After many months of planning, my brainchild, The St0ry, came to life on January 5th in the overwhelming Real World Suite of the Hard Rock in Las Vegas. The single greatest achievement, the coolest part of the gathering, was bringing 30 absolutely fascinating people together in one room, for a shared experience and experiment.
The key theme was everyone’s passion for storytelling and the increasing importance of storytelling to everything. The language of storytelling is permeating more and more fields these days, as people begin to understand the true potential of digital and social media to impact our society. Every participant came with their own unique take on how our culture is evolving, the role technology plays in that evolution and how people, companies, organizations and governments should understand and evolve themselves given these trends.
From some of my prepared remarks, meant to kick off the conversations:
…I’ll leave it to all of you to interpret words like disruption, innovation, and social for yourselves. Our gathering isn’t about getting more Facebook likes or how much white space to include on your website. Our gathering is about meditating over the fact that we now live in a world with Facebook and Twitter, with Tumblr and YouTube, with iPhone and Tivo, with Zipcar and Kahn Academy, with MakerBot and driverless cars.
What does that mean? How does that impact the way we communicate, how does it impact the messages, feelings and stories capable of being communicated? How do we promote businesses, rally for social causes, run for public office?
How are the chefs, journalists, academics, artists and activists of 2013 different from those of 1980, 1880 or 80? And, not less importantly, how are they exactly the same?
Getting exposed to the insights and opinions of those doing similar things but from different fields was a key selling point. We had published authors, Emmy winners, C-level executives, artists, social activists, high tech folks and a star chef. Each committed to staying offline, maintaining confidentiality and offering their true selves to each other.
Through very generous grants from the Schusterman Foundation and Taglit-Birthright Israel, I had the budget to cover all expenses and arrange for a top-quality gathering. Given our intense, fast-paced, virtual, hyper-connected yet strangely disconnected world, Lynn Schusterman’s vision is that nothing replaces the power of in-person gatherings. She’s put her money where her mouth is and has funded amazing connection points for all sorts of people - and not just in the non-profit space. The St0ry follows directly from her vision of the value of highly-crafted, intense, offline, real-world gatherings. I encourage everyone to learn more about the ROI Community, which is how The St0ry was born.
In the run-up to Vegas I was intentionally vague about what would actually happen. I worked with the team from the Center for Leadership Initiatives, Yoni Gordis and Beth Glick, to craft a very specific agenda in order to create an intentional flow to the 2.5 days we had together. Throughout the days there were group-wide conversations, 10-person sub-groups and even smaller “pod” groups.
The first evening was focused on shmoozing and getting to know each other. I think the Real World Suite helped set a cool tone and the open bar certainly helped the socializing. Among other things, every person was invited to share a “playlist of me” that represented their thinking, interests, etc.
The next day we got down to business in the Vinyl space at the Hard Rock (their small concert venue). The day was meant to catalyze lots of ideas, insights, brainstorms and more. We accomplished this through guided conversation topics, an amazing workshop on creativity and misunderstanding with Ross Martin of Viacom’s Scratch group and then several hours of group sessions with Ross, Kevin and Eliza.
Highly recommended TED talk by Ross on misunderstanding:
Each of our three special guests represented a different “lens” on our main theme. Kevin spoke passionately and vividly about the evolution of creativity, new formats of expression, new ways of distributing and monetizing content. Eliza shared very eloquently how she uses her celebrity to champion the non-profit causes she cares about, how she embraces new tools for their promotion (CrowdRise, etc.) and how she tries to get specific causes the attention they deserve. Ross clued everyone in on the amazing impact of millennials on traditional business models, pointing to the work his group does with GM, among other clients.
After more intimate sessions, where participants were able to delve deeper into each lens with each guest catalyst, we took another group pic:
Our final day together was far less structured. The idea was to have all-day workshopping, where each person could propose a topic, pitch, problem, etc. for further input and expert consultation from the other 29 people. If the first full day was about embracing misunderstanding, generating lots of ideas and overwhelming the senses, the second full day was a chance to let each participant delve deeper into anything she or he wanted. We insured there was enough time to seriously consider how our time together could provide specific, impactful outcomes instead of just fun conversations.
After several rounds of workshopping, in various smaller groupings, every participant got 90 seconds on stage to give their own min-TED talk on their idea and its evolution (or whatever else came to mind).
We ended with a huge zoom-out, inviting groups of 5-7 people to share - using whatever medium or art form they wanted - a vision for “the story of our times.”
I’m intentionally leaving out lots of details because what happened in Vegas will stay in Vegas. It was a magical time, where people put away their devices and egos, didn’t have to play to an audience, got away from their responsibilities and engrossed themselves in the unique opportunity of being around 29 other truly interesting, accomplished professionals.
One of the coolest parts of the gathering was having a real-time graphic facilitator. Sophia, from Graphic Footprints, was able to capture the ideas being generated as they were discussed. Its an amazing talent and the graphic boards that came out were stunning. Here’s a sample, from one of our sessions:
I truly believe the first incarnation of The St0ry was an amazing success. My primary goal was creating new bonds between a unique group of innovators and that certainly happened. I am sure several collaborations will come out of the gathering. I’m trying to figure out the best way to recreate the magic that happened, increase its scope and impact, especially as I continue exploring the next chapter of my career (since leaving Viacom).