Selfishly, to create accountability for myself and catapult that imagineering time back up the charts, I launched G+A’s Friday Fast Takes series. On the first Friday of each month, I share musings from each area of our XD focus (events, digital, space, culture, and people) that I’m toying with. Topics range from real-world observations of XD in action to hypothetical challenges to long-standing beliefs and whether they should remain standing. Some of my musings may evolve into long-form posts, and some may not. Heck, I may discontinue the series entirely because I determine it, in and of itself, no longer stands up. For now, though, I’m making my creative time a very public priority. Happy Reading!
Have you ever arrived at an event, be it a conference, a concert or a play, after the initial rush of guests has arrived? Upon approaching the registration counter, ticket window, or box office kiosk, it can feel like the unnerving calm at the beginning of a horror movie or a just before the clock strikes twelve at a high-noon shootout: sparsely populated, eerily quiet, lights flickering, tumbleweeds blowing. Wait, those last two may not apply. Nonetheless, after the early onslaught of event-goers, these spaces – often centrally located and impossible to avoid – become, for all intents and purposes, desolate outposts, barren and lackluster despite their former glory as once-prominent fixtures of the arrival experience.
Could we design a better event ticketing, registration, or check-in experience with EVen the smallest bit of forethought?
In my strong and in-no-way-humble opinion, absolutely. Indeed, the ability to move a high-volume of people expeditiously through a central space is critical to the creation of a positive onsite event experience. Without an effective registration, ticketing, or check-in process, your event could quickly devolve into the equivalent of the great Rome subway debacle of 2003*. While people likely wouldn\’t begin hurling Italian profanity or aggressive backward hand gestures (unless you were in Rome, in which case all bets would be off), they would become frustrated and disenchanted pretty quickly. But couldn\’t there be a happy medium? Couldn\’t we pause to consider how a requisite space could be even modestly redesigned to transform throughout an event to serve multiple functions? Why wouldn\’t it be possible to plan for the metamorphosis from a staffed ticket or badge pick-up desk, to say, collaborative pods, individual rejuvenation booths, pop-up performance spaces, or even a relevant human library? Examining this not-so-tiny touchpoint could reveal a simple, easy and wildly high-impact opportunity to revolutionize an otherwise wholly forgettable part of your event experience.
*In 2003, while on my first trip to Rome, my sister and I were nearly squashed in Rome\’s subway when officials failed to prevent commuters from descending into a subway stop while trains were temporarily suspended. We survived and immediately got pizza + gelato to cope with the trauma. Oddly, even after the trauma had subsided, we continued to self-soothe with pizza + gelato??
Digital XD: The Story of the Beer Inspector
Imagine it: music echoing through the halls, people laughing + making merry, the scent of delicious food wafting through the air, and the beer. Oh yes, the delightful, fresh, seasonally released beer. You\’ve waited 12 months for it, and just as it reaches you, the jovial looking stranger next to you swiftly pulls out a compact tape measure, deftly assesses the fullness of your glass and summons your server back to fine her for under-filling your liter stein!
Sound made up? Think again. It\’s real and happens every year at Oktoberfest in Munich. How do I know this? Well, I recently learned about it while working with one of G+A\’s most Bavarian clients, Hofbrauhäus Las Vegas. During an event XD discovery meeting, I asked them to share their favorite stories about the annual German bacchanal in order to really get a feel for what, in their opinions, made Oktoberfest so magical. In fact, it was so important to me that they get into the spirit, I asked them to share in German and to later translate the highlights back to me in English. Amongst a host of fun + quirky anecdotes, I learned about the beer inspector and knew that we\’d struck digital gold.
Sure, there\’s a lot that goes into optimizing your digital experience: ensuring you\’ve identified high-performing target keywords, testing your paid versus organic adword strategy to refine and improve it, and much much more, but…
Where SEO content is concerned, write what you know, and love, about your business and trust the optimization will follow.
The beer inspector is. goofy. It\’s a niche take on Oktoberfest that almost no one aside from those who\’ve been to Munich would know about, but once written about, it will most certainly include many if not all of the keywords ideal to optimizing search for Hofbrauhäus\’ annual fete. Plus, it\’d be damn fun to author a piece on the subject, which would make the content itself so much more enjoyable for the reader. Yes, of course, everyone loves stats about the world\’s best beer, but rather than polishing off the same flat, stale (see what I did there) content yet again, you could give having a little fun with your subject matter a whirl. Try out your version of the beer inspector. If it bombs (which I guarantee it won\’t), you\’re out 1,500 words and an hour or two of writing time. You can always write that sleep-inducing: \”10 Facts for Beer Lovers\” post tomorrow.
Space XD: Styles that Make No Sense Make Perfect Sense
I love HGTV… hard. Ours is not a new love, HGTV\’s and mine. Since the late 90s, when my parents finally broke down and got cable (for the youths, cable was the precursor to Netflix, Hulu and Disney+ ;-), I watched every design show I could, as often as I could. Back then, I\’d sprint to the bathroom during commercial breaks so as not to miss a second of the glorious Tuscan kitchen reveals or cherry vanity unveilings. Yes, the design was different in the era of dial-up and boy bands, but my love for it wasn\’t, and one show\’s format, in particular, absolutely captivated me. Though the show\’s title has long since left my mind (and believe me I tried to find it using my best Google search skills), the concept remains seared into my brain. The host/designer sat down with couples whose styles were materially (pun intended) different and who believed they couldn\’t reconcile their disparate tastes into something they not only both enjoyed, but that was also at least somewhat on-trend. In episode after episode, he would guide couples towards a happy marriage (it\’s just raining puns today) of their divergent aesthetics, and they would cry, squeal with glee, and be speechless with each redesigned room he unveiled.
Recently, I met a prospective client looking to redesign several spaces within her family\’s home. What struck me during our conversation was not that she and her partner had different styles, but that so often, when we consider our own tastes, we convince ourselves that they simply cannot be reconciled to one another successfully. Sure, if you love robots and hygge (the Danish approach to design that emphasizes coziness and comfortable conviviality), you may not see how those could be transformed into a beautiful space experience in your living room, but I\’m here to tell you that they can.
\”The key,\” I said to her, \”is to focus less on how things will come together and more on whether they feel great when you Look at or think about them. If, when your eyes land on something, be it a sofa, a wallpaper swatch, or piece of art, You Get That \’I Love this\’ Feeling, take note. that\’s where the Best Space Design begins.\”
We\’re early in her family\’s space design process, so where the project will take us remains to be seen. Regardless though, if we concentrate on what feels best, a beautiful blend of whatever styles she and her family love, a deeply satisfying outcome is an inevitability.
Culture XD: Batting 500 + Other Dreams at Work
If a major league slugger hit 500 in either a single season or the entirety of thier career, he (or she) would be considered superhuman, a demi-god. Ty Cobb achieved the best lifetime batting average ever, 366 over 24 seasons since the MLB began recording such stats, meaning that for his entire career he averaged one hit every three-ish times he was at-bat. The best single-season slugger, Nap LaJoie, racked up a 426 average, striking out (or being thrown out, hitting a flyout, etc.) more than half the time he stepped up to the plate the year he set his record.
If those dudes could be considered titans of their industry by delivering the goods less than half the time they showed up to hit, couldn\’t I take a 6-month vacation every year and still crush it professionally? I was discussing that with a fellow business owner recently, and not dissimilarly to previous watershed moments a lightbulb flashed on in my mind: we each design the organizational culture of our dreams whether we own the organization (as is the case for me) or own only our piece of the culture, i.e. the job we do and how we show up to do that job.
While for me, that looks like (at least today) a desire to work fewer than 6 months a year doing great work on large-scale projects with co-workers and clients I genuinely enjoy, i.e. batting well above the average without spending every waking minute at the plate, it may look different for you. In all likelihood, many folks will read that last sentence and think, \”Yeah, that\’s all well and good for you, but I don\’t have that flexibility so save your pie-in-the-sky dreams for Richard Branson.\” I would offer a few balancing thoughts.
First, we all have a choice all the time. Though we often tell ourselves we don\’t and cleverly ascribe our limitations to others (I have kids; my spouse wouldn\’t approve; people simply don\’t do that where I\’m from), the reality is we\’re all always one choice away from a different life. No, that choice isn\’t whether to quit your job or buy a new home. It\’s actually much simpler. It\’s the choice to believe that we have the freedom to choose everything, all-day, every day. Even when doing difficult things (making different health or well-being choices, staying a difficult job for the benefits, etc.), we always have a choice.
Second, why not dream as big as you can\’t imagine? No, that \’can\’t\’ wasn\’t a typo. If you can\’t imagine a reality in which you could make a living while only working 6-months a year with people you actually regarded as friends doing awesome projects you were ecstatic about then how the hell could it ever happen? Sure, I may only end up taking 2 or 3 months off a year (aka batting 290), but to quote from a book I love, The World\’s Greatest Salesman, \”Better to shoot for the moon and hit only an eagle* than to shoot for an eagle* and hit only a rock.\” So whether you want to batt 350, work 180 days a year or fewer, earn a great living scuba diving + playing video games**, or live on a prairie farmette while rock climbing and spending time with your children**, why not take a swing at your professional dreams?
As it turns out, the only person holding you apart from your dreams is you.
*Please don\’t shoot eagles. It\’s not cool. That\’s just a metaphor.
**You know who you are.
People XD: It\’s February – Crush So Hard on Your People
Quick, who\’s your favorite employee? Customer? Vendor? Sure, with more than a second to consider your answer, you probably came up with the person who checks all the \’right\’ boxes. He, she or they may be punctual, smart, make you a lot of money, save you a lot of money, take you to all the best locations for work, lend prestige to your portfolio. The list goes on and on, but ignore all that logic for just a moment. Instead consider who first popped into your head, before all of your internal editorializing began.
Perhaps it was the employee that always makes folks laugh when the team is wound tight working on an approaching deadline? Maybe it was the customer who allows you to take the creative wheel and is actually nice to your staff? How about the vendor whose work is always delivered on time and to the highest quality standards even if they\’re not the least expensive producer? No matter the role that person or people play in your day-to-day experience, if you\’re crushing on them take a good hard look at what about them makes you swoony, and then go find more of it and watch the real love story begin.
How can you possibly focus on general traits and behaviors over skills or financial returns you wonder? Don\’t you need employees, customers, or vendors who check the skill or financial boxes necessary to keep the fire of industry stoked? Yes, of course. I\’m not suggesting you go after customers who are nice but have no money or staff who make everyone laugh but never hit a deadline. I am, however, offering that when the litmus test for your dream people experience changes, you begin to alter related components in a way that naturally attracts and retains more of the employees, customers or vendors you find desirable. You know, the ones you actually like being around.
For example, if you love the staffer who keeps things light during tough times at the office, why not add that to a job description or ask about it in a job interview? Remember, you can write a job description any way you like. If you want a customer who loves being broadly creatively involved without getting in the weeds during a project lifecycle, could you consider stating that plainly in a pitch? \”We do our best work with clients who trust us to execute their broad creative vision independently at a tactical level.\” Sure, you may lose out on the Harvard wunderkind or the Fortune 10 account, but you\’ll most certainly amass more aligned people experiences and, in so doing, create a self-renewing cycle of expansion!
So, in the spirit of love, commercialized love, candy hearts and everything else inherent to February in America, go forth and crush hard on your people! And for goodness sake, have enough self-love to surround yourself with others you actually love whenever and wherever possible.