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The Power of Participation: Spending Time in Hyper Island’s Playground

As part of our effort to encourage input from industry folks, we turn the floor over for a minute to Maria Eriksson (left), director of executive education at Hyper Island, a digital media school formed in Sweden in the mid-90s. Here, Eriksson offers a recap of Hyper Island’s recent industry gathering dubbed aptly enough, The Playground, and discusses the need for creative participation.

Last month, Hyper Island debuted The Playground, a new series of industry gatherings designed to bring creative minds and geniuses together. The thinking behind these meetings is to create a collaborative space for like-minded individuals in disparate areas of innovation to share, speak and learn from each other’s experiences on a particular topic. The first  Playground centered on the ‘power of participation.’

Participation is inherent to all agencies and organizations, but has never been more vital in this age of beta, experimentation and social production.  When exploring the concept of ‘participatory beta’— committing small amounts of resources to drive bigger-thought, innovation initiatives — the group agreed that while collaboration and engagement is crucial, it can be impossible to predict the catalysts responsible for turning the idea into a community. And that’s the exciting part.

Heidi Hackemer, strategic business director at BBH and frequent presenter at HyperIsland Master Classes, served as the group moderator. She discussed how participation impacted the web challenge she created called Six Items or Less (sixitemsorless.com). The idea came about when Heidi and her friend Tamsin Davies, the head of innovation at Fallon London, got together to gripe about their desires to pare down their wardrobes. They decided a fashion diet was just what the doctor ordered: the premise behind Six Items or Less was to go an entire month wearing only six items (not counting shoes, underwear or accessories).  Once they put the idea out to the greater online social community, the idea snowballed into a creative challenge involving nearly 100 participants from around the world, including faraway places like Dubai and Bangalore, India. Motives for their participation included cutting back on retail spending, outright rejections of fashion, and concerns that the mass production and global transportation of increasingly cheap clothing was damaging the environment — a far cry from Heidi’s original goal of simplifying her morning routine for getting ready.

Heidi noted that it was important not to bind the ‘diet’ too closely to a philosophy.  By allowing people to identify with the concept for their own reasons, they could shape and direct the Six Items through their participation. In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell says “The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” Through the power of participation, that’s exactly what unfolded: a diverse community of enthusiasts formed around the site and the concept took off through their participation. The idea has had so much success that a second challenge will kick off this fall.

The Playground participants shared their stories as well and an interesting consensus was reached: relying on the participation of others mean we’ve got to be unafraid to put our ideas out there – and ultimately, fail. Failure, they decided, should no longer be a deterrent. Because digital and social platforms are so readily available, we can reach more people more quickly with new ideas, so seeing which ones stick and which ones don’t catch on is all part of the process. Now is the time to get creative and get people involved.

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