Tuesday, April 2, 2013

WPP Stream Unconference

When I received an email inviting me to the Stream "Unconference" in Phuket my first thought was, 'that sounds like a nice holiday but what will I learn from it?'. Sitting on the flight home after the conference closed, it was indeed rejuvenating and inspiring but in a totally different way to what I expected. Instead of soaking up the amazing food, culture and sun that Phuket has to offer my mind was blown away by the incredible ideas and amazing people I had the privilege of getting to know over the 4 days, and I'm chomping at the bit to bring all this back to our business Shoes of Prey.

There are no presentations or set topics at Stream, instead the conference agenda is run by the 300 attendees making for a hugely interactive and engaging exchange of ideas.

Thursday night saw the gadget show where attendees brought and showed off their favourite gadgets. We saw everything from the latest toys from ASUS (a laptop with a double sided screen for easy presentations) to a drone demo including a video of some of the incredible footage captured flying over the Phuket beaches that day. But there could be no winner other than 19 year old Raul Oaida from Romania who showed off his jet bike which he built in his backyard and has ridden at over 60km an hour!

On Friday and Saturday we were straight into the discussions which form the major part of the conference. Rather than having talks like most conferences where one person speak and the rest of the audiences listens, the discussions are organised and lead by attendees so they're very interactive. I loved them, they were a great way to get lots of views on certain topics. I lead a discussion on 'The Future of Retail' where we talked about 3D printing and how consumers will soon be able to download designs for products like children's toys and homewares and print them at home. Sir Martin Sorrell (the founder of WPP) joined our discussion and shared that within the next 20 years this may extend to other categories with even complex products like cars being printed. 3D printing has the potential to do to many product categories what MP3s and eBooks have done to the music and book industries, massive change awaits. I learnt more in the hour we spent discussing the future of retail than I have in a long time - something that wouldn't have happened had I or anyone else just been presenting on the topic.

Friday night saw 20 'Ignite' talks on topics people are passionate about. Presenters are allowed 15 slides which automatically progress every 15 seconds. Topics ranged from Chinese Youth Culture to media investment management explained in 3 letter acronyms. I shared my passion for Wall Ball with the 300 attendees (and we followed up with a game the following morning with about 8 players!).

My favourite presentation of the night was Melbourne's Steve Sammartino (author of the fantastic Startup Blog) who's very inspiring talk titled "A Stranger From Romania" covered off how Steve had met Raul Oaida (of the previously jetbike fame) online, and together they'd funded and built a lego rocket ship they'd then sent to space on a balloon!

I then had the pleasure of playing bass guitar in the Stream band. We managed to squeeze in 2 hours of practice Thursday and Friday nights and put together a 7 song set for Friday night's 'Extravaganza'. There's no better way to get to know a small group of people than to throw yourself into the deep end of a rushed preparation and performance in front of 300 people! Also at the extravaganza we had one of my favourite parts of the conference, 'Slideshow Karaoke' where some very brave souls were presented with 15 random slides they'd never seen before and had to turn them into a presentation in front of the 300 stream attendees! Friday night also saw the midnight cooking madness where Streamers showed off their culinary prowess by cooking their favourite dishes for a midnight feast. Melanie Lee was the clear winner with her spicy and delicious Singaporean Chilli Crab.

Saturday saw more discussions during the day followed by "the Pitch". For the pitch, teams got together to pitch a creative idea for a charity in India which is helping to educate young men on the importance of respecting for women. Not only were some great creative ideas developed, but those involved in the pitch teams had a wonderful experience working together and got to know each other well.

This was easily the best conference I've ever attended. I made new friends, had a great time and exchanged amazing ideas with some very smart and interesting people. It's amazing what a group of 300 people can put together with very little preparation. I'll be borrowing some of the format for team offsites and other events I organise in the future. Thanks to WPP for having me.

1 comment:

  1. Michael - it was a blast at Stream, wasn't it? Someone (maybe Rob Norman, GroupM USA digital dude?) introduced the event with the line, "Stream is like life, you get out what you put in." Well, you, Signor Fox put a lot in!

    BTW, I note you didn't mention your midnight swims. C'mon, it wasn't all work and no play!

    Also, I think it worth noting that it was the mix of people that made it so interesting: 1/3 senior agency people from WPP, 1/3 senior WPP clients, 1/3 'cool people'. IE people from start-ups and VCs talking about how the world is changing. I think you fit into that last block! Or are you a WPP client yet?!

    All the best,