Be a Fool – Innovate


It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.

Niccolò Machiavelli

Everything changes and nothing remains still… you cannot step twice into the same stream.



These two perspectives on change paint a very accurate picture of the challenges faced daily by experience marketers and event producers. Change is difficult, and yet it is constant.

We see it all the time in the simplest of things. The final version of a deck, an idea, or a business plan is released after weeks of work, only to be revised the next day. This is not the result of the plan being incomplete or the developer incompetent, but of the constant state of change we live in.

For annual events and repeating experiences, the constant state of change is a challenging force on both maintaining legacy expectations and determining when to introduce new concepts and experiences.

For instance, “bright shiny objects” come and go. They either incorporate themselves into the “norm” of events, or burn out and fade away. Sustainability, for example, has become a normal and included part of most programs. Audience Response Systems (once the technology that would change the world) not so much.

Surviving or not, rarely is an emerging trend so unique that over time it continues to require the same separation and specialty that it enjoyed in its early days.

Currently “virtual” events and social media are such items – connecting to, but not fully integrating with, the in-person experience and living for the moment of the event rather than always on in full support of the core objectives.

Often target audiences are audiences all the time while they are attendees for only a short time. They visit the company web site regularly, so why have a separate site just for the event? They come to your primary social media channels, so why additional channels to monitor just for the event?

The degree to which measurement is effected by change is in direct correlation to the amount of time that has passed. This is one reason comparing results of a program to the prior year is far less accurate than comparing them to a pre-event base line. It is hard (at best) to isolate the impact of other influences and changes on the audience over the past year. It is much easier to understand the impact over the few days of the experience.


It is change, continuing change, inevitable change that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is but the world as it will be. This, in turn, means that our statesmen, our business people, our every man must take on a science fictional way of thinking.

Isaac Asimov


So the weight of planning should be more firmly on the front foot than the back. History and legacy, while important and at times more comfortable, can set boundaries and barriers that at best prevent full response to a current reality, and at worst anchor the experience in the past.

No, this is not easy.

There is a delicate balance and finesse required to introduce new ideas while maintaining and learning from history.

Placing priority on

  • clear objectives rather than lessons learned,
  • experience design rather than improving tactics,
  • the audience’s needs rather than the hosts,

will all point in the right direction.

By placing the objective, experience, and audience first, the question moves from “what to do” to “how to get it done”. Answer the question “what relevant problem am I solving?” This is where the magic occurs and obstacles become opportunities.This is the job of the experience “janitor” or event caretaker.


Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will not themselves be realized.

Daniel Burnham


In May of 1893 – a short 22 years after the great Chicago fire destroyed much of the city, the Chicago World’s Fair opened and ran for 6 months. It was anything but a small plan.

CWFAmong its amazing accomplishments was its 25 million visitors, at a time when the population of the US was only 100 million. Mr. Burnham had envisioned a city of all white buildings lit with – at the time – an uncommon sight, outdoor lighting.

To complete in time what was to become known as the White City, he needed to remove the obstacle that painting the roughly 100 buildings presented. The traditional method of brushes and buckets weren’t fast enough, so rather than change the experience and the design, he challenged his crews to develop something new.

And they did. The result was spray painting. This new technology directly allowed the vision to be realized and changed the world at the same time.


82 years later survival drove another world changing innovation.

kissThe rock band KISS, whose live performances drew thousands of avid fans, was unable to replicate their magic in the studio. Yet albums were needed to reach more fans. They just weren’t as exciting in the studio as on stage.

So on May 16, 1975 12,000 fans gathered at Cobo Hall in Detroit to see KISS in concert. The performance was recorded live for an album called “Alive!”

At that time, live recordings were considered an “illegitimate” method of producing an album and usually only done to fulfill record contracts. “Alive!” went on to sell 9,000,000 copies making it KISS’s number one album of all times, and rocketing the band to worldwide fame and fortune.

To many, the album’s ability to capture the concert and live performance experience, as well as the music and words, was what made it so magical.


The best way to predict your future is to create it!

Abraham Lincoln

The best way to predict the future is to invent it.

Alan Kay


Even when the solution appears as obvious as spray painting was for Daniel Burnham, or a live album was for KISS, it can still be hard to introduce something new, much less get it accepted.

New technologies are a bit easier, as they tend to bring their own “magic” with them. The first moving pictures show and the first Ferris Wheel both débuted at the Chicago World’s Fair and were the bright shiny objects of their time, quickly drawing audiences and interest.

It’s important to remember that in both cases there was an objective, experience, or audience at the core of the innovation.

muybridgehorseThe first moving pictures taken by Eadweard Muybridge in 1872 were to resolve a popular debate of the day – Leland Stanford (governor of CA and founder of Stanford University) wanted to determine whether all four feet of a horse were ever off the ground at the same time while trotting. Muybridge’s moving images proved they were.

ferrisGeorge Ferris built the original Ferris Wheel, as the centerpiece of the Chicago World’s Fair to rival the experience and attraction of the 1889 Paris Exposition’s Eiffel Tower; the Ferris Wheel was the Fair’s largest attraction and lives to this day.


New ideas are much harder to introduce.

Machiavelli goes on to say:


Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.

Niccolò Machiavelli


The vested interests of “those who have done well under the old conditions” will run deep and strong. They can appear overwhelming and impossible and will take familiar forms.


The first is the Laws of Science. The “it can’t be done.”

This may appear related more to technology than ideas, but it is really an attempt to reject an idea using an often unfounded scientific argument. Yet when coming from the mouth of authority, it can be difficult to challenge.

Thomas Huxley, known as “Darwin’s Bulldog” for his advocacy of Charles Darwin’theory of evolution, and the person to coin the term agnostic, said “Every great advance in natural knowledge has involved the absolute rejection of authority.”

Ask Darwin, da Vinci, Galileo, Kiss, and others who brought new ideas to bear. Even Machiavelli’s book The Prince was banned by the Catholic Church and placed on the list of prohibited books.


The second way “those who have done well under the old conditions” will resist is the Laws of Legacy. The “it has never been done before.” This is often the most dangerous law, as legacy is the greatest weight on innovation.

As deciding not to decide is a decision, given that the world is constantly changing, legacy equates to “going backwards” while standing still.

John Locke said, “New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but because they are not already common.”


The final way “those who have done well under the old conditions” will resist is the Laws of Society. The “it isn’t allowed.” These often appear as an attempt to stop an idea when other barriers have failed. They can be “laws”, or mandates, policies, etc.

For example, recently The New York State Automobile Dealers Association pressed for the New York legislature to pass a law preventing the sale of automobiles directly from the manufacture. All cars would have to be sold via a dealership.

As Tesla is the only direct to consumer car company of significance at this time, this was labelled the “Anti-Tesla” Bill. This was really less about Tesla and the idea of electric cars, and more about the idea of direct sales. The bill failed and Tesla continues to move forward with this new and disruptive idea.

Resistance will not always come easy to recognize, or in this order. Nor is answering each a requirement to innovation.


Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must be first overcome.

Samuel Johnson



What was true for Daniel Burnham in 1893 and KISS in 1975 is still true today – the best innovations meet a need.

Their value comes not from itself, but from the objectives it serves, experiences it improves, resolves, or addresses and the audience needs it fulfills.

These were not solutions looking for a challenge (pushing a string), they were solutions to specific challenges (pulling a string).

They are easier to accept because they were not mandated and they served to inspire others.

A detailed planning review (Audience, Objectives, Message, Environment, Media, Measurement), and an effective marketing/communications plan (TRDOM) should enjoy the respect of being applied to each experience no matter how often we hear “we know our audience”, “we have always done that”, or “we don’t have the time.”


What challenges does your experience marketing face?

  • Budget predictability: consider trigger budgets and capacity events
  • Attracting audiences: again, consider capacity events, custom pricing packages, and online content
  • Proving business value: conduct pre and post event surveys focused on objectives and change and develop closer links to core business online assets including web sites and social channels
  • Measuring business impact: implement on site, actionable diagnostics instead of relying on post survey questions.


The vast majority of human beings dislike and even dread all notions with which they are not familiar. Hence it comes about that at their first appearance innovators have always been derided as fools and madmen.

Aldous Huxley – Author Brave New World




One comment

  1. ckwrites2 says:

    There are few places where there is as much at stake as a corporate event.

    * It is the ultimate baring of the soul.

    * The company puts their best and brightest, their shiniest objects and their silverest bullets on display for all to see…

    * And vote on.

    First with applause, then swipes, evaluations and surveys, tweets, blogs and column inches and finally purchase orders.

    This has nothing to do with Steve Jobs and his famous words about consumers not knowing what they want until you show it to them.

    This is about customers who know exactly what they want.

    * The informed, engaged customer is a direct result of the “constant state of change”.

    Here’s a good for instance. Jeff Bezos buys the Washington Post. Subscribers will soon get their news the way they want it.

    * Inevitably some of his subscribers will attend a corporate event.

    * Where they will expect to get their content the way they want it too.

    * In fact, if you look at the data, they have been asking for it for some years.

    How long can “legacy expectations” endure this kind of battering?

    How often will event managers be allowed to report that the content that took them so much effort to nurture, was received as “marketing fluff”?

    “Marketing fluff” cannot possibly be interpreted as a positive measurement of business impact, yet we have been seeing an increase in these kinds of responses for years.

    “Marketing fluff” speaks to a growing disconnect between the sponsors objectives and the audience’s needs.

    Ask yourself if you can really hope to field 1,000 meaningful sessions in 3 days?

    * Is there really that much talent and that much available time in your organization?

    * Does your audience care?

    * How much longer will it take until the presenters and product managers are held accountable for what can only be interpreted as mediocre results?

    Even more dangerous… how much longer until a steady diet of “fluff” erodes attendance, destroying an irreplaceable corporate asset?

    User groups, the deeply offended and heavily inconvenienced “victims” of this turn of events, create their own events in order to ensure that they get the content they need “spin free.”

    These are people who understand what good content – meaning mastery of the sponsors technology and processes – is worth to their companies and to their own careers…

    Meeting customer needs while accomplishing enterprise objectives is no longer a “might be nice”.

    * It is an essential requirement that will soon be rolled into every KPI and ROA (Anything).

    Building a better event requires a team whose mandate is to see through the customers eyes.

    * A team directed by managers who understand that doing something that’s never been done is the best way to accomplish their goals.

    To paraphrase Machiavelli and put a bit of XXI spin on him – in many cases we don’t know how we’ll do under the new. What we do know is that things aren’t looking any too bright continuing with the old.