‘Where the Wood Chopping Happens’

Business events professionals may not see themselves as creative types, but now, more than ever, that’s who you are.

Author: Michelle Russell       


Our December cover story and CMP Series illustrates the business events industry has responded to the pandemic with an abundance of creativity. (Illustration by Malisa Suchanya)

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell

I recently took a survey that asked me to identify my role. Only a few and very broad category options were offered, and “creative” seemed the most applicable. I was responding as a writer and editor, not as someone employed in the business events industry, but after I was done with the survey, I thought about my choice. To my mind, business events professionals also fall squarely in the “creative” category — I just don’t think a lot of you would check that box for yourselves.

The results of our October COVID-19 Recovery Dashboard survey backs me up on that. For the first time, we asked business event professionals to describe how they’re feeling. They could pick more than one of the options listed, ranging from “hopeful” to “exhausted and burned out.” Only 13 percent of both planners and suppliers said they were feeling “inspired and creative.”

And yet in the same survey, around 4 out of 10 planner and supplier respondents said they are developing new business models — not tweaking what worked in pre-pandemic times but coming up with an entirely new way of providing value to their stakeholders. And more than half of planners said they are launching a brand-new digital event out of whole cloth, not an online version of a past in-person event.

convene dec 2020 cover

Find the digital replica of our December print edition here. (Illustration by Malisa Suchanya)

COVID-19 has rocked our world. Out of absolute necessity, planners and their supplier partners have had to rethink how to stay relevant and how to stay in business. As the examples that we’ve curated in our December cover story and CMP Series illustrate, there’s been a wellspring of creativity in our industry in response, requiring so much more than reskilling. Maybe we just don’t think of it as innovating because we’ve been operating in crisis mode.

Marketing guru Seth Godin — a popular Convening Leaders 2019 keynoter — has just published a new book, The Practice: Shipping Creative Work. In his blog describing the book, Godin writes: “Creativity matters more than ever, and each of us is being called on to be a Creative. A professional, able to conjure original thought on command. We tweet, we run meetings, we write. We invent and share ideas. Mostly, we’re in a race to find our voice, change the culture and make an impact that we can be proud of. Along the way, we’ve also been brainwashed into believing that creativity is a gift, something mysterious that the muse hands to a few select people. We’re not to look at it too closely or it might disappear. Nonsense.”

On Godin’s blog, musician Peter Gabriel endorses the book from his own perspective: “The Practice explains that what looks like a barrier is often a catalyst in disguise. Magic may not come from what we can see on the stage but from behind it, where the wood chopping happens.”

Women in the News

In our Ascent series, we spotlight how the pandemic has caused a disproportionate percentage of women to downshift their careers and lose their jobs. That’s not only bad for workforce gender equity, it’s bad for business — and our progress as a society. “Companies now pulling back on diversity and inclusion may be placing themselves at a disadvantage by limiting their access to talent, diverse skills, leadership styles, and perspectives,” according to McKinsey research we cited. Something to keep in mind as we celebrate the hopeful news that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is 90-percent effective at preventing the disease in its clinical trial: It was spearheaded by a woman — Kathrin Jansen, the company’s head of vaccine research and development.

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.


Become a Member

Get premium access to provocative executive-level education, face-to-face networking and business intelligence.