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WPP Stream of (expanded) consciousness
19th Oct 2016 | Posted by Kate Joynes-Burgess
Emerging from the mind-magnifying experience of WPP Stream, Kate Joynes-Burgess, our EMEA digital lead, reflects on the rare power of the (un)conference to drive a dizzying diversity of discussion, foster friendship and inspire new thinking by boldly placing the agenda in the hands of participants.
As a regular meditator, I’m in a twice daily pursuit of a deeper state of consciousness. But beyond running beachside meditation sessions at Stream (itself quite the departure from my day job of running our digital business in Europe), I didn’t expect to undergo a genuine mind-set shift at WPP Stream. And yet, as I take time to process all of the surprising experiences squeezed into three days of inspiration on the Greek coast – from becoming a chef for a night to howling with laughter at PowerPoint Karaoke, I realise that’s exactly what’s happened.
While technology and connectivity are absolutely embraced at Stream, this unique event celebrates the tremendous impact of dedicated, uninterrupted time for shared learning through meeting face-to-face with a new and inspiring collective of people. There’s something of a brave, organised chaos theory behind the ethos of Stream. With a programme created by participants – and curated by the amazing Stream Team of Ella Kieran, Aoife Dowling and Kemi Green– there’s a need to dive in, let go and literally go with the flow. Without sounding like I’ve joined a cult, I (re)discovered a blueprint for life in Stream – with time in the day dedicated to health and wellness, work and play, talking and listening, learning and dancing, pitching and even bonfire building. Attendees can structure their days in whatever way they choose – kicking off with an early morning swim or run on the beach, coffee and a chat, a planning session for The Pitch or a discussion with new, like-minded friends on that night’s Ignite Talks (4-minute talks with 15 slides that auto advance). Everyone comes together for meals, but, otherwise, how you spend your days is really up to you.
More than anything, there’s a kind of magic and energy generated by the combination of attendees – from clients to WPP’s host of agencies to start-ups built on artificial intelligence, alongside visual artists and digital innovators from the non-profit world. Stream is not a forum for shamelessly pitching your business (although that can happily come after via a wave of LinkedIn invitations and meetings). Stream is an environment for making sense of the digital and physical world we inhabit now, coupled with a heavy dose of future gazing to share thinking, new tech and predictions on what’s coming down the track.
In line with this holistic worldview, I joined forces with Mail Online founder turned tech investor Paul Field to lead a discussion on striking a balance between Digital Detox vs. Digital Nativity, sharing views on how we can disconnect to better connect. Some found technology to be part of the solution – such as apps to suspend notifications and restrict email responses to designated times of day in order to allow space for deep thought. Others, myself included, find their time to think in running, dog-walking or meditation, or a combination of the above, while embracing the inspiration that tech and connectivity can fuel if we make it work for us.
Wide-ranging discussions and talks – scribbled on a whiteboard during the opening day of Stream – spanned our changing universe, from the advent of driverless cars to boosting the immune system of cancer patients via Cancer Dojo’s arsenal of visual thinking. There’s a strong sense of cause running through Stream. WPP maintains a pledge to host dedicated women’s welcome drinks every year until Stream achieves a 50/50 gender split among attendees. Likewise, The Pitch is set up to support non-profits – this year focused on generating disruptive digital ideas to support the mission of UN Women to achieve gender equality.
Most important of all, everyone has an active role to play at Stream. Participants are not passive observers getting stuffed full of facts and bombarded with polished PowerPoints. We’re all there as thinkers, active listeners, presenters, runners, jokers, innovators, dancers and students of life. In short, Stream is a rite of passage, like a grown-up Freshers’ Week at the best university in the galaxy. No wonder its motto is simply “Marvellous”!