Friday Fast Takes Play Hooky, Y’all

Small Toddler alone in Art Museum

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!

Event XD: Moroccan Warehouse Party Inspo + IBM\’s Damn Napkins!

A few weeks back, I hopped a plane out of Las Vegas (see here for my recent musings on LV plane trips btw) and one espresso, two layovers and three landings later, I deplaned at Marrakech’s Menara airport to attend the 1 – 54 Contemporary African Art Fair.

On night three, I attended an art exposition/most excellent party in none other than an old warehouse adjacent to the medina’s main plaza.

Is a warehouse party a new concept? No, for as long as there have been old warehouses, partygoers have been turning them into unsanctioned fire hazards disguised as totally intentional bacchanals.

What intrigued me though, and frankly painted a big ole’ smile all over my face, was that this particularly warehouse fiesta featured art, art and more art, as well as a potpourri of artists, collectors, gallerists and fair attendees of all ages and from the four corners of the globe… quite literally. I met Europeans, Africans, Asians, North and South Americans and an Aussie. (Sorry Antarctica. Apparently you sent no one to 1 – 54 Marrakech.) Despite of, or perhaps because of, the diversity of the audience, an event experience which consisted of three floors with zero signage, furniture, custom lighting, linens, sponsor logos, floral arrangements or any of the other typical accouterments planners spend months whipping themselves into a frenzy over (“The linens are too blue, Stacy*. They’re TOO DAMN BLUE. IBM** is gonna lose their sh*t if we don’t fix this ASAP. They didn’t drop all that money for DARK blue linens. They’re IBM for god’s sake! Cancel your vacation. Tell your kids you’ll see them at Christmas, and FIX. THOSE. LINENS!”), people were eating it up.

For hours, they stayed and drank basic drinks out of plastic cups, looked at three art installations (a hand-drawn pictures on construction paper affixed to a concrete wall, a video projected onto a large screen in otherwise empty room, and a 10’ tall fabric piece suspended by itself next to a staircase), congregated and made merry on a rooftop terrace with only small, LED floor votives and the street lights below for illumination. It was awesome. It was simple. It was a completely memorable experience for next to no budget, which was a great reminder to me that more than all the funding in the world, the best event experiences are the product of focusing on what’s most important – in the case of the Moroccan warehouse art party, removing visual distractions so that people could focus on their connection with the art around them and even more importantly, the people – who are pretty much always the best part of any event experience anyway.

*In this imaginary scenario some version of which every event professional has experienced in some way shape or form, poor Stacy has likely spent hours and dozens of emails going back and forth with vendors, executives at IBM and staff at her own organization about 100 table linens for a reception that will last 2 – 3 hours tops and which will welcome ~1,000 guests. Seems totally reasonable, right? (That was a trick rhetorical question. It is not reasonable nor is it necessary to design a great event experience.)

**I picked IBM completely at random and have nothing against them at all.  In fact, I\’m sure they\’re absolutely delightful and whenever they\’d like to create an over-the-top warehouse party experience, I\’d be 100% game.

Space x Digital XD: Bathroom Love @ 30,000 ft… No, Not That Kind You Perv

This month, Space + Digital XD are pulling #TheUltimateCombiner!!

Man, do I love bathrooms. Yeah, that’s a weird lead for any post, let alone one to which I’m tethering (at least in small part) the reputation of my business, but hear me out. Bathrooms are ubiquitous. From the most luxurious penthouses to the simplest roadside burger joints and every place in between, bathrooms are in the spacial mix. Everyone needs them and eventually, everyone uses them. Often in penthouses, upscale restaurants, or quirky retail spots, bathrooms are a part of the experiential mix too. Owners of commodes in those locales invest in creating a cohesive bathroom experience because they understand, whether consciously or only intuitively, that walking from a gorgeous home or swanky dining room or totally on-trend concept store into what one could only describe as a YMCA-locker-room-meets-national-park-outhouse doesn’t do a lot of good for their guests’ overall spacial experience or the face of their home or business.

Butt so many others relegate bathrooms to the backside burner of their spacial experience design…How’re those for some epically terrible puns?

As regular readers of G+A’s blog may know, I’ve been on more than a few planes of late, and what’s struck me over and over and over again are the multitude of missed opportunities by both airports and airlines to use their bathrooms for good not evil. Okay, okay, that’s hyperbole, but seriously, these spaces already exist – they don’t have to be built specially or at great additional expense to deliver totally unexpected, high, high-impact space experiences. And if one extrapolates the bathroom space experience design idea out a bit further (which as you may have guessed, I have), by simply encouraging the people who are already using these bathrooms to do what they do best in bathrooms… eww, no gross, I meant take selfies, businesses could easily create almost $0 cost digital marketing campaigns with rock-solid social credibility and authenticity populated by, yep, regular people like you and me!

Imagine it:

You live in Antarctica and you’ve been elected the continent’s first-ever attendee to the 2021 iteration of 1 – 54 Marrakech. You’re stoked and head to wherever you’d head to fly north for hours on end, let’s say Cape Town. You board your flight and after hitting 10k feet and chug-a-lugging a few Coke Zeros (because, c’mon, nobody on Antarctica has Coke Zero just lying around after all) you make your way to the bathroom. You’re listening to some sweet jams on your Bose noise-canceling headphones so you’ve gotta bring your phone with you to avoid dropping the Bluetooth connection*. You open the door and can’t believe what you see next. First, a wave of eye-popping color, then, upon further inspection, a mirror decked out with real-life filters (aka clings) that say something like “Go on, take that selfie. Globetrotting looks good on you. #30kthoughts by @delta”.

\”Hell’s bells,\” you think. \”this is 100% selfie-worthy.\” You snap a quick pic, tag, and post (in-flight wifi for the win) and then go on to tell your seatmates about that dope bathroom they’ve gotta check out, which they, of course, do. This goes on for the duration of the flight, and at one point, the head flight attendant even comes on to make an announcement encouraging people to take a look. When your flight lands, 200 people deplane all abuzz about the totally excellent experience they just had. They keep calling, posting, and texting their circles about it and while their updates begin to get wider and wider circulation, the next planeload of folks boards and the cycle begins all over again. In a matter of days, Delta’s achieved a viral marketing campaign curated entirely by it’s completely dazzled customers\’ bathroom experience.

  • Cost to Delta: Almost nothing if they retrofitted a handful of bathrooms on their longest, busiest flights.

  • Experiential Dividends for Delta: Priceless as 100s upon 100s of people started tagging and posting and then 1,000s upon 1,000s more pushed the campaign viral.

I’ve thought about this so much over the past month, that it finally occurred to me to dream up a little bathroom-meets-space-meets-digital experience design experiment of my own. Seriously, on a recent flight to Chicago, I was just in another ho-hum bathroom that was in no way living up to its potential and a lightbulb came on – in my head that is. (I wasn\’t just creepily in there in the dark.) I jetted back to my seat (high-five to myself for another good pun and yes, I washed my hands first) and got to writing! I can’t give away all the details just yet… mostly because I haven’t flushed them all out (hahaha), but stay tuned for some fun coming soon. In the meantime, on your next stop in the world’s most-often-used-yet-least-often-considered space, think about how you could create an entirely different experience as easily as 1 or 2…okay or 3.

*This may seem like an extremely specific detail, but it\’s how I always roll on flights.  Headphones on, Bluetooth on, phone to the bathroom so my poor row mates don\’t have to listen to Return of the Mack blare on and one when my headphones drop the connection.

Culture x People XD: Cutting Corners to Cut Out Early aka The Play Hooky Approach

Summer hours and shortened work weeks aren\’t new.  Neither are unlimited PTO or flexible holidays.  What I find fascinating about all of those ideas is that each of them was designed to encourage flexibility and a life outside of work… by promptly labeling and categorizing that freedom and liberty via policies and systems that could be measured.   Seems more than a bit ironic to me.

When I was a kid, I loved the occasional day when my mom or dad would turn to me with a glimmer in their eye and conspiratorily whisper, \”You wanna play hooky today?\”  It was like getting a lightning bolt of joy straight to the heart!  Hooky!  The best thing of all time, ever!  The totally unanticipated and definitely, in no way planned day whose singular purpose was clear: have fun!  As I think back on those days from my adult vantage point, I imagine it more like this:

[Mom, Dad, or Any Adult Whose Soul Wants a Day to Just Have Fun] It\’s March 6.  I live in fill-in-the-blank and it\’s the first beautiful Friday we\’ve had in months.  I want to A) sit on the deck and read, B) sleep until my body naturally wakes up for once, C) finally begin planning that warehouse art party I\’ve been fantasizing about in the empty Sears building down the street.  I want to play hooky!

[Still Mom, Dad, or Any Adult Whose Soul Wants a Day to Just Have Fun] Crap!  I guess I\’ll call in and say I\’m sick/my kid is sick.  Ugh, there\’s all of that work to get done though – so many tasks.  WAIT!  We just switched up our work philosophy to the play hooky approach.  Thank, GOD! [Rubbing their hands together schemingly.] Sears, you\’re never gonna be the same again!

So What\’s the Play Hooky Approach?

Sometimes also called the \”Richard Gear hanging out with Julia Roberts on a Grassy Knoll Much to the Chagrin of Jason Alexander in Pretty Woman\” approach, the Play Hooky approach is simple.

  1. Do the best work you can as often as possible.
  2. When you realize that your brain +/or body are desperately yearning for a break for no other reason than because it\’d be fun to enjoy the world around you and because you weren\’t put on Earth just to push widgets from A to B and back to A, take a cold, hard look at all of that work you think you have to do to keep the world from ending.
  3. Be vicious about cutting out tasks that really aren\’t essential to the excellent functioning of your widget production line.  No matter what your sneaky, non-hooky-playing brain may tell you, your workday is rife with these, I promise you.
  4. Use your newfound reduced workload as the excuse you shouldn\’t need but do to play hooky and trust that when your brain, body, soul, whatever you want to call it, is pleading for a change of pace that it\’s inevitably going to do you a world of good far in excess of the hours you don\’t spend widget pushing.
  5. Realize that all that non-essential work won\’t magically become essential again once you\’re back at it and stop doing it forever.

It cracks me up that so often when I talk to people about the approach above, they love to read it, imagine the freedom they\’d instantly have if they adopted it, and then promptly begin to argue mightily for their version of beloved-yet-despised widget pushing.  What I\’ve realized in myself and others is that applying (or not) the Play Hooky approach to life often boils down to a willingness to embrace one\’s fear of the unknown.

If I take the risk and stop doing this, what will happen? I have NO idea and that scares the sh*t out of me even though I may not identify what I\’m feeling as fear because I, Mallory Gott, never really want to admit that I\’m scared.  Instead, I\’d rather puff my chest up, proudly proclaim my widget pushing as critical to the very existence of all life around me (or at least the life of my company) and grip that much harder onto the dull, cruddy ache of yuck I\’m experiencing because at least that I am familiar with. To myself and those like me who so often unconsciously fall comfortably, almost gratefully, into unsatisfying, established patterns of existence, I say:

If displeasure exists both in doing what you\’ve always done and in the fear of the unknown inherent in doing something new, but excitement exists only in the unknown…then go for that.

You can walk right back into the welcoming arms of your displeasing everyday behavior whenever you\’d like.  The widgets will still be there to push around, I promise.  Who knows, though, maybe if you adopt the Play Hooky approach while you\’re reading on your deck after you\’ve actually slept enough hours to feel rested, you\’ll see something which will inspire you to design the Sears warehouse jam of the century, and you\’ll feel so damn energized that you\’ll plan the entire thing in a matter of hours?

Laughing?  Well, in the spirit of walking the talk, I just viciously eliminated the need to write five separate XD blurbs for this post so that I could cut out early today and discover whatever it is the universe is calling me to find… so boom to all you laughers.

Happy Friday, y\’all! Here\’s to playing hooky for no other reason than because sometimes even those widgets being shuffled to and fro need a breather.

XOXO, Mallory