Jim Gilmore is a friend of mine and a friend of the meeting’s industry. I first met Jim when we were paired together to work on a project to revamp the site inspection process for the city of San Diego, alongside the folks at the San Diego Tourism Authority. The goal was to turn the “inspection” into an “experience.” Jim is the co-author of a wonderful book, The Experience Economy, and makes his living as co-founder of Aurora, Ohio-based Strategic Horizons LLP, a thinking studio dedicated to helping enterprises conceive and design new ways of adding value to their economic offerings. Thus, he knows a few things about creating meaningful experiences.
I got so excited when Jim told me about his new book (coming in August 2016) LOOK: A Practical Guide for Improving Your Observational Skills. I thought it was perfect reading for meeting planners. We hear constantly that planners, under pressure to create more compelling experiences for their meetings, are looking for innovative thought processes…well, here we go! Jim’s your man!
TERRI: Your prior books, The Experience Economy, and Authenticity, are really both foundational primers for anyone who wants to create richer experiences in any realm of business. Specifically for meeting planners, what do you see evolving/trending as it relates to creating more engaging meeting experiences for their attendees?
GILMORE: One cannot overemphasize the impact that TED, and its catalog of backlist “talks,” has had on the expectations that people now have for conference events. Not only is there more pressure for talks of shorter duration, but the content of any presentation now competes with the vast inventory of world-class talks available online. And all these talks can be heard without having to jump on a plane—placing a renewed imperative to provide true insights at any face-to-face gathering. Moreover, mega-events like Burning Man and South by Southwest—while many meeting planners may not realize this—have also altered participant sensibilities. These experiences provide a sense of personal identity to those who participate, which is the underlying reason for their appeal.
Let me also add that these three experiences—TED, Burning Man, and SXSW—offer multidisciplinary perspectives and inspirational value beyond mere education. Consider multiple associations, or multiple companies, meeting in the same city—or even meeting in the same hotel in some city—at the same time. It might be wise to start considering programming that allows participants from such disparate groups to cross-pollinate—at receptions, at general sessions, at meals and entertainment events—in creatively symphonic ways. TED works because it blends Technology-Entertainment-Design. Why can’t this be done in a similar way when three groups meet in Ballroom I, II and III—offering that which can only be experienced by being there when people from other backgrounds and organizations are also there?
TERRI: O.K. I’ll admit it, though I loved both of your prior books, there is some heady stuff in there; intellectual heavy lifting, if you will! Your new book LOOK: A Practical Guide for Improving Your Observational Skills is such an effortless read. Its practicality and originality are so inspiring. I kept thinking, I wish I had thought of this!! What inspired you to write this guidebook? What need do you think it fills for all types of industries and professionals?
GILMORE: I am a big fan and student of Dr. Edward de Bono. One day—at a pre-conference workshop that I attended prior to giving a keynote address at the Creative Problem-Solving Institute some years ago—I had this epiphany: there was a need for a prequel of sorts to de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats and Six Action Shoes. So I invented the Six Looking Glasses as a metaphorical tool to help with observation, in essence, to be for “looking” what Hats and Shoes are for thinking and taking action. Why do I think the tool, and the book, offer value to people in all types of fields? Well, all innovation is based on observing some opportunity, seeing what has been heretofore unseen. Before thinking, before doing, there has to be looking.
TERRI: I know you are aware that planners are under increasing pressure to not just plan logistics, but to drive the total ROI for their meetings. How do you think meeting planners specifically can apply the Six Looking Glasses to bring new life to their meetings?
GILMORE: Learn the Six Looking Glasses method and use the tool to look at your meetings, at different destinations, at different venues, at your programming and practices, in fresh new ways. Use the technique to look anew at the behavior of those you serve. There are opportunities to have greater returns on meetings, by first investing in looking. I could argue that all ROI is a result of achieving some Return On Looking!
And let me offer one specific task that can be done. In Chapter Five of LOOK, I suggest formally having twenty-four different categories for which one is looking for insights. It’s a good way to get started. (In that chapter, I also tell the story of how comedian George Carlin had 2,500 such categories, ten times what I suggest starting with.)
TERRI: I know you plan your think about event annually, thus you have a lot of experience planning your own meeting and attending many meetings as a guest speaker. How would you advise CVB destination sales professionals to look at their roles differently in order to better serve planners in the meetings marketplace?
GILMORE: Destination professionals have long been the eyes and ears of their clients. When we design thinkAbout each year, and we reinvent the event each year, we do the initial conceptual design work for the event while in the destination city, while trekking about, walking about, in that city. I believe in designing meeting experiences while in the actual space where one will meet. Not just doing a site inspection, but doing site-interpretation, envisioning unique possibilities for the place. Destination professionals should not rely solely on the knowledge they have in their minds about their destinations—however extensive that intelligence might be—but take the time to constantly look at places, and places within places, with fresh new eyes and ears. Not just knowing what options exist, but seeing how different venues and attractions can be experienced in different and unique ways. And most importantly, it strikes me that one has to help clients look more richly at your destination! I truly hope my new book helps many destination advocates do that in some, even small, way.
To learn more about LOOKING at your meeting differently, dive into a conversation with Jim in our July webinar. He will take questions from the audience at the end of the broadcast.
Or to preorder Jim’s new book, available August 23, 2016.