THINK­ING FES­TI­VALS

En­trepreneurs and vi­sion­ar­ies are ex­chang­ing ideas in a new plat­form

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Look­ing for an al­ter­na­tive way to share ideas among peers, to foster in­no­va­tion, and to in­spire and chal­lenge your em­ploy­ees and co­work­ers? Well, for­get con­fer­enc­ing. These days, it’s all about ‘Un­con­fer­enc­ing’.

Also known as a ‘think­ing festival’ or an ‘open space con­fer­ence’, un­con­fer­enc­ing is a par­tic­i­pant­driven meet­ing that cre­ates space for col­lab­o­ra­tion, learn­ing and cre­ativ­ity. In gen­eral terms, it con­sists of free-form con­ver­sa­tions; rather than pre-de­ter­mined top­ics, at­ten­dees de­cide what is­sues will be dis­cussed, with an em­pha­sis on putting in as much as you get out.

Un­con­fer­enc­ing is not a new idea, or even a fad. The term first ap­peared in 1998, and was pop­u­larised in re­sponse to the rise in free­lance and flex­i­ble work­ing pat­terns and no­madic tech­nol­ogy. Un­con­fer­enc­ing rep­re­sents the merg­ing of busi­ness and leisure, with the aim of con­nect­ing in­spired in­di­vid­u­als and en­cour­ag­ing im­mer­sive learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ences through a range of es­o­teric events and ac­tiv­i­ties.

Moun­tain-high MICE Per­haps the best-known ideas festival is Sum­mit, launched in 2008 by a col­lec­tive of young Amer­i­can en­trepreneurs whose vi­sion was to “cre­ate global change” via a se­ries of in­vi­ta­tion-only think-tanks.

As well as pop-up events and group trips, Sum­mit hosts an an­nual three­day event in Los An­ge­les, where 3,500 lead­ers across all dis­ci­plines gather for an ar­ray of talks, per­for­mances, well­ness classes, art in­stal­la­tions and gourmet food ex­pe­ri­ences. Sum­mit LA18, to be held 2–5 Novem­ber in Down­town LA, will fea­ture talks by for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Al Gore, Lyft co­founder John Zim­mer and cre­ator of the #MeToo move­ment, Tarana Burke, as well as over 40 per­for­mances from co­me­di­ans, dancers, DJs and po­ets.

In 2013, Sum­mit also ac­quired its own ski vil­lage, Utah’s Pow­der Moun­tain, with the vi­sion of build­ing a pub­lic moun­tain town “fo­cused on in­no­va­tion, en­trepreneur­ship, arts and al­tru­ism”.

Although it has been crit­i­cised as a “utopian club for the mil­len­nial elite”, there’s no ques­tion­ing the ex­tra­or­di­nary tal­ent Pow­der Moun­tain has at­tracted, with moguls such as Sir Richard Bran­son, Paypal founder Ken How­ery and Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer Stacey Sher all buy­ing into the am­bi­tious real es­tate project.

An­other high-pro­file ex­am­ple of Un­con­fer­enc­ing is Google Camp, dubbed “Davos on the Sea”. The “top-se­cret sum­mer camp” for Google ex­ec­u­tives and busi­ness lead­ers is held an­nu­ally at a golf re­sort in Si­cily. Prior guest lists have

in­cluded Elon Musk, film­maker Ge­orge Lu­cas, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel and singers Phar­rell and Ri­hanna.

It’s not just in­ter­na­tional mega­com­pa­nies that have em­braced the con­cept of un­con­fer­enc­ing. Aus­tralian me­dia group Jun­kee holds an an­nual gath­er­ing in Can­berra in Oc­to­ber called Jun­ket, a meet­ing of bright young minds from a range of cul­tures and ar­eas of ex­per­tise, while ChangeCam­pAU, an un­con­fer­ence for so­cial change held in Syd­ney in 2017, fea­tured over 100 com­mu­nity lead­ers, en­vi­ron­men­tal cam­paign­ers and busi­ness peo­ple dis­cussing hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and refugees.

Habi­tats for con­nec­tion

Just as MICE has be­come a main­stay of the travel in­dus­try, so un­con­fer­enc­ing is a grow­ing trend, with the open­ing of re­sorts ded­i­cated to pro­vid­ing cre­ativ­ity re­treats for ur­ban work­ers.

The global cul­tural com­mu­nity of Habitas, for in­stance, has opened sev­eral ho­tels tar­get­ing an eclectic, mil­len­nial clien­tele where gath­er­ings take place, in­clud­ing the ul­tra­luxe un­der-can­vas re­sort, Habitas Tu­lum, and a pri­vate is­land in the Ba­hamas. The aim, ac­cord­ing to Habitas co­founder Oliver Ri­p­ley, is to cre­ate venues con­ducive to hu­man in­ter­ac­tion and emo­tional con­nec­tion.

Of course, un­con­fer­ences can be or­gan­ised any­where; the goal is sim­ply to pro­mote in­ter­ac­tions and stim­u­late con­ver­sa­tion in a re­laxed, in­for­mal and fun en­vi­ron­ment. But if that means es­cap­ing to a beach­side par­adise in Mexico – why not? Travel file la18.sum­mit.co pow­der­moun­tain.com habitas­tu­lum.com

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0301 En­ter­tain­ment at Sum­mit LA17 © Mi­randa McDon­ald 02 Habitas Tu­lum of­fers a venue con­ducive to hu­man in­ter­ac­tion and emo­tional con­nec­tion 03 Serene set­ting at Habitas Tu­lum04 In­spir­ing dis­cus­sions at Sum­mit LA17 © Michael Drum­mond. Images 02–03 © Adrian Gaut

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