When was your last unmeeting?

by Anant Rangaswami, Editor of Storyboard

WPP Stream India, Jaipur

In less than a month from now, I’ll be attending an event called WPPStream at Jaipur. This will make it my third visit to Stream, the invited-delegates-only ‘unconference’ hosted by WPP.

Stream is the first unconference that I’ve attended. To explain to those who are unclear about the concept (as I was in 2014), this is how Stream works: you know when and where the event is being held, and who will be attending. These are the known knowns. What you do not know is who will be speaking and what they will be speaking about.

The Big Boards at WPP Stream India 2016, Jaipur

Any delegate can speak on any topic that he or she chooses. As there are eight sessions held in parallel at any given time, you as a non-speaker can attend the one that intrigues you the most.

The composition of the delegate list gives you an idea of possible speaker topics. Most invitees are from the digital/mobile/tech ecosystem, so it is reasonable to presume that these areas will be the core of the content. Beyond that, delegates have no clue how the three days will unfold.

And that’s the magic. Attending Stream is a leap of faith in the delegate list; you’re fairly sure that the conversations and talks will be thought-provoking, provocative and useful. And unpredictable.

It’s the unpredictability that I love. You’re surprised by scintillating thoughts from someone you haven’t heard of or met before, and there are many such at each Stream. Compare that with ‘normal’ conferences where you know precisely who will speak, on what subject and for how long.

Often, the unknown is more exciting. And I’ve embraced the unknown for ages. In the last week, I’ve had what I’ve decided to call ‘unmeetings’, where I know who I’m meeting, and when and where I’m meeting them, but with no agenda whatsoever.

I’ve had an unmeeting with R Gowthaman, who heads Mindshare for the Asia Pacific region. I’ve unmet Arun Iyer, chief creative officer, Lowe Lintas; Sonali Malaviya, country business marketing head for Twitter; Sidharth Rao, co-founder and CEO of Webchutney; Haresh Chawla, partner at India Value Fund Advisors; Piyush Pandey, executive chairman and creative director, South Asia Ogilvy & Mather India and Punit Goenka, MD and CEO of Zee Entertainment Enterprises.

Discussions at WPP Stream India 2016

These non-agenda meetings release those attending them from the trappings and constraints on conversations. We could discuss movies, books, food, music and theatre; we could discuss families and mutual friends, or politics and the economy. We could gossip.

Or, boringly, we could discuss the narrow world of advertising, media and marketing. I’ve had unmeetings for years. I’ve had phone calls without agenda for years. I eagerly meet, at short notice, people I’ve never met if they call and say that they’d like to meet.

Why do I do this? The unconference, the unmeetings, the conversation-without-an-agenda, to me, are all about freedom. Many argue that unmeetings are possible only between friends. I argue that when you learn to convert meetings with non-friends into unmeetings, the non-friends become friends and are more than happy to meet for no reason.

I’m going to be spending 72 hours at Jaipur for Stream. So will 250 other delegates. And I’ll meet many people I know and many people I do not know. That’s what I’m looking forward to — meeting people I do not know. It’s just the opposite of fearing the unknown; it’s embracing the unknown.

It’s like reading books that are out of the curriculum. Imagine if, all your life, you read only those books that were prescribed to you to read. Unmeet someone. And profit from it.

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