with state and federal taxes cut in the early 2000s, the only way to realize economic growth was to encourage false hope through the borrowing against home equity – the very thing that caused our current issues? Even the tax cuts included in that maligned “stimulus” package, did not work as planned. Business cut staff because they could, and saved money PLUS received the stimulus tax cuts. Were we to cut taxes again, why would it this time encourage business to spend their money and create jobs – if that did not happen for the Republicans nor the Democrats the last two times it was tried? And what about the related fact – we all expect the Federal Government (whomever is in charge) to solve all the problems we can’t, but do not want to pay taxes to facilitate that help? Where do we think the money comes from? What am I missing here?

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TRENDS…ONE MORE TIME

October 22, 2010

Earlier this month I attended the Minnesota Meetings and Events event in St. Paul (yes, I like the concept of smaller, focused gatherings – keep it up) which featured 3-4 vendors “reporting” on event trends they see will be big for the holidays.

Those of you who attended (or not) that know me very well, know that once again I was disappointed in the shallowness and out-of-date ideas shared by some of the vendors represented. Color revisited and not necessarily up to date; ideas that have been in the marketplace for 2-4 years now; some on-target food comments but generally, nothing that lit up the light bulb for me at all. No wonder we are considered the fly-over zone here in the Midwest.

And yet, every day, right here, I am inspired by innovative thinking and trend applications. We have one of the top “trend” companies located here (Iconoculture) and certainly “trendy” companies as well with Target at the retail level, some top line media companies in the forefront nationally, and then my personal favorite –the internationally recognized design firm of Blu Dot. Not to mention five or more national event industry trade magazines not counting the familiar two that focus on Minnesota…from InTents to Event Solutions, Catersource, Corporate Event , and Exhibitor- we all have easy access to a wealth of input that should be stimulating us to experiment, innovate and just generally do better. And that does not count our easy online access to what is happening elsewhere; what are the applications here, and just what are the thought-leaders in our community doing to make events more impactful and experiential?

For instance, just two weeks ago, I attended the fall meeting of UMEDPA – and was inspired by a report on the Shanghai Expo and trends that were seen there. The list was long: fully immersive, multi- sensory environments; intriguing “control of space” stories; 4D theatre presentations; experiential exteriors that start the engagement BEFORE you enter; lighting as architecture; organic shapes; better line management techniques with “pre-show” applications; 360 degree media projection; projection on unusual shapes; touchscreen applications; interactive experiences; LED, LED, LED – not as a little light on the wall, but as an installation; projection on fabrics; projection surfaces that interact with each other; augmented reality applications emerging; layered projection-the list went on and on. For two weeks, time permitting, I have been expanding that input via the internet – and have a growing list of applications that I could consider for events that I produce.

So I sit here contemplating why once again, we continue to fall back on same-old, same-old uninspiring input from same-old tired design teams when our city is brimming with new fresh talent and ideas that inspire me on a daily basis. Come on people, we can do better than this! Not to worry, I won’t give up, and hopefully, I will harvest some new food for thought from the November ISES chapter meeting. It’s being advertised as an opportunity to learn more about experiential design and creating events that POP!

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A BRAND NEW WORLD

October 20, 2010

Tell me and I’ll forget
Show me and I may remember
Involve me and I’ll understand

-Confucius 551-479 BC

One of my early introductions to the concept of experiential events – along with the work of Gilmore & Pine, Pink, and a few other pioneers like Jack Morton WW, Denise Shiffman and Shaz Smilansky , was a book by Max Lenderman entitled “Experience the Message”.

It was here that I was reminded of the Confucius quote that had first inspired me twenty years earlier as we launched that first integrated meetings company at Carlson Marketing Group. It combined into one , the separate disciplines of meeting management, AV production, and product expos, that up to then came together only at the site of the corporate meeting itself–managed by separate companies for a single client. Despite its inherent weaknesses, it worked and along with thought-leaders experimenting in other companies nationally, it became the model of what we think of as meeting production through-out the remainder of the 20th century.

In those days, we often used a variation of the first two lines of that Confucius quote to illustrate why we were graduating from lectures or at most two-projector- dissolve AV shows to major media productions to support the talking heads of corporate executives in the general session. And by accident, and perhaps boredom with destination, movie, and book “theme” parties, in 1985, we experimented with combining a traditional “product expo” with a lunch, reception or dinner and inadvertently addressed the real essence of that quote when, by accident, we engaged our audience! It became a point of difference for us, even though we did not really understand why it worked.

A move at end of the 1980s to head up the first Event Marketing Division at Carlson, did not seem like a big leap…although I certainly did not understand the emerging discipline as well as the performance improvement, motivation, incentive world from whence I came. Nevertheless, it seemed to describe more succinctly what we were delivering in the previous five years under the guise of CMG Meetings and so I stumbled into what then became my career passion. Originally at Carlson, then within my own company of Creative Events, I viewed a meeting or an event as a communication tool to deliver a message and achieve defined objectives or outcomes – dictated usually, by the senior management team. I delivered those outcomes and I was successful.

Early in 2000s, I began to see the awakening of a whole new twist to that discipline that ultimately emerged described as event marketing and experiences; it piqued my interest and I was driven to learn more. And by 2005-6, technological changes were emerging that turned our world upside-down. One way streaming from the podium on stage was no longer in vogue-even if it was supported with breth-taking multi-media visuals. The shift to Involve me and I will understand was being supported by case studies and brain research that launched the learning revolution. Thought-leaders like Max Lenderman wrote “Experience the Message” and I read it, was inspired, and began in earnest, a search to better understand this phenomenon. I reached a career pinnacle this past summer when along with a talented support team, we delivered a highly successful interactive experiential meeting we labeled “5000 events for 5000 people.”

And here I am, coming full circle, as I am now reading Lenderman’s second book – “A Brand New World”. In it, I’ve learned there is no time to “rest on my laurels”- I am already behind in recognizing that, as Lenderman suggests, “most everything interesting in marketing and advertising is actually happening in the ‘Third World’” – in that emerging marketplace of hyper-developing countries known as BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China). Yes, I knew it was big; Yes, I knew it was growing rapidly; Yes, I knew it was a partner not to be overlooked in the global economy; No, I did not know what all that really meant – for me and for my world. As I read the book, I am realizing that “pinnacle” CRV event this summer is only a stepping stone – with so much more to learn. Stay Tuned!