Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Four Elements of Strategic Value

MPI hosted a great webinar today by Mary Boone, Jack Phillips and Susan Radojevic on the strategic value of meetings. I filled up the marker board in the office with notes. Thought I'd share them here since this information is critical to what we're doing with Illumination Galleries.

Their argument in a nutshell, if I dare summarize. First, the financial crisis and negative press about meetings has put a lot of pressure on the meetings industry, but this pressure should be seen as an opportunity to transform ourselves from a cost center to a source of strategic value for businesses and associations.

Susan Radojevic introduced the concept of Portfolio Management. Companies organize a ton of meetings of all sizes. We generally measure them in terms of efficiency -- how much do they cost this year vs. last year? We should ALSO be measuring them in terms of effectiveness -- how are they impacting our strategic and business goals? Susan proposed a process called Alignment to identify the strategic goals of the company, to identify all of the meetings that are currently held by the company, and to develop and manage a strategic plan to prioritize the meetings that deliver the most business value. This changes the role of meeting planners from procurement experts to strategic players in the marketing function of an organization.

Mary Boone then explored the concept of Meeting Design - "the purposeful shaping of both form and content." First, the meeting designer works with the owners of the meeting to understand both the meeting objectives AND the business objectives behind the meeting. Then the designer culls through a wide range of tools, technologies and collaborative methodologies to craft a program that achieves both the meeting and the business objectives. "Connect. Inform. Engage!" (You will see the same themes all over the Illumination Galleries website as well, by the way.) Not every meeting planners needs to become a Meeting Designer, but planners DO need to learn to work with a much wider range of experts to pull off well-designed meetings, including meeting designers, "creatives", instructional designers, planning experts, social scientists, and interaction designers. We need to shift our 21st century meetings out of the 18th century "broadcast" mode, where "experts" merely talk at an audience. We need to create interactive experiences that get real work done!
Next, Jack Phillips talked about measuring the ROI on meetings. (Thanks SJSmith for the link!) He presented six different levels of measurement, from ___ to actual ROI (comparing the quantitative value of a meeting to the cost of delivery), and argued that only a few meetings require the highest levels of measurement. It is important to really quantify the value of these meetings, however, to improve future events, to engage senior executives better, and to get a seat at the table when strategic decisions are being made about your meetings.

Finally, the panelists gave a brief talk on Advanced Meeting Logistics. Logistics are critical to the success of a meeting. They define the constraints of the event, and they also enable everything that takes place in a meeting. Being flexible with logistics is critical when taking a meeting-design approach, because the form of the meeting may need to change as the needs of the participants change or become more clear. One of the webinar attendees then presented a great case study about the importance of logistics -- holding their first sea-faring event with 300 top executives aboard a cruise ship. "When life hands you limes, we at Baccardi make mojitos!" Love it.

Enjoy the illustrations!

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Friday, April 17, 2009

"Greed, Fear and the Brain"

We make decisions differently when we're under stress. I don't think many people would disagree with that. I "visualized" a great talk by Richard Peterson about just how much fear influences our decisions. As we are flooded with dire predictions and heart-rendingly depressing stories, it's important to keep in mind that the decisions that we're making might not be entirely rational.

Peterson explains the science of how our brains work, and which parts of the brain are involved in making decisions. It's not quite as simple as "emotion" vs. "reason". Anxiety and fear live in our limbic system, which is below the level of consciousness. Greed or, really, the anticipation of pleasure, lives in our pleasure centers. What's remarkable is that most of our fear AND our pleasure is about the anticipation of outcomes, not the outcomes themselves. Our pleasure centers go wild while we are making a bet, for example, but they are almost silent when the results of the bet are revealed -- even if we win!

The same is true on the negative side -- our fear is all driven by the anticipation of negative outcomes. Another interesting insight is that normally our fear of loss is much greater than our positive anticipation of gain. Imagine putting a bet on a coin toss. The odds are 50-50, right? Most people have to be offered twice the amount in winnings as they would lose with a negative outcome before they will make a significant wager on a coin toss. So they might turn down a bet where they would win $150, but risk losing $100. Mathematically, it is a great bet to take. Emotionally, the risk of losing the $100 is too much.

So, as you make decisions in this economy, step back to really understand what is driving your decision. Do you have a decision-making process that you use in good times and bad? How do you measure your process? Disciplined decision-making will see you through times of panic and times of exuberance. Understanding how your brain works isn't such a bad idea either.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Webinar: The Case for Meetings and Events

Mary Boone is leading a webinar on the Case for Meetings and Events. This is a further elaboration on the article I referred to a couple of weeks ago about the transformation of the meetings industry. Now is the greatest opportunity we have to make meetings matter, to make them significant, to make them a strategic part of business, not the boondoggle that so many people imagine them to be.

You need to register to participate in the webinar, so sign up soon! The webinar will take place on Tuesday, April 21, from 12:00pm - 1:15pm EDT.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Peter Block and Communities

In a great book that I recommend to everyone I meet, Peter Block argues that all communities, all movements start as a conversation in a small group of people. This is how ideas form, this is how momentum happens. Yes, great speakers can move huge audiences, but that speaker is building on a platform created by a small group in a room somewhere.

Where are those small group conversations encouraged in conferences today? Where are real relationships fostered? Unfortunately they're relegated to breaks, to "networking" events, and to the golf course. (Nothing against golf, mind you, but is that really the best answer we have to the challenge of forging high-performance relationships?)

"The future is created one room at a time, one gathering at a time. Each gathering need to become an example of the future we want to create. This means that the small group is where transformation takes place... Small groups have the most leverage when they meet as part of a larger gathering....

"To build community, we seek conversations where people show up by invitation rather than mandate, and experience an intimate and authentic relatedness. We have conversations where the focus is on the communal possibility and there is a shift in ownership of this place, even though others are in charge. We structure these conversations so that diversity of thinking and dissent are given space, commitments are made without barter, and the gifts of each person and our community are acknowledged and valued." [Chapter 9 - The Small Group Is the Unit of Transformation]

Block nicely sums up the rules and guidelines for building communities. He identifies the important conversations that need to happen. This is the good stuff. This is how our conferences can be organized. This kind of event would create connections that matter.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

New World of Work

A number of these videos have been flashing around recently. They are each quite impactful, but it is important to look at them with fresh eyes after you've seen a few of them. The temptation is to think "Oh, yes. I've seen that." Look again. You might discover something new.

I watched this New World of Work video while thinking about the future (and the past) of conferences and meetings. World demographics are changing wildly. More people will be retired than are working in some countries. The demographic mix in the US will shift dramatically in the next 30 years, in terms of ethnicity, language, social classes and much more. The best jobs in 2020 have not been invented yet, and they will use technologies that we haven't even dreamed of. These are the jobs that our schools are preparing young people for.

Does this sound like a world in which people will be willing to invest their time and money in a big conference where a handful of people talk at them? No way! This is a world where people will have ultimate choices about how they use their time. They'll be able to do endless things online, on the phone, in virtual worlds. To get people to attend a meeting physically will require a tremendous attractor, and talking heads ain't it.

What can people do in person that cannot be replicated online? Look each other in the eyes. Shake hands. Overhear a conversation and jump right in. Collaborate intensely. These are the experiences that the meeting industry must strive to create, because these are the only experiences that your attendees won't be able to get online.

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Collaboration at Adobe

Adobe's Chief Innovation Officer gives a nice account of how Adobe is using its own tools for collaboration internally. I liked this quote in particular:

"What’s interesting is it really has changed the culture. It’s changed the way people share documents. They don’t do all that email, you know, email the PowerPoint deck, or email the PDF file, or email the 16 documents for the presentation. They all join a connect session and have the opportunity collaboratively to engage in that conversation. That kind of brings me to what I think the kernel is: you need to do collaboration around some event or activity. It’s more than just hold a meeting, it’s more than: "Let’s just throw up a site and let people throw content at it." It’s about, "What is the work product and the activity you’re trying to accomplish?"

I have yet to find a toolset to magnificently support the virtual collaboration process that I described in a previous post. The easiest and most adequate tool for the moment is a wiki, but that requires the participants to provide a fair number of tools themselves for creating graphics, images and models to post to the wiki. Any ideas for great modeling tools?

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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Design Thinking Framework

Here's a nice little video that demonstrates a framework for "design thinking". I don't think there's any audio, but I'm not sure.

I've struggled for years over the decision to include "design" in my marketing materials. For those customers and collaborators who "get it", design is the perfect word. For those who don't, you often get into a long discussion about how you don't, in fact, have an opinion about the curtains in their office. Design Thinking seems to be growing in popularity, though. The benefits it offers businesses (and meetings) are pretty extraordinary over what's traditionally passed for strategy and planning.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Schooling Has Patterned Us

Ever find yourself driving in a strange town, passing a large, heavily-fenced structure and wondering to yourself, "Is that a prison or a school?" It turns out that the traditional models for schools, prisons, armies and hospitals were all developed around the same time. Michel Foucault wrote a great book called Discipline and Punish that I was compelled to read in college. It told a fascinating story of how society thinks of the relationship between body and soul. The basic idea is that people who "behave badly" must have a fundamental flaw in their soul. If we can rigidly train the body into a wholesome and productive pattern of behavior, then the defect in the soul will be corrected.

It's not too difficult to find the flaws in this argument, and it actually has some profound implications on our society at large. But this basic argument was used to create schools (create patterns of behavior in young people), prisons (correct defects by keeping them on a rigid schedule), and hospitals (treat the body like a machine). It's all very rational, but it's all very flawed as well.

The model for schools has become the model for our conferences as well. Make expectations clear. Keep to the schedule. Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em, tell 'em, and tell 'em what you told 'em. Structure structure structure. There's no room in most conferences for creation to happen, for new ideas to emerge, and if there is room, it's trapped in a tidy little 60-minute breakout round called "Getting Creative!!!" (why the extra punctuation, I don't know).

So it might be helpful to learn a bit more about schools and schooling, yes? This might help us move away from the school-model in our meetings and conferences. Take a peek.

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Monday, April 6, 2009

Self-Organizing Meetings

Digging a little further into the Collaborationlabs.net site... Open Space and UNconferences (not the United Nations, I assure you) are becoming more and more popular as techniques for making large-group interactions engaging and productive. They are certainly far more interactive than your traditional conference model.

This page on the site gives a quick overview of the territory of "self-organizing meetings", plus links to some great resources on both the theory behind the methods and the methods (processes) themselves. Enjoy!

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Thank Doyle and Strauss

All you've ever loved and hated about business meetings can be attributed to Michael Doyle and David Strauss. In the 1970s, they published a book called How to Make Meetings Work. This codified the best practices of meeting preparation, defining an agenda, selecting a facilitator, taking notes, etc. Their distinctions between types of meetings (problem-solving vs. decision-making vs. information-sharing) is useful and helpful as far as it goes.

There's been an unfortunate assumption, however, that this is all there is to meetings. We have believed that small groups can have a variety of types of meetings (best managed by the Doyle & Strauss rule-set), but that once the numbers of participants grew too large, the only possible process was the "sit & get" model of interaction -- one talking head lecturing at an audience. Now, there's been tremendous innovation in this style of meeting - from transparencies to PowerPoint to full-on spectacles with pyrotechnics and the whole nine yards. But the model of interaction is the same - one head talking, hundreds of others listening.

The arrival of Open Space is pretty exciting because it breaks that mold. Using this technique, huge groups of people can have dozens of concurrent conversations to explore ideas, test models and make decisions. It's totally uncontrolled and unpredictable, it's wildly productive and engaging, and it scares the pants off of most people who organize events. We tend to like knowing exactly what's going to happen before it happens (seriously, why does anyone hold a press conference anymore when the content is broadcast long before the meeting itself?). Open Space allows people in groups to interact, to mix it up, and for fun, exciting and scary things to emerge from those interactions.

What the conference world is just beginning to wrestle with is how big the universe of conference models really is, and how to select the right model for the right conference? Bryan Coffman has distilled a useful model for understanding meetings. I referred to this framework in my post on Conceiving a Virtual Collaboration Process.
The entire CollaborationLabs.net site is an exploration of these different types of collaboration, defined by the two axes of "Facilitator vs. Agent Controlled-Process" and "Amount of Structure Created by Emergent Rules vs. by Design". The orange arrow designates the direction we seem to be heading in.

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