Trevor Punt, MD of TBG Group and author of The Disruptive Exhibitionist blog, asks if the industry is losing its characters.
What’s the collective noun for a group of exhibition organisers?
A Grump, perhaps a Reflective?
Recently, I was in the company of a group of organiser grandees. As impassioned, transformational, entrepreneurial a group as you’d ever wish to meet. The conversation turned contemplative, as it does, as they reminisced about people they had known over the years and who had influenced their careers.
Last year, I wrote a series of articles in this publication based on my observation of stereotypical personalities that I’ve witnessed over the years. Listening to the war stories of this gathered elite, it dawned on me that, like dinosaurs, these characters, undoubtedly eccentrics, were disappearing fast; the result of the meteor that is corporatisation.
Who will forget the usually very conservative CEO who arrived at an event opening, straight from his summer vacation sporting a pony tail, the suit jacket from one suit, the trousers from another and flip flops. Or the other who, upon discovering his contractors had built a three-foot-high “Great Wall of China” across his hotel suite (and I mean a proper brick wall!) simply said nothing to anyone and, for a week, used a chair on each side to climb over it. And lastly, who would these days employ, suit and boot a bunch of students and tell them to visit a show with the sole intention of eating all the free food on corporate stands, ignore the proposition of corporate brochures and only ask for freebies, all because one organiser had upset another?
Being eccentric isn’t what it once was. These days we are forced to be a bit more sensible. Corporatisation won’t allow it. We all work, we all have bills to pay.
You’ll hear in corporate organisations, “we can’t do that”. Why? Because someone, somewhere, stigmatised the process of creativity by restricting eccentricity.
There’s an apocryphal story of a little girl who was in a drawing lesson. She was six, and she was at the back, drawing, and the teacher said this girl hardly ever paid attention, but in this drawing lesson, she did. The teacher was fascinated. She went over to her, and she said, “What are you drawing?” And the girl said, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” And the teacher said, “But nobody knows what God looks like.” And the girl said, “They will, in a minute.”
What this demonstrates is that kids, like eccentrics, will take a chance. They’ll have a go. They’re not frightened of being wrong. What we know is, if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong.
Some companies are run like this. Corporatisation censures mistakes and the result is that people in the events industry are losing their creative and eccentric capacities.
Why don’t companies get the best out of those that work for them?
In most cases it’s because they’ve been directed to be good workers rather than creative risk takers. Eccentrics, restless of mind and body are blissfully free of restraint but rather than being cultivated for their energy and curiosity, they are ignored or sidelined with terrible consequences. Corporatisation is forcing people out of their creativity.
Eccentric characters tend to be considered very strange but, in reality, are more accomplished than many that follow the norm. Their eccentricity and creativity celebrate the gift of the human imagination. But eccentricity must be natural and unforced; to be strange in a way that’s alluring or entertaining.
Corporatisation is important, but so is creativity infused by eccentricity. Companies should embrace the eccentric, allow them to show who they are, allow the liberty, the remarkable and the quirky and understand the strange, peculiar and just plain weird!
Without a doubt, eccentrics can be arrogant, blunt, erratic and moody. In these days of the “snowflake generation” it can be risky employing them. Managing them means coaxing and spoiling them but also letting them fail, grow and succeed but they offer an extraordinary value to the company who embrace them.
What the events business celebrates is the gift of bringing like-minded people together. They welcome the weird freethinking doers. They indulge in the whimsical and unique.
Without eccentric perceptiveness and experimentation, identifying and developing new event profiles will means that the industry will fail to develop. Eccentrics think about the bigger picture, the forest as well as the trees. If eccentric curiosity is condemned by corporatisation, organisers will never find the next CES, BAUMA or MEDICA. Worse still, events will become homogenous, insipid and inconsequential.
When Jeff Bezos hired a search firm to staff up his burgeoning and disruptive company Amazon, he reportedly was asked what he was looking for in an employee. Supposedly he responded, “Give me your wackos”, and look what has happened to them.