Author: Oli Barrett

The Edge of Events

The Edge of Events

Pondering the future of events, physical and virtual, I think it’s worth considering what makes each of those two truly great.

If we think deeply about that, we’ll find their “edge”, and by doubling down on THAT, we’ll deliver outstanding experiences.

Yes, some things can be achieved by either physical OR virtual. But for certain goals, one may have a stronger “edge”.

Here are some questions I think are worth asking;

1) How do we create the conditions for two people to bond?

2) How do we make a group feel more united?

3) How do we create the conditions for happy coincidences to flourish?

4) How to we best include the diverse voices we need to hear?

5) How do we best make everyone feel comfortable to bring their whole self to the gathering?

6) How do we best increase the love a person has for our organisation?

7) How do we positively shift how a person feels about themselves?

8) How do we maximise the desire of a guest to want to work with us?

9) How do we tap expertise from every industry, globally?

10) How do we have deeply insightful, inspiring and informative conversations?

11) How do we ensure that value can be amplified beyond the event?

12) How do we maximise enjoyment?

13) How do we maximise personal value?

14) How to we maximise business value?

15) How does this gathering fundamentally help us to progress in our mission as an organisation?

16) How does this gathering, in however small or large a way, make the world a better place?

What have I missed? Where is the edge?

In Search of Lost Places

In Search of Lost Places

It’s just after half past eight on a chilly autumn morning and I’m standing on the train platform. Alongside me are four students and one village elder – I’m the only commuter, bound for London.

To Paddington, and as I meet my colleague from finnCap outside our office destination, I feel a sense of elation and conspiracy. We’re back in town, and it feels good.

We scan the list of tenants, seeing a mysterious company called Splunk and several floors taken by Sony Pictures. Deposited at the wrong floor, we joke about being cast as awkward extras.

I’m here to film an interview and within two minutes of meeting my guest, I feel like I’ve connected with them in a way that 6 months of Zoom couldn’t quite manage. We’re talking about their office, where they live, and the fact that we share an affection for the same local curry house. The coincidences are building a rapport in powerful ways which video calls just don’t unlock. Crucially, the interview which follows is massively more connected and insightful than I could have achieved from home.

Heading for our next location, my colleague and I have time for an impromptu lunch. Over lunch, a new event idea is born, complete with format and potential guests. A positive result for them, and a new opportunity for me.

A dear friend, Rowan Pelling, passes our table and my spirits again are lifted. After paying the bill I pop to see her and enjoy a serendipitous hello with the publisher of a new magazine (Perspective).

Our next location is in Covent Garden. It’s an old stomping ground and one which brings the memories flooding back. Standing outside the Paul bakery, I’m inspired to call entrepreneur and theatre producer, Tristan Baker, perhaps because we shared an office here, perhaps because the smell of madeleines has reminded me that he is in France. Our impromptu call sparks laughter, ideas and wonderful feeling of reconnection.

Walking back towards Paddington, I stop for coffee outside the BBC, where I’m one of just two customers in the coffee shop. Since I was a student, I’ve used locations to trigger ideas and today is no exception. As workers beetle in and out of the revolving doors, I sit, and think.

The mask on the train is a price to pay for a creative and uplifting day. Not “in the office”, because for me those days passed several years ago. But “back in town”. Walking, meeting, thinking, working.

I find myself looking forward to tomorrow, when I know I’ll be “working from home”. I go to bed happy in the knowledge that today was massively enhanced by seeing people, and meeting people – by serendipity and by spontaneity.

The philosopher Martin Buber once said that all journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware. After many months of working from home, it is wonderful to rediscover all that I have missed.

Questions and Answers

Questions and Answers

The extraordinary Oak National Academy was created by a group of teachers in response to the pandemic. What does an Oak National University look like?

That’s the sort of exam question we should be asking this year. With a national spotlight on education, too much of the conversation has been about adjusting what is, rather than imagining what could be.

It isn’t just universities which need a rethink. If we scored today’s primary and secondary systems on their ability to foster creativity, teamwork, wellbeing, resilience, problem-solving and social skills, how confident are you that they would score an A?

Or how would you explain to an alien visitor that after 13 years of learning, we give our students a “passport” which contains, on average, just three letters?

In the wake of schools being “closed”, we should be asking how can we now make them more “open” than ever before. Open to ideas, mentors and opportunities from every country, industry and sector in the world.

As we focus on the detail and accuracy of grades, the next piece of paper to capture our imaginations should be blank.

To put it another way; if the “result” is a generation of happy young people, well prepared to make their way in the world… what is the question?

Other People

Other People

To quote an old proverb, “one man’s meat is another man’s poison”. Or, as they say in France, “one man’s fish is another man’s poisson.”

For men and women everywhere, it’s a reminder that what might be heaven for you, is hell for someone else.

I’m not sure whether Jean-Paul Sartre was into his fish, but he certainly reckoned that “hell is other people”. A thought which may resonate with someone who has just experienced four months of lockdown.

Firstly, even within the same household, there have been many lockdowns and even the closest of families may have experienced things extremely differently.

Likewise, for an individual, lockdown may have seemed to be heaven or hell, sometimes within the same day, week, or month.

This matters because it should make us wary about rushing to a consensus about how we work.

When was the last time someone asked you these questions, and really LISTENED to the answers?

Where do YOU do your best work? How well equipped is YOUR home as a place of work? How important to YOU is being around other people? How can I make YOUR work more enjoyable?

These questions matter, because we are all unique.

Yes, “mi casa es su casa”, however when it comes to being at our best, I won’t confuse my house with yours.

How do YOU work well?  

Going Slow

Going Slow

“There is more to life than increasing its speed”, said Gandhi.

It could have been different. Offices, pubs, restaurants closed. No commuting. A chance to unwind, chill out, reflect.

And yet person after person I’ve spoken to has revealed that lockdown has been full on. Back-to-back calls. Fighting for survival or bracing through hypergrowth.

The peaceful reflection never quite materialised.

Today the talk is of revving the engines. Kickstarting. Build build building. We’re travelling at 100 miles per hour and preparing to go faster.

Maybe we need to find a different gear.

The challenges are clear, with jobs at risk and businesses on the line. We can’t afford to become less productive. If speed really is the key then maybe the secret is less not more.

Viggo Mortensen said “One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a horse master. He told me to go slow to go fast. I think that applies to everything in life. We live as though there aren’t enough hours in the day but if we do each thing calmly and carefully we will get it done quicker and with much less stress.”

As I order my next espresso, pick up Fast Company or check out the latest accelerator, I’ll ponder those words.

“Go slow to go fast”.

In a year of surprises, it might just work.