Do you have intellectual agoraphobia?

by Rob Norman, Chief Digital Officer GroupM and Chairman GroupM North America

Discussions at WPP Stream India 2016

Agoraphobia (noun) extreme or irrational fear of open or public spaces.

Agoraphobia is a rare condition in a medical sense but an all too common one at work. There are two challenges; the first is to find an open space (to be scared of?), the second to enjoy the freedom that the space allows. Too often our space is anything but wide open. It is fenced in by physical walls and the metaphorical walls of time, by the needs and demands of our employers and clients and by our respect, grudging or otherwise, for the people we share that space with.

Most importantly, maybe, it’s constrained by fear; the fear of speaking up, the fear of being wrong, the fear of being judged. Those fears are huge barriers to any sense of freedom.

Tonight we start the third WPP Stream India in Jaipur. 300 people from WPP, our clients, India’s (and the world’s) leading media and technology companies, entrepreneurs and artists united for just one reason. To open their minds in an open space and leave on Saturday morning having made strangers into friends and shared and learned in equal measure.

Our open space is two white boards, for now a white space divided into time slots and venues. By tonight there will be no blank spaces as the participants pitch their discussion ideas to the group and volunteer to facilitate 50 mins each. Right now I can only guess but won’t be surprised at parallel discussions on topics as diverse as gender equality in corporate leadership, a generational leap from street commerce to e commerce, the social responsibilities of enterprise and the paradox of ad blocking and the funding of content. The only topic we know for sure is the potential for Hindi as a global language. There will be a pitch assignment in which strangers (but not for long) will collaborate in creating ideas to elevate Hindi to the same status as Mandarin. Not an unreasonable ambition for a country that is the fastest growing of all the world’s major economies, it’s biggest democracy and also, soon enough its most populous.

Stream is our cure for intellectual agoraphobia. Our blank space is a canvas, our attendees are the artists that will paint on the canvas. Here we only have two fears:

How to decide which discussion to lead — a bit of knowledge, a lot of passion and the desire to listen and learn.
How to decide which discussions to attend — one recommendation is this; 50% on topics which you are expert, 25% on topics on which you would like to be more expert and 25% on things which you have no idea if they are of interest to you at all.

Freedom, stimulation and collaboration are the antidote to intellectual agoraphobia. Look at yourself, at your company, at your colleagues and your clients and find a fear free space of your own.

All us Streamers thank WPP for creating the space and thank our clients, business partners, and each other for filling it — fearlessly.

The @WPP (un)conference for (un)conventional thinkers