From escalator pitches to swordplay, the first-ever bushCONNECT pushed participants to see their work from a whole new angle.
More than 1,000 leaders from across the region grabbed a seat at Minneapolis’s Guthrie Theater in May 2014 for bushCONNECT—a first-of-its-kind event that was equal parts summit, networking mixer and tent revival.
“What we’re trying to create today is a space where you collide with new ideas,” Foundation President Jen Ford Reedy explained in her welcome. “You will meet new people who may be useful to you right now, or a week from now or a year from now, when you’re needing a new perspective on your work.”
The idea for bushCON had emerged more than a year earlier, when the Foundation’s increased efforts to bring community leaders together were earning rave reviews from participants. “There was a strong feeling of isolation among leaders in many of the communities we serve; they craved opportunities to be in the same room,” says Dominick Washington, the Foundation’s communications director. “We decided to double down on that and see what more we could do.”
|bushCON attendees examine their randomly assigned session tickets and contemplate a trade. (Photo: RJL Photography)|
Inspired in part by Steven Johnson’s bestseller Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, the Foundation aimed to break out of the conference room mindset (“where ideas go to die,” Johnson joked to the bushCON audience in his remarks). The experience pushed participants a little outside their comfort zones by encouraging them to trade randomly assigned session tickets and construct the day’s activities based on their interests—from the art of stage combat, to rapid-fire five-minute talks with Ignite Minneapolis, to “The Four Habits of Highly INeffective Conversations” brought to life by The Theater of Public Policy.
The Foundation transformed an entire floor of the Guthrie into a Network Zone where attendees recruited from more than 20 partner organizations could study a network map presented by Michael Bischoff and members of Social Innovation Lab that showed how everyone in the room was connected. In the Network Zone, attendees could share their personal and professional stories with Pollen for on-the-spot illustrations called “Careercatures.” The Guthrie’s escalator—the longest in Minnesota—became a storytelling vehicle for coaching on how to create a great one-minute escalator pitch.
A team devoted to creating fresh connections across social media promoted the event throughout the day with the #bushCON hashtag. By noon that day, Washington says, “#bushCON was trending nationally, which exceeded all of our expectations. The energy of the day was great.”
So are the after-effects: 94 percent of bushCON goers who responded to the post-event survey reported that the event helped expand and strengthen their networks, allowing them to connect with an average of five new people that day. That and other feedback has helped the Foundation plan for bushCONNECT 2015 slated for May 4, again at the Guthrie.