We’re still talking about our experience attending RGD’s DesignThinkers 2016 conference a few weeks ago, in part because design thinking has been on our minds for some time now. It’s easy, in the world of live events and communications, to do things as they’ve always been done, especially when you’ve built a solid reputation for doing them that way.
But what if we took some time to reflect on what it is we do, as if we were designers tasked with rethinking the concept of live meetings? This calls to mind Leland Maschmeyer’s discussion of reimagining lip balm (for EoS): letting go of the traditional tube shape and structure was, as it turns out, a risky but necessary first step. (EoS’s round, pastel lip balms have taken the market by storm, knocking ChapStick out of its market dominance.) When you move away from how something’s always been done, you open up possibilities that can strike deeper resonances with your target audiences.
And given that, well, audiences are our thing, we’re curious about what it might mean if we looked more closely at events from a design perspective.
Unknowing the Meeting Experience
As the events industry is now into its second century, we’re seeing interesting shifts and an appetite for change. More interactivity, fewer PowerPoint slides (Rule #1: you always have too many PPT slides), shorter sessions. But it seems like even when we try to change the way meetings happen, we always end up in the same place. We can call a meeting a “Summit,” but unless it does what a Summit does—coming together to discuss things as equals—then it’s just a conference by another name. Ditto for forum, colloquium, symposium.
But our two days with designers have us thinking that even those arrangements might still be within too narrow a paradigm. Rather than focusing on what we know, what would happen if we spent time with what we don’t know about meetings? This brings us necessarily back to Kenya Hara’s “Exformation” theory: that we let go of what we think we know about meetings, and explore the concept of “meeting” by consciously entering into a position of unknowing.
It’s a bit like walking-paths, which inevitably seem not to be one’s natural walking inclination—as evidenced by the proximate grass-worn paths that people make as they walk where they are inclined to go. The corollary to this is Sheila Heti and Misha Glouberman’s The Chairs Are Where the People Go, which pushes us to rethink something as simple as chair arrangement. Rather than placing chairs and directing people to them, as we’ve always done, why don’t we see where the people go, and place the chairs there?
We’ve become so accustomed to prioritizing a set of things (chairs, stages, slides) rather than the people we want to engage. Focusing on the experiential aspect of “meeting” as idea, exformation—which is really the idea of setting aside all we think we know, and approaching the concept as if we’ve never encountered it before (think of this as the opposition of “information”)—gives us the space to reprioritize and open up to possibilities.
The Answer is in the Question
So … if you could design the first meeting, ever, what would it look like? What would it sound like? How would it feel?
What if, like the strongest relationships, meetings weren’t one-off events—but approached as part of a series of integrated, continuous communication pieces?
How could we create an experience that felt more like one of your most compelling life experiences, and less like an obligation?
What would we be willing to risk to find out?