After completing a ski marathon, competitors gather. They congregate to tell stories, eat, drink, change into dry clothes, and find supporters. They finish, remove their skis, and inhale a sense of accomplishment. Then they begin to share.
How might we make space for our fans and participants to gather? How do we create intentional gathering places? When World Domination Summit (WDS) took place in Portland, OR, attendees assembled for breaks between presenters in the adjacent park—a selection of food and drinks available to nourish. The event’s superpower appeared through its performers, including a unicyclist with bagpipes that expelled flames, a steampunk group on stilts, and a roller derby team speeding about while serving snacks. The performers provided remarkable moments we could witness and share with other conference attendees. I remember some of the WDS Main Stage speakers, but I recall all the performers and many people I met in the presence of these buskers. The entertainers provided a sense of place and a point of connection.
Not everyone needs or wants a front-row seat, and there are plenty of reasons to prefer sitting outside the tent. When we try to force everyone to upgrade to the best available seat, our mindset is that closer is better. If we want to sit in the sun, bring a picnic, entertain younger kids, and even bring a canine, outside is far superior.
If somebody attends our performance, they are part of the team. No matter if the patron pays for the highest-priced seat or sits on the lawn outside. We might be misaligned with their preferences if we are always trying to upsell and upgrade their experience.
I was hiking in the Hemingway Wilderness Area of Idaho a few days ago, and I came to the first trail junction just five minutes from the trailhead. The primary intersection is unmarked, and the decision point is crucial if one wants to head towards the proper drainage and the adventure they planned. For years a signpost existed here, and somebody or something removed it. Now the lack of clarity creates a moment of anxiety for those who have not previously traveled this route. There are signs further up both trails to direct users to the appropriate peak or alpine lake.
We might think we have set up our fans for success, but sometimes we are so busy marking the summit and iconic features that we forget to check on the trailhead. We overlook the first few steps because they are so apparent to us. How might we learn from those encountering us for the first time? How might their experience help us be better wayfinders?
Making a finished product visible is a challenge for any work in progress. It might be easier with a brick-and-mortar project versus creating something entirely new. If we can attach an anchor point, others can join us on the belay ledge and watch us try to solve the next pitch as we climb upwards. If we leave our audience too far below or out of sight, our progress is anecdotal, and it is harder to sustain momentum. How might we bring our fans along on the journey? How might we offer a glimpse into what we are creating and how it will allow us to make a difference?
There is a limit to how many personal objects we can place in the spotlight. The question becomes, which ones are special enough to get the coveted position and which are relegated to the periphery? If we want to know who comprises our inner circle, think about our center stage location. Who occupies this space with us in our real and/or virtual world? That is our inner circle.