Parties as Innovation Labs and Social Networking Arenas.

Bruce Nussbaum

Austin, Texas is a party town--a college town that specializes in good music and drinking--and I know that because the recent IDSA annual conference was held in Austin. I've been to about a dozen IDSA conferences but never one with so many parties given by so many companies/design consultancies. There was even my first design block party where they blocked off an entire street and had a party for designers and all the cool design-y shops on that street.

Now your first instinct might be to snicker and say that little got down in Austin because of all this partying but, on reflection, I've come to conclude just the opposite. The networking was intense during these events. A huge amount of information was exchanged (yes, it might have been hard to remember it) and a great deal of hiring came out of it. There's a huge demand for all kinds of design talent out there now and these parties were incredibly efficient in matching buyers and sellers.

Now why? Partly because the space was informal and fun and people were open to stuff--fresh ideas, new faces. Partly because it was more horizontal and less bureaucratic than formal meetings. And maybe, partly because in vino veritas, people were able to match up their interests quickly without artifice.

Space is becoming a compelling factor in fostering innovation. Go into any of the new spaces built for innovation/design consultancies and you'll find kitchens and lounges in key areas. Now I'm wondering if parties and salons, gatherings of people, might also be serious instruments that companies should employ.

My own experience with this is not great. I "liberated" one of our little conference rooms to build an innovation gym when I launched Inside Innovation. I had to negotiate with the secretaries to get that done--they do all the scheduling. But pressure from them over the months led me to abandon the innovation gym. When I first opened it up, I took off all those pictures of heroic CEOs from the wall and put up jazzier images of people and places that might provoke us. Now all the heroic CEOs are back on the wall. Except for one. It's gone. All I know is that I didn't take it.

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