Archive for November, 2010



November 30, 2010

Today’s the big test – the Republicans have dinner at the White House.  Let it not become a second “Day of Infamy” in our country’s history, but instead, a baby step forward into the 21st century and a new world of innovation, interaction, and collaboration.

I fear it won’t, however, as politics continues to trump service to the people on both sides. And worse,  to stir the pot in this crisis, we have the press – ever-ready as the judges-unfortunately using “history” and 20th century expertise to support their antiquated evaluation process.  And while they pontificate, they do not seem to recognize they have sacrificed their historical contribution and have become puppets and angry voices of the divisive culture in which we all find ourselves.

Stephen Wilbers furnished some great food for thought yesterday in his Strib column entitled “Conflict Resolution Doesn’t Have to Mean Compromise”. For the details, check it out online if you missed it, but the last paragraph sums it up and harkens back to a leadership theory I learned and tried to practice way back in the mid 1970s:

WIN-WIN Solutions…maybe we should forget about compromise, which suggests letting go of values, and concentrate on consensus, which suggests holding on to shared beliefs.

As I read that, I couldn’t help but muse about appropriate applications in my professional life as well.  I often feel our own industry, not just the politics of the country, is at a crossroads that one could view as a potential rift.

If you routinely follow this blog, you know I have moved from tentatively experimenting with collaboration in the development of experiential events to sometimes questioning whether I’ve crossed the line and become a zealot – shutting out all value of other viewpoints.

So this article was a good reminder for me and for others who become self-righteous in the protection of our own values- it is not about who is right, worked harder, or who has a greater following supporting one’s modus operandi – it is about exploring together where we share commonalities so we all emerge better for it as we strive to deliver value to our audience.



November 21, 2010

And now, some final thoughts on experiential design.  Over and over again, the importance of the Shanghai Expo to our event world is conveyed by various designers in various trade publications.  They communicate the same message – a message that has resonated with me and has driven me forward to improve my own skills and the experiences I create for my clients. Here are just a few more excerpts from EVENT DESIGN, October 2010 issue:

Each tells a simple story throughout the pavilion…

…meld architecture, media and message throughout…

Unique story telling…whimsical, interactive, artistically crafted…

The little gems discovered along the way are more memorable than the “over-the-top” elements

Use of building surfaces and advanced lighting technology to create art…building surfaces (became) a communication medium

Move from interactive to immersive

Unique storytelling …360 degree projections…floor, ceiling and surrounding walls

A different way of thinking won

Unify the exterior and the interior

An affirmation that there is no better medium to communicate a message than through design

Design plays a significant role in communicating ideas

The designer brings a story to life to deliver a message

You need a well-defined storyline and you need to use all parts of the experience:  the media, graphics, structure, space, and circulation through it in service to the messages that you want to communicate.  If you have a clear storyline and have everything support the few clear messages you want to communicate…

It’s not so much about the technology or materials; it’s about putting design in service to interpretation

High-level projection is everywhere and levels the playing field. It brings it back to content.  It is not about shiny technology…the resonant experiences were tied to emotional communication, not necessarily to technology.

For me, that sums it up.  The world of experiential design has spoken.  It’s time to put away for good the theme parties and pretty events without purpose of the 20th century.  For now, save that for the social customer, although I predict they, too, will migrate to more personally meaningful events as time goes by.  Our industry is growing up. We provide a means to an end, and should not think of ourselves as the end by itself. Are you ready to join me in the exploration of this evolving world and its contribution to the New Economy of the 21st Century?



November 20, 2010

And now some excerpts taken from Goldberg’s report in EVENT DESIGN October 2010.  The pavilion descriptions definitely reflect effective rules we might all do well to embrace!

OLDER FOLKS DIG (THE RIGHT) TECHNOLOGY.  Interactive touchscreens delivered content in such graphic, intuitive ways that a child or senior citizen could get into it.

THE MOST POWERFUL TOOL IN MARKETING IS THE NARRATIVE JOURNEY – those that embraced the expo theme of “Better City, Better Life” by creating journeys that reflected the progress of their own cities were rewarded  with buzz throughout the visitor audience.


SIZE DOESN”T ALWAYS MATTER. It was inspiring to see an unexpected and smaller exhibitor step up and leverage technology to tell its story.


THE HOLOGRAM MAY (UNFORTUNATELY) NEVER DIE …despite being an unreliable technique that often does not work.


NO MAN IS AN ISLAND…BUT A PAVILION CAN BE.  Saudi Arabia created a desert island with rooftop oasis with a 3D/360 degree theatre the size of two football fields and people waiting in line for up to 8 hours for the privilege of seeing it..proof that if you build something people want, they will come.

CAPTURE HEARTS AND MINDS…AND BUTTS..”dwell time” is partly dependent on level of comfort…whatever you can do to integrate comfort into the experience always pays dividends.

KEEP THE IDEA BIG AND THE EXECUTION SIMPLE …as did Belguim with their “iceberg in two blocks, separated by a crevasse” to demonstrate climate change.

EVERYONE LOVES A PANDA and World Wildlife Fund with their panda logo did it well

DELIVER ON YOUR PROMISES. Poland promised an experience to meld its folk heritage with its position as a modern nation and through integrating its established exterior look into a design that enabled technology, media and theatre to bring their story to life – did just that.

COOL MATERIALS DRAW A CROWD. Just look at Spain’s pavilion with its wicker panels adhered to steel and glass to suggest the flowing lines of a Flamenco dancer’s skirt.

YOU ARE DEFINED BY THE COMPANY YOU KEEP- Just as our parents taught.  In the event and exhibit world, it is important how you are positioned in the minds of customers as well as “on the floor”.  In Shanghai, Iran and North Korea were virtually connected – with not much to show.  Lines were short and that may be the real insight gleaned.

BE AUTHENTIC as Canada so skillfully demonstrated.

RETRO NEVER GETS OLD – as China proved with the flying saucer-shaped Expo Culture Center.

EVERY MASCOT IS A DESCENDANT OF GUMBY – and the official mascot of World Expo, “Haibo” caused Ken to wonder “What happened to Pokey?”

IF YOU HAVE HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE, USE IT.    And China did. After  dictating size and height parameters to the rest of the world, they broke their own rules –and built bigger, and beautiful for their own pavilion.

And the parting comment from Keith was that perhaps the most powerful part of the experience in Shanghai was touring with thousands of people from very different cultures…all waiting in line together…all surprised and delighted by similar things…moved by the same stories…and were happy to share these moments with each other…Face-to-Face.  Live.

So much food for thought from his insights. Thank you Keith Goldberg and EVENT DESIGN for sharing.



November 20, 2010

I have spent most of my free moments of late immersed in photos, videos and commentary from the Shanghai Expo.  I thought I was getting my arms wrapped around the hows, whys, and why nots, as my list of ideas inspired by the commentary from US visitors continued to grow.

But experience designer Keith Goldberg’s article in Event Design Magazine jolted me into a new perspective when I read his introduction to lessons he learned in Shanghai:

“I can’t help but draw a parallel to the legendary “White City” built for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Just as its expanse and majesty heralded the coming American century, the grandeur of the World Expo in Shanghai (and the efforts made by exhibitors to impress their Chinese hosts) heralds China’s modern-day rise…there is no more amazing window into how our world has progressed and changed over the years…you also realize what hasn’t changed is the motivation of host countries and exhibitors to put forth their best efforts, tell their stories in engaging ways, and create the kind of community that leads to relationships (a/k/a commerce).”

Like Goldberg, I am a history buff, so the US/China World Fair comparisons hit home immediately and pointed out that I was so engrossed in the detail that I missed a very important overview – that feeds into Lenderman’s “Brand New World” and his theories regarding the developing hypermarkets of the BRIC and their influence on our world of the future.  (see blog October 20, 2010).  Once again, I was jolted out of the safe world of US superiority in innovation/creativity/power over the last century into a whole new world – where unless we adapt, we will be left behind.

And more important, I was so focused on the details of the “how” that I failed to pick up on the more impactful “why”.   Oh yes, I was looking at the broader “trends” communicated over and over that pertain to my professional world – that of experiential event design – but I was shutting out the global impact of the phenomenon itself – and shutting out that nagging comment I heard in my first exposure to Shanghai a month or so ago…that comment about the American Pavilion being “underwhelming”. 

Lots of big thoughts here – but the reality is none of us can afford to continue to do over and over again what led to success for us in the past.  We need to keep engaged in the world and what is happening around us – and let our human curiosity for how does that work, what’s next, how can I do it better, guide us towards improving what we have done before.  A lesson we seem to have to learn over and over again – while we “rest on our laurels” and pontificate about how our experiences allows us to know what’s best, the rest of the world will pass us by.



November 15, 2010

Over the last several years, I have gradually lowered my expectation of benefits I would reap from the monthly ISES meetings, as educational efforts seemed aimed towards the lowest common denominator within the audience.  I surmised that was a natural result of what I felt was using conferences such as The Special Event and EventWorld as a place to line up chapter speakers by sampling “industry leaders” seminar content .  Since most have for years been underwhelming and generally ego-driven show-and-tell pretty pictures, I learned to attend for the networking, and occasionally, was pleasantly surprised  with a new venue, a service or a quality topic and presentation from a guest speaker making his rounds from chapter to chapter.  That approach saved me from being disappointed, and I tried not to think about the impact that national approach to chapter education was having on “dumbing down” the quality of events coming from ISES members. 

That assumption seemed to be reinforced as I looked at “Special Event” magazine.  Twenty years ago, I poured over articles, reading it cover to cover for what I could learn to make me a better event planner.  Today when it comes, I thumb through it quickly for new products and any mention of local MN members, then file it away – knowing if I don’t, I will never come back to it, as it generally holds little of interest in terms of event approaches.

So I was ecstatic last week to be part of the audience that welcomed Kris Kirstoffersen to our November chapter meeting.  I knew I had made the right choice between Pink and ISES when Kris began with the premise that event design is not décor and then jumped right into a progression within ISES that tracked events from party planner to WOW factors to reveals to appealing to senses to creating an experience to what we are really all about – telling a story that stimulates thought and delivers a message.  To recognize that  progression, understand, reinvent a company, and do exceedingly well through the recession should be a signal to all-particularly those companies that view themselves as designers, yet suffered through the down-turn in the economy. 

The message last week reinforced what I observed and experienced, supporting my premise. Those of us that strive to tell the client’s story and view our contribution in this industry as part of a customer’s marketing strategy have had two very good years.

And best of all, I didn’t have to forego Daniel Pink entirely when I chose to attend ISES instead of the AchieveMpls lunch at the Depot at the same time. ran a feature on what Daniel had to say.  I expected the message he conveyed, as I have heard him speak, am an avid fan, and have digested all his books. But it is always nice to hear someone you admire tell you that Minnesota is uniquely positioned to make the educational paradigm shift because “you have an enormous tradition of creativity from the arts community, and a tradition of non-ideological problem-solving. “   The column author, Beth Hawkins also shared that the presentation based on “Drive: The surprising Truth about What Motivates Us” included similar themes he presented at the idea forum TED – so I am off to take a look right now.

  In the end I will not only get a Pink fix, but my faith that ISES may indeed make the transition from early days event planning to the world of experiential messaging has been reinforced. Kudos to the 2010 MN ISES Board.



November 13, 2010

This year, a wonderful opportunity in my professional life meant I missed summer– not a good thing for a Minnesotan who always thinks the worst – 2 months of summer and 10 months of winter and cold. Even though we know better, for some reason, we buy into that myth. Fortunately for me, Autumn is my favorite time of year and we have had a spectacular one – with temperatures in the high sixties and green grass out my window just yesterday. 

But just so I did not get too giddy, health issues became the number one topic of discussion in my family.  I’ve had them myself, spending hours and hours and lots of dollars with medical attention for my eye problems (now all resolved, I think and am happy to report).  Added to the normal mental letdown   and inability to focus and move forward that sometimes come after a major project, the eye crisis was a hard one.  But at the same time, my brothers and a sister have had health concerns; and my brother-in-law has had more than his share-which means it has not been easy for my younger sister either.  And neighbors and friends have had health issues.  There have been times that only the weather kept me in check from surrendering to that awful lurking depression we in the family call the “Kranz Disease”.

But in our world of checks and balances, my neighbor, after a massive heart attack, lung collapse and a small stroke suffered almost three weeks ago has emerged from a coma, is starting to move limbs, is alert and was moved yesterday from ICU to another hospital to begin rehab…and a good friend’s sister in crisis in Chile after an accident that damaged three sides of her head, has survived the roller coaster ride of early recovery, setbacks, and first thoughts of removing life support;  the news yesterday was “a month to walk; a year to full recovery.”

And today, with just two weeks to Thanksgiving, I awoke to the glory of a silent winter arrival, where moist , fluffy snow quietly is dumped from above onto the world below – piling several inches on each tree branch and twig, wrapping the world in white. I stood on my porch, a steaming cappuccino in hand and marveled at the how peaceful and calming it was. No howling wind of a blizzard, simply a quiet announcement from Mother Nature that the seasons were changing-get ready.

I was grateful I have been getting ready – new coat, new boots, new winter hat – and the slow emergence of holiday decorations through out my house – just in time for my first Holiday Gathering on November 18 – to welcome the Nuevo Beaujolais! 

I’m good now until January when thoughts will turn longingly to Spring.  The cycle is comforting – more checks and balances.



November 13, 2010

The Republican two-year campaign to win the 2010 elections was effective; yet, it has been made to seem more ominous and a sign of the times than it was.  Remember, it is a relatively normal cycle that has been repeated in some fashion throughout our country’s history – a contribution to the over-arching system of checks and balances as effective and important as the interplay among the branches of government the administration, the congress and the courts.  It was neither a great country-changing victory nor a life-threatening disaster.  It was an adjustment and should be treated as such. Learn, integrate the impact, and move on.  For me, I hoped this would signal  a return to sanity as we eliminate the extremes so that some measure of collaboration could be introduced into the way we govern ourselves…and perhaps as time healed the campaign wounds, together we could have an honest discourse of what we need to do to move forward.

This week, an Obama-appointed bipartisan deficit commission released a preliminary report on what needs to be done to get the country on track – to recover from the expense of the 21st century wars and the emergency actions to stop the 2007-2008 slide into a repeat of the Great Depression.  It laid out options – some favored the right; some favored the left – but the report in general clearly laid out the over-arching problems this country is facing and some options that need to be considered in order to move forward.  The conversations on TV and on-line over the last two days seem to show a general consensus – this will be hard; there are some things I as a Democrat, a Republican, a Tea Party member, or simply a independent-thinking American individual would not wish to happen, but in general, most of the feedback thus far indicates those that have read the initial overviews feel it is a realistic assessment of the problems we are facing and a realistic assessment of what kinds of things need to be addressed to get back on track.  And most feel it is a starting point for discussion and reassessment of needs and values that will form the basis of the actions that may take ten years to cement.  And although I naively wish for a quicker relief, it did take decades of dangerous thinking to get us to this place of pain, so I should be happy it might only take ten years to recover.

So, for me, there was a sense of relief to hear that perhaps sanity will prevail.  Just like the American public that made hard decisions and sacrifices to individually whittle down their own personal debt in the past 2 years to the tune of $ One Trillion, so must the government.  Some changes I will be happy about; some things I will be less so – but none will be life-threatening – nor will they place this country in a place where we are worse off than the rest of the world inhabitants – we will still live a good life.

And yet I fear in today’s world of internet and cable TV connectivity, the negativity and our new tolerance for half truths and outright lies in this election may have a broader and deeper consequence. 

And this morning in the Strib, I saw proof of that fear.  A letter to the editor demonstrated for me that not all the public saw the Deficit Commission preliminary report as a ray of hope.  One reader called it a doomsday scenario, a dog-and pony show led by Bowles and Simpson to scare Americans into an austerity program aimed at further injuring the middle class.  For him, since it did not support his own ideas, it had to be a Republican plot.

It was troubling to read that proof that the polarization and negativity continues and needs to be fixed – another task for our system of checks and balances – and one, that although it starts in state capitals and Washington, must also be supported by the media self-correcting its own actions.  Put the country and its citizens first over ratings. Give the country a fair chance to let the checks and balances work!



November 11, 2010

Frequent followers of this blog probably know I became a great supporter of Daniel Pink after attending a University Lecture Series event strictly by chance some five years ago.  Here I was introduced not only to Pink but to a whole new way of thinking as he talked about what led him to write “A Whole New Mind”. Not only did I learn about concepts such as the Creative Class and the Conceptual Age, but it launched the beginnings of my exploration of the 21st century’s version of adult learning models – theories pretty revolutionary from what I lived by in the 70s and 80s during my career in the world of Motivation and Performance Improvement.

Early last year, Pink published his third book, “Drive” and with the introduction of Motivation 3.0 truly stopped me in my tracks.  It took some time and reminders to keep an open mind to get on board, but that I did – although I had some trepidation about some things.  I was looking forward to talking with him in person when he was featured as the guest author at Barnes and Noble in February so off I went – early to get a good seat- to the Galleria, and was sorely disappointed to learn he was stuck on the West Coast and would not make it to Minnesota. 

So, I was especially excited to get another chance when I saw he would be speaking at a luncheon at the Depot today and made a mental note to follow up and get a ticket.

Not so fast!  Today is also the November ISES meeting with Ken Kristoffersen sharing his thoughts and knowledge on Experiential Design – another of my passions and thus a Must Attend. Because, again for followers of the blog, I am equally passionate about  event design  and working to get people within our industry to understand that event design relates to message and desired outcomes, how to engage an audience and start a dialog  and create an immersive experience – and not simply the design of the shell – or look- of an event. 

So I have wrestled with this conflict for days…I’m a founder of this ISES chapter that pushed hard to get a charter– I have to support it…it’s a topic that’s dear to me…I already paid for ticket…but on the other hand, this is the first appearance by Pink in Minneapolis in five years …he is one of the pioneers of this whole new way of thinking-a thought-leader that challenges me to think differently…truly, this was a dilemma. 

But in the end, a client’s needs and the commitment to the chapter reigned supreme- and so I am off to listen and interact with Ken.  If you are not an ISES member and have the time – go see Daniel Pink and call me to share some dialog on his latest thinking!  I promise you, if you don’t know his work – it will get you thinking a new way! Wish I could be there to share it.



November 10, 2010

Back in September, a Jeff Hurt blog shared a Dan Pink concept of “Flip Thinking” that caught my attention.

As background, Karl Fisch, a high-school math teacher has flipped the traditional classroom model for education.  He uses YouTube to record his lectures and assigns them as homework to his students.  The classroom is reserved for interaction and student engagement as they participate in activities, exercises, questions and discussions that stem from watching YouTube video.

What an innovative thought!  Students listen on their own as after all, listening is indeed an individual activity and this medium allows each to replay portions they did not catch or understand, spending as much time as they want or is necessary to grasp the concept and message.  This reserves the classroom for activities, exercises, questions and discussions, all facilitated by the teacher.  To me, this seems a lot smarter than expecting parents to assist with homework when, at best, they are at least a generation removed from the latest thinking or body of knowledge on any given topic!

I had a “Eureka” moment when Hurt then moved on to postulate we consider flipping the conference education model as well.    The standard lecture presentation is available online pre-conference to registered attendees.  They listen, try out concepts, and come to the conference with questions, best practices and examples of how they applied the concept.  The on-site session, like the flipped classroom, is facilitated by the presenter and becomes an interactive and engaging experience for all attendees.

For six weeks now, I have continued to ruminate on the possibilities and have jumped from the conference setting to a corporate meeting, as I envision a world in which CEO shares his vision, state of the company, needed outcomes, or whatever his message for the meeting might be via the intranet prior to the meeting, leaving time for the audience to react, ruminate, and raise questions.  All of this could then be gathered pre-meeting as basis for the at-meeting conversations and dialogues .  This also allows the standard general session expense to be put to better use in interactive experiences that involve and engage the audience to create a more meaningful experience. 

And along the way, I continue to come back to the education experience envisioning a world where bureaucracy no longer rules and it would be easy to implement without jumping the hurdles of “that is not the way it is done”.

So what a surprise when I read in the Strib on Tuesday that the U of M College of Liberal Arts – forced by budget cuts- has been brainstorming possible changes in curriculum, organization, schedules and….a variation on the theme above as they thought “What if graduate students gave the lectures and the faculty met in small groups with the students?”  Once I got past long-ago personal experiences of hard-to-understand student teachers with English as a second language, and a knee-jerk reaction to additional time commitments, I realized this is exactly the kind of innovative application Hurt held up in the Fisch Flip. 

Perhaps these thoughts are all seeds of the 21st century Learning Revolution we are striving for!  We may not have the solution nailed yet, but good people are having good thoughts as they search for a better way.  Stay tuned on this one.



November 9, 2010

This morning’s editorial pages in the Strib (other than one column of space wasted on Bachman) were filled with opinions about how the elections will impact taxes and the looming expiration of the Bush Tax cuts. 

And of course, most reflect extreme positions on either side of the issue and the continuing buy-in to rhetoric whether it is based on fact or fiction from either side.  But with a header of “On taxes, let’s get Bush out of the equation”, a column reproduced from the Bloomberg News caught my attention. 

The Bush Tax Reform was passed by the majority in Congress with an expiration date of December 31, 2010.  One has to assume, then, that it reflected the majority of the people of the United States, right? This was a TEMPORARY cut – a stimulus to keep us going as threat of a serious recession loomed ahead in the early 2000’s. 

Please don’t digress into the assumptions that the Republicans fully expected it would become permanent on 12/31/10 and the Democrats fully expected it would expire, but the only way it would get passed is to set a date far enough out in the future to give hope to both sides, that they would have enough control in 2010 to get their way.  As we know, that did not happen; so let’s just move on.

Instead of stimulating growth because of the extra dollars it put in business and consumer pockets,  the growth we experienced in this century’s first decade was brief and  based on consumer spending that exceeded personal income as America lived on credit cards and home equity loans to falsely manufacture the appearance of economic growth, as our consumption was enabled by irresponsible financial institutions.  And we all know what that led to – The Great Recession of the Bush Administration – for which we are still suffering.

It did not work, folks – just like the tax cuts in early Reagan years did not work.  Maybe we are supposed to let the country try again – so that when a third attempt also fails we can stand up like the umpire and signal, with three strikes “You’re Out”! And then going forward, have we put this battle to bed?

I think not.  Hence, Kevin Hassett’s column caught my eye, as he positioned we let the tax reform as it stands expire as planned.  And what would we have then?  AN OPPORTUNITY!

An opportunity to go forward neither defending nor attacking the inherent issues with the that temporary bill…an opportunity to start with a clean slate…an opportunity to clearly define the issue in plain terms, brainstorm possible options to alleviate the problem, and through consensus and collaboration reach agreement and common ground.   In truth, we all know we need a tax overhaul.  Wouldn’t it be simpler to accomplish if we did not have to divert our energies to defending  or attacking old baggage?   Out of a disaster, can we not mold a better way?  Isn’t that the American dream and mantra?

Hassert purports that if we start from scratch and collaborate as adults, Obama could deliver on the promise of change, and the Republicans could lock in their political gains of this election by showing voters they can govern effectively.  A WIN-WIN for the American people?    A phrase that has almost disappeared from our  vocabulary as we wrestle in this false fight to protect the past.

According to the NY Federal Reserve, somehow over the last 21 months, the American people have reduced their personal debt by almost $1 trillion!  Perhaps that new tax bill could incorporate their methods and we could not only put an end to this meaningless tax argument, but show some reduction in the national debt as well!

And wouldn’t it be music to our ears to get the ineffective “Bush Tax Cuts” out of the conversation?

I know, I’m dreaming – but all it took was that glimmer of hope to take away for a few moments the despair regarding the current situation.  So I thought I should share.