WPP Stream – An Amazing Unconference

Just came back from WPP Stream 2012 and am in the process of writing it up for distribution inside JWT.  

How do you write up an unconference?

Mark Read wrote it up this way for the Huffington Post.  And in the piece he calls out some of the items that make the event so strong.  

In fact it is the culture it has built and the structure it has developed that work together intrinsicly.  

The culture at Stream is one of participation and ideas.  Given that everyone is from different organizations, how people react and engage is based on the thinking not the titles.  The fast running schedule reminds everyone speed is important and changes up the day from full conference events in the Big Top and smaller group activities, and they all occur with the constant backdrop of the bar for coffee or drinks.  Free standing demonstrations of new technology and games provide additional opportunities for serendipidous meetings.

How do the events drive collaboration and demonstrate digital culture?

  • Big Boards – The Big Boards are the schedule of Discussions that occur in smaller meeting spaces throughout the conference.  The Discussions are proposed by the attendees and put up on the boards as soon as they are opened.  Because there are a lot of Discussions, this also pushes leaders to promote their events to get attendance.
  • 30 Second’s of Promotion – As part of the opening session, everyone that wants to lead a Discussion is given 30 seconds to pitch it to the full audience.  Like the digital economy this adds the sense that speed and succintness is as critical as standing out as you promote your idea.
  • Midnight Cooking Madness – The unspoken element of the conference is that in effect it runs from 8 am to 2 am.  Asking people to contribute a recipe from their country or family, and asking them to “serve” it to the full conference in a trade show environment brings out personalities, increases opportunites for small interactions and ensures the bar stays open until 2 am.
  • Ignite – The opportunity to talk about any subject is classically TED.  Adding Tim O’Reilley’s mechanic of a set number of slides on a timed rotation brings discipline and rhythem.  15 slides, 15 seconds a slide equals 4 minutes per presenter which even with transition time makes 10 ideas in a hour easy. Buzz Feeds Ignite Presentations.
  • Gadgethon – Technology is critical to digital culture, and as a proxy, gadgets are as well.  Two minutes, open session, demonstrate whatever you find interesting.
  • The Pitch – Clearly nothing drives marketers like a competition around ideas.  Allowing ad hoc teams to form up drives collaboration, new connections and generates solid ideas for charitable causes. 

Overall the key themes that come out are Connections between people that don’t work together as frequently, a focus on Ideas based in strong points of view, and respect that if asked, peopel will Promote themselves in a public forum.  These are all fundementally digital concepts that have been carried on since the Clue Train Manifesto and before.  

The gadgets are interesting but they change. The discussions are critical but the content is trendy.  What makes the conference so strong is the culture of the conference is the culture of digital start-ups across the globe.