thinkAbout 2006

I had the opportunity to attend the thinkAbout conference (or is it just thinkAbout?) on September 13th and 14th in Baltimore, MD. Here’s the basic rundown: the conference, in it’s 9th year, is organized by Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore, the authors of The Experience Economy. As the title of the book pretty much sums up, the premise is that we are moving from a service economy into the experience economy; customers, consumers, clients all want more than just good service, they crave good experiences.

The conference was a gathering of about 110 people from around the world (I talked with people from Michigan to the Netherlands), all from diverse career paths. Several people in attendance were in the health care industry, others were from architecture/planning firms, others were involved in retail… but they all shared the interest and idea of creating great experiences for their “clients.”

I was there for two reasons. The first was to think about how we can help our clients create experiences for their customers/clients/guests/people. When I say “experiences” I’m not just talking about what happens when you walk into the lobby of a hotel, but the experience of doing research or making a reservation online, the experience of interacting with a company’s brand from a message and advertising perspective, the experience of how our clients communicate. The second reason was to think about how the creative industry can create better experiences with our clients. After all, we’re in the business of interacting with clients in exactly the same way as our clients interact with their markets. So how can we create engaging experiences for our clients when they contact us, arrive at the studio, communicate with us? Obviously the subject of a future post…

What I really wanted to do here was give a review of the conference and give future attendees an idea of what they will experience.

The “conference” part of the event was held at Camden Yards. Unfortunately I got in too late on Tuesday to catch the Orioles/Red Sox game (which apparently got interesting in the 8th inning when a brawl busted out in the stands between fans). The space the conference was held was nondescript, but the view of the field outside was pretty cool. Baltimore is also the birthplace of Babe Ruth, and they honored him by putting a statue of him as a kid outside the stadium.

The Babe was left handed, but he’s holding a right hander’s glove. Do the people who make these statues not pay attention to that kind of thing, or do they do it on purpose to create some kind of “interesting factoid” about the statue?

Overall, I felt the conference was a great way to get energized about ideas, creativity, and thinking about things in different ways. My take on the presentations/speakers:

Chic Thompson had a great presentation about how to think differently, and was a great speaker. If you have the opportunity to see him speak, definitely do so.

Jim Knight talked about the thought put into the rebranding of the Hard Rock. It really showed how a company founded on beliefs and a philosophy can put their values first, and make it an inherent part of the company’s brand. And invest the time and money in helping everyone understand and embody that brand.

The Fish! video presented by John Christensen about the fishmongers at Pike’s Place Market in Seattle gave new ideas for how to think about work (you can even watch a preview of the video on their site).

Cultural anthropologists Jamie O’Boyle and Margaret J. King, Ph.D., from Cultural Studies & Analysis talked about different life stages and what people go through psychologically during these life stages. Once I take the time to soak it all in, I’m sure it will be valuable information, but for now it was a bit overwhelming. Though one of the immediate tidbits I got from their presentation was the idea of the “campfire” and the “watering hole.” Again, that’s for another post.

Chip Conley from Joie De Vivre Hospitality helped everyone pick magazines that represented their company’s theme. Chip is a magazine fanatic; all of their hotels are themed based on different magazines. An interesting idea for companies to go through the exercise, but I was the last person in the last group, and had a pretty good grasp on what magazines I felt best represented the philosophy and brand for the company I work for: The New Yorker (for eclectic, smart, informative thinking) and Colors Magazine (for social awareness, cultural relevance, and beautiful design). So I don’t know what I got out of this exercise, except 2 magazines out of the deal…

Besides the presentations, some of the best thinking came out of small discussion groups. When you put a lot of people who think about things in different ways together, there’s a lot of cross-pollination of thoughts and ideas.

It was a good time. It made me think about things differently. There were definitely things I took back with me that I could implement immediately and as longer term ideas. Will I go back next year? I’m not sure… depends on where it is, who is speaking, and what I hope to gain from it then. Or if I need a creative recharge, it’s definitely worth it.

Oh, and we got to ride on paddle boats in the harbor. Not these cool dragon ones, though. I wish.

When I started this post I thought I’d be able to elaborate on some of the ideas, but I think at this point that would be best saved for another post. Once that’s done, I’ll link these up. In the meantime, you can learn more about the conference from Jeff Kallay’s (the winner of the Experience Management Achievement award) blog. He also throws a mean farewell party.

And I almost forgot the late night walk to Edgar Allan Poe’s grave. Fun t


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