Competing on a higher level with thought leadership. An interview with Heather Dondis about using…
Creating conventions and events whose lessons actively change behaviors.
An interview with Ruud Janssen about elevating the quality of in-person events following the pandemic.
How can you tell — in an instant — whether an in-person event will be a success or failure? Are there key items that can predict an event’s outcome?
In-person events are returning, and with them, questions of their utility and ability to really change the behaviors of those who attend. How can a thought leadership practitioner speak about their insights on stage in a way that brings about lasting and sustainable change?
In order to better understand the challenges and pitfalls of organizing an event, we’ve invited Ruud Janssen, the Managing Director and Co-Founder of The Event Design Collective to join us. The Event Design Collective is a group of event designers who train and consult with event owners to elevate events using the Event Canvas model. As the co-creator of The Design Canvas, Ruud shares how they altered Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas to suit the event space, creating a model that any event owner could use under the creative commons license.
Taking an idea and making it shine on stage isn’t as simple as it sounds. Ruud helps us grasp the key elements that events need to create value through behavior change. While many concentrate heavily on the look or feel of an event, smart show-runners know that the real selling point is an event’s outcome — and how it shapes ideas and habits for those who attend.
The most successful events begin by taking notice of the event stakeholders; who they are, what they want from the event, and how they hope it will unfold. Ruud explains why we need to keep in mind those critical elements, and how to both manage expectations and surpass them. He also shares his thoughts on articulating thought leadership on stage, and what we can do to create behavior change from entry to exit.
In addition, we learn how his business grew from offering a better understanding of The Design Canvas, to the creation of the Event Design Certificate program, and the creation of the Event Design Handbook — all to help empower event organizers to create amazing, impactful gatherings.
If you want to learn more about The Event Canvas, you can get it free along with the first 100 pages of the Event Design Handbook HERE.
Three Key Takeaways:
- Thought Leadership should stay true to the actions of the company. Don’t tell others about customer service practices if your company is known for having bad customer service.
- Brands can reach new audiences by teaming up with content creators to spread the thought leadership message of their company.
- It is important for thought leaders to understand not only the financial standing of the company they are working for but the ethical standing as well.
Join the Organizational Thought Leadership Newsletter to learn more about expanding thought leadership within your organization! This monthly newsletter is full of practical information, advice, and ideas to help you reach your organization’s thought leadership goals.
And if you need help scaling organizational thought leadership, contact Thought Leadership Leverage!
Bill Sherman How do you put an idea on stage? Well, that stage may be metaphorical, or it might be quite literal, such as a conference stage here in my hometown of Las Vegas. Thought leadership shines a spotlight, and ideas and events are an excellent way to showcase them. So I reached out to Ruud Janssen. He’s the managing director of the Events Design Collective. Rudd has a deep expertise in connecting ideas to events and behaviors. He and his organization have trained thousands of event designers. And he’s the co-creator of the Event Design Canvas. The framework is one of my go to resources in my thought leadership library. So in today’s conversation, we’ll talk about putting ideas on stage. We’ll talk about making the most of legacy events, and we’ll explore how to create behavior change through ideas and events.
Bill Sherman I’m Bill Sherman. And you’re listening to Leveraging Thought Leadership. Ready? Let’s begin. Welcome to the show, Ruud.
Ruud Janssen Thank you so much, Bill. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Bill Sherman So I want to begin with a topic you and I have had a conversation on for – a number of times in different environments, and that’s about the intersection of thought leadership and event design, and specifically putting an idea on stage. Large organizations spend a lot of time showcasing ideas, and I know your world is event design, so let me hand it to you – to ask you the question. How do you think about putting an idea onstage?
Ruud Janssen Well, there’s two elements to what you’re describing. There’s the idea and there’s the stage. In our event design approach. The only way that events create value is through behavior change. And we know that the world is not short of ideas, but it is short of ideas that actually deliver on the change of behavior from entry to exit, the behavior of what the intent is of the one that puts up the stage in the first place. So let’s pretend that the stage is the vehicle which gives attention to the thought leader, then the idea that the thought leader puts on that stage. Has to be very effective in. Changing the behavior from entry to exit behavior into the desired direction of change. And so whenever we talk about event design. In relation to stages or stages at events and wherever the stage might be, because the stage is just a podium, it is just.
Bill Sherman It can be physical, it can be virtual, it can be anything. We’re using stage in the abstract sense. Yeah,.
Ruud Janssen Yeah, yeah.
Ruud Janssen And just also decode the meaning of events. When we talk about events, that’s also quite an abstract concept because an event to us is anything that involves two or more stakeholders that changes behavior in the desired direction of change. And so when people hear events, they always kind of think down a certain direction, just the way that I would think, or maybe your listeners would think about a stage. But I think being able to deal with it with a very abstract sense, I think helps you to take an idea and then figure out how it transforms the behavior of whoever the listener might be or the viewer might be, or the contributor to the conversation might be.
Bill Sherman One of the things that I think happens and this is true for many organizations is you wind up creating legacy events that have their own sort of inertia and momentum. Right. Whether it’s the annual sales conference in Las Vegas, which is my hometown, and they all cycle through here when we’re not in a Covid environment, or technology conference, or a user conference, in that. But what you sort of underscore is the okay, the container is not the purpose. There’s an outcome that you need to be focused on.
Ruud Janssen Absolutely. The way that you know, and you mentioned this before. Sometimes people are handed legacies. When they own an event, or maybe when they are taking on the task of putting on an event that has a certain legacy or pedigree within an organization. And that’s absolutely fine because an event is really, you know, a carrier of culture, right, if you will. I mean, we have a saying that, “Show me any organization’s event and I will tell you about their culture.” By experiencing by immersing yourself in a specific event of an organization. You can read their culture. It’s like a little blood sample of what that organization does at that point in time. Now, if you’re able to observe that behavior over multiple editions, let’s say there is that kind of legacy or that cadence of events taking place at a certain rhythm. Then by looking at the events at different points in time, you can actually read the progress or the evolution of the culture of that event, because the event itself is an artifact of the organization’s culture. And so. Yes. Sometimes you might think of the event as something that, you know, ritually goes to your home city of Las Vegas, Bill, and, you know, goes there every January or every June. And there’s this kind of ritualized way of dealing with it, because that’s how things have been done for a long time. Well, what’s very interesting is that. Only if that event, entry and exit behavior of the respective stakeholders going to that event contributes to the overarching aim of where that organization is headed. Will it have a form and function that contributes to that overarching aim? And if you look at it, and zoom out of that situation, and you look at it over time, the biggest behavior change don’t actually happen at the events, although you can have some pretty manifest changes of behavior at events. But usually the biggest behavior change happens in between the events. And so you have to look at both of these factors.
Bill Sherman And so if I were then to ask you why events fail. It sounds like you’re talking about a lack of intentionality, a lack of commitment to alignment with culture and understanding. What is it that you’re trying to achieve and the behaviors you want to create as an outcome? Is that correct?
Ruud Janssen And very often it is a lack of ability to look through the lens of the various different stakeholder needs of the stakeholders going to that event or being part of that event. The way that we look at event design is quite technical, if you will, because an event very often has many different types of stakeholders, but only few of those stakeholders can really influence the direction of the overarching aim. And so whenever we design events, the first thing we do with teams is that we ask them to long list all of the stakeholders and figure out in relation to the overarching aim, what is the power and interest? Of that specific stakeholder overachieving that overarching aim. And that always leads to a fantastically interesting conversation because very you know, sometimes people aren’t convinced that event design is something that need to do because, you know, we have this ritual and we just go through the same ritual and, you know, this is the format and we just repeat every single year. But when you start the conversation with stakeholder alignment and you ask them to really think about that overarching aim. How those different stakeholders relate to that overarching aim, and also how that changes in time. Very often within, you know, we see 12 to 13 minutes, people get in a quarrel about who really has high power and high interest with regards to achieving that overarching aim. And that is really the beginning of the sense making of what do those stakeholders that you need to the light that have high power and high interest? What is it really that those people are looking for? What jobs that are looking to get done? What kind of pains are you looking to address? What are their expectations? How much time can you ask them to commit to this? What are they expecting in return for that? What are they expecting to gain when they walk away from it? And how do they measure their satisfaction? Offset it against their expectation? What are they willing to spend on it? Right. Literally out of pocket. And what are they expecting in revenues in return? These are all kind of elements that we use in this thing called. An event canvas, which to us is kind of the mental model we use to frame the behavior change and frame the actual design constraints. And with those design constraints, then we look at the ideas that a team has to figure out how could you best in the experience journey go from entry to exit and what is the instructional design or what’s the programing that’s actually happening along the way? All of these touch points translate into moments of learning, right? Moments of learning can be skills or it can be knowledge, it can be attitude learning. It can be people learning how to translate the people learning one. But the Germans, I mean, I live here in Switzerland and in Swiss-German. When you say “canan laernan” [sic] and it’s about getting to know someone. Or how people get to know each other by spending a number of minutes or hours or days together. And I think those are the magical moments that events kind of bottled up as that ability to spend time together. In the same space. And by being in that same space for a certain amount of time, you develop a relationship of some sort.
Bill Sherman A camaraderie or shared experience. Shared language. Now I want to stay on stakeholder for a moment, and then I want to get into the event canvas. So in terms of stakeholders, I know a number of heads of topics shape who they’re relatively new to their role. Right. And so they are may or may not have shown up two or three years ago on a stakeholder list for an event because the position didn’t exist. Formal or informal. Right. If I’m the head of thought leadership for an organization, how do I interact with an event team in an effective way? If I’m responsible for making sure that ideas reach the stage effectively and create impact? What should I be considering as a stakeholder?
Ruud Janssen Well, that’s a great question because. The one in charge of thought, leadership and the topics that are relevant for that organization at that point in time or in future points in time are really important in setting the behavior changes. And the behavior change is the one thing that creates value only. So if you are able to translate how the thought leadership that you’re looking to position. If you can articulate what the thought leadership will do from entry to exit. And not just by stating it and handing it to the event design team, but I would highly encourage heads of thought leadership but also thought leaders to become part of the design teams. By doing that, you actually orchestrate with the team the thinking from various stakeholder perspectives, and you get a rich blend of views from different people’s perspectives with different backgrounds, with different views on the same topic. And that makes for a really rich. Story. Let’s say infusion from all of these different points. Now, one of the challenges that if somebody knew in that role coming into an organization might face is that they might be left with that or might be handed some kind of legacy, you know, the legacy of. Here’s how you know, here’s how we used to frame and format this in the past editions of this event, for instance.
Bill Sherman And you have one slot that’s 15 minutes or 30 minutes to talk about what’s coming in 3 to 5 years. What do you want to talk about in those 30 minutes? Right. You get a slice of the pie just because that’s what we’ve always done.
Ruud Janssen Correct. And really here it’s about not just identifying that that’s a slice of the pie you get, but you go back and you uncooked it by back into its core ingredients and you think about putting it together all over again. Right. And I think this is the art and skill of uncooking the spaghetti and going back to that state, I think is what I would encourage people to do.
Bill Sherman So I love the that the kitchen metaphors are, you know, thick at this point. One of the things that I’m thinking about as well is you’ve talked about events as a longitudinal process, that it’s not a magic wand where, you know, people come in, they leave and they walk out, transformed. That’s very rare. It’s usually a series of ongoing touch points and thought leadership needs to work that way because it is very rare. You can tell someone an idea once they go, Oh, I’ve got it. I will talk to my customers and feel comfortable explaining it, or we will focus and adapt based on a product design team. Whatever audience you’re trying to reach needs more immersion for an idea than a TED Talk, for example. Right.
Ruud Janssen Yeah. And to stay with the kitchen metaphor, we like to compare a good event design to a good kimchi, right? So it has a level of fermentation that is just long enough for it to be right. And I think this is the, you know, the quotient of time that you invest in getting people to be exposed to an idea or to. Immerse himself in that experience in order to absorb the idea. I think that is a very critical design element that you need to consider for every event that you design because, you know, depending on the stakeholder mix, depending on the duration, depending on the state of mind of these people, depending on their intentions, these things can vary between various stakeholders. And so you have to orchestrate that very carefully. It’s almost like composing a. You know, let’s go to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, so to say. Right. He was when he composed that he was mostly deaf and he had no idea what the final product sounded like. But in your head, you have to imagine what will this orchestration sound like? And the rhythms, the pace, the volumes, the orchestrations are different throughout the whole piece. In order to reach a certain peak at some points in time, which you have to be able to imagine in your head because you can’t test it with 2000 people in a large space in Las Vegas just to see if it works right. The problem with an event is you imagine it in the heads of the designers. You create the narratives.
Bill Sherman So let’s talk prototyping because and I think that’s essential to how do you get an idea across? How do you create the event in the experience? You’ve got to find a way to test it without, you know, renting out the Bellagio and gathering everyone to see if it’ll work.
Ruud Janssen And that’s the exciting part about events. And that’s why it fits nicely with thought leadership is because there’s a delivery moment that’s a moment of truth and the magic has to happen in that moment. And what you have to build on is the prefrontal cortex of your event designers, right? So the front part of our head, which is about the size of your hand, if you put it on your on your forehead. That element, which distinguishes us from all the other mammals on the planet, is our little experience simulator. And we all have kind of a level of experience in that prefrontal cortex that says, if I do this with a group of people, then the likely outcome might be this. And the art and science of event design, I think is combining the predictive powers of multiple prefrontal cortex, is getting those people to think about if this, then that might be the result of the group’s behavior change. I think those are the powerful and exciting times that you have in designing events and figuring out the what if of all of these scenarios and then seeing it come to life and seeing if it actually does that. That’s why events are so magical, right? It is also the reason why many events fail if they are not thought through in the proper way. I think we have a world full of mediocre events or poor events at best, and there’s such room for improvement by simply thinking much more. Carefully or just taking a taking a moment. We call it the 1% of the event design time. Right? So let’s pretend 100 people go to an event for 8 hours. You would say 800 man hours, women hours, people hours are being spent at that event. We would then ask the event owner, would it make sense to spend 1% of those 800 hours to think about how we’re going to be spending those 800 hours of the people at the total event time? And spending 8 hours to think about the time of 100 people for 8 hours. Doesn’t sound like the wrong thing to do. Right. Yet many people don’t do it or don’t do it effectively, or don’t do it in a systematic way whereby they just end up somewhere else.
Bill Sherman And it’s easy to get lost in the weeds of production details and lose sight of purpose.
Ruud Janssen Yep. Yep. The good news is when it comes to production detail and all of that. If you have a strong event narrative, if you can articulate your event design, which very often is no longer than a one minute narrative. If you have the good formulation of your prototype as to what it is you want to achieve. There’s a slew of vendors and people that all experience in the world, especially in places like Vegas, like you were mentioning, who know exactly how to take a narrative and turn it into reality. That’s not where the problem lies. The problem is that the person trying to figure out the narrative starts to meddle with the production before knowing the narrative. And all you’re doing is confusing the heck out of those people because they don’t know what it is that you want. And they may come back with more questions than you can ever provide answers to.
Bill Sherman And if you can’t from that 1% of time. Explain what is it you want people to experience, understand, consider, think about in a new way, which is the idea side. And then from the behavior side, which is equally important, it’s not just, you know, transfer of information, it’s what are they going to do differently after the event? If you can’t articulate that in a story, you’ve got a problem.
Ruud Janssen Absolutely. So the clarity on what we call the Delta. How does somebody come in? How do they go out? For a stakeholder, we tend to formulate a maximum of three deltas. So entry behavior one, SMB a one. And then we look at what needs to happen in the middle to bring them from entry behavior one to exit behavior one. And then you take entry exit behavior two for that stakeholder and exit entry behavior three, if it’s more than three, you haven’t done your homework and you haven’t narrowed it down to the simplicity that needs to be in order to filter the ideas of what will actually do that behavior change. So really, it’s about taking a big amount of thoughts and ideas and boiling it down to the syrupy goodness, like making a proper sauce from an initial stock of maybe 100 liters. And you bring it down to a very small reduction of 30, 40 centimeters of final very, you know, a very impactful taste that condensed and compressed into that small slice.
Bill Sherman If you are enjoying this episode of Leveraging Thought Leadership, please make sure to subscribe. If you’d like to help spread the word about the podcast, please leave a five star review and share it with your friends. We are available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and all major platforms as well as at LeveragingThoughtLeadership.com.
Bill Sherman But want to ask you a question about events in terms of we’ve been talking and I think even leaning into a little bit the big showpiece and tentpole events. But there are a lot of events that happen through the year which don’t receive as much budget or time or planning. Is production quality or prerequisite for a successful event.
Ruud Janssen I think it’s a hygiene factor which has to be just good enough.
Bill Sherman So what is good enough?
Ruud Janssen Well, that depends on the narrative yet.
Bill Sherman So let’s explore that right now.
Ruud Janssen So let me give an example. The context of which something takes place, right? Because this is not just the production in terms of audio-visual quality and things like that, but it’s also the context in which that event takes place. If the quality of the conversation improves by moving it from a meeting space in the cellar with a thumping washing machine next to the room door. If it improves by bringing that meeting to the top floor. Look out over the city. Very quiet studio like atmosphere. With High Fidelity, let’s say, audio experience, without any sound from the outside. If that conversation as a result of that would improve, then the production quality needs to be at just the right level. If that makes sense. Let me give you another example. And this is a true story from so my brother is a drummer and he had this idea that he wanted to build a drum studio and his in his home and he said, I want zero sound to get out of this drum studio. And so the expert that came in, the audio expert that came in, asked them that very question. And while if you really want to go down to the zero sound level, do you know what that sounds like? And this is where the expertise of production is important because even ambient silent noise in our space would still mean a fairly high level of base sound that you would need or that you have, which we don’t perceive as sound.
Bill Sherman Silence can feel unnatural.
Ruud Janssen Exactly. Yeah. And this is very interesting when you when you play with production. Let me give you another example. So like you, we record podcasts and we tend to do it in a quite a similar fashion that we’re recording this one. And recently we started experimenting with bringing the podcast on site at a conference so that you have real time production of the audio and you would hear sounds of the actual event taking place around the people that would be wearing headsets and having microphones and speaking to each other in a context where other people might be standing around them and it changes the dynamic of the conversation. So the production level or the production area or the setting of where you do something has impact on the conversation and how the ideas are being exchanged.
Bill Sherman Well, this ties back to a piece of work that I think you and I both use as a touchstone in our work, which is Jo Pines, the experience economy. That work is theater and life is a stage, right?
Ruud Janssen Yes, absolutely. And then how do you consume that time? How do you make the time most effective to deliver on the behavior change? Sometimes it’s not by speeding things up. Sometimes it’s by slowing things down. And I think playing very deliberately with that is an essential skill set for those that ultimately are on stage and doing the thought leadership. They need to be very considerate of the timing, the pacing, but also the manner in which a piece of information is being delivered. And I think this is these all of these dynamics can be played around with when you’re talking about events. Events being a very broad thing, right? It could be an audio version of a blog post. It could be the journal that we used to read on paper and that we like to hold on paper. But maybe it’s also practical to hear somebody else read the text out loud in the original context. So I think the event.
Bill Sherman Becomes the container.
Ruud Janssen Correct. Yeah. And you called it a vessel before. Right. That the holder, the placeholder, the thing that holds that information. The stage, if you will, is really is really important to design properly. And to spend a bit of time to just think about what would be the ideal vessel for this kind of thought leadership.
Bill Sherman What I like about the event design canvas. And as listeners will know, I’m a deep fan of frameworks and models because they help sharpen the ability to spend more time thinking about how you create something, rather than what tools do I need to create? You started as a practitioner on event design and now you practice thought leadership. So talk to me a little bit about your journey in thought leadership and how you co-created the Event Design campus.
Ruud Janssen That’s a big question, Bill. Let me try and break it down as follows. Is that creating the event? Canvas was probably built out of a frustration and the frustration that I saw in the eyes of the event owner. At the time when they’re trying to articulate what it is, what they that they want from an event and the desperation in the eyes of the event designers or the event planners or the people that ultimately are involved in creating the events and failing to understand what it is, that person that just said or is trying to say to them. And over time, that frustration becomes bigger as the stakes become higher as you get closer to the event. Having seen that over and over and over again. I had an endless fascination to figure out. You know, sometimes within a split second, you would feel whether a team would be putting on a mediocre event, a phenomenal event, or an absolute disaster. I don’t know why, but you can kind of sense that quite quickly. Because that fascination was there and others in my space, you know, my colleague Orpheus and many of the people now involved in the Event Design Collective, one of them and I, you know, had many, many conversations about this. We were involved in an organization called MPI Meeting Professionals International, which furthers this whole purpose of how events create value. And we’ve actually seen that over the ten, 15 years that we were involved, that actually very little have changed in the conversation about, you know, the value of events and this kind of effect that many people in events feel like it’s an unrecognized profession and, you know, this kind of underdog position that. Sometimes an industry can kind of feel they have because they don’t have a seat at the table or whatever. Right. And interestingly enough, in those conversations, that pain kind of over time accumulated. But you can do two things with that is either complain about it or do something about it. And so we decided to do the latter. We were very inspired by the work that was done by Alex Foster Waller, who carried the business model canvas and at one of Mpi’s events in Vancouver in 2010 ran into him and we did some work in the International Board of MPI with Alex on looking at how the association creates value. And we started applying the mental model and the framework and I was really pleasantly disturbed and surprised as to how much one piece of paper with a couple of boxes that were well thought through based on a Ph.D. dissertation allow teams to talk at various abstract levels of thinking about concepts that are really of their care, something they really care about deeply. And events are things that people care about deeply, too. And so we tried applying the business model canvas to events because you could consider events to be short cycled businesses. However, there are some things missing and being able to then really capture the value, which was this whole behavior change aspect of it. And so although I spent the better part of a year noodling on all sorts of thinking and, you know, complex drawings that would be making, which were way too complicated. And when we took that to Dennis lawyer who had helped Alex before and his team to. To kind of think about flattening out the complexity and bringing it into something that would be. A simple container for people to use. And so we had already come up with a first iteration and really had an incubator by testing it on people. We came up with what is now known as the Event Canvas. We ended up publishing that under Creative Commons, and at first after we created the canvas, we said, That’s great, Creative Commons, stamp on it. Off you go. People can download for free. Here’s a website. You know great work has done. Let’s carry on with the other stuff we’re working on. And then people started knocking on our door and asking us, Oh, this is really cool. How do you use it? Or What kind of questions should we ask here? And then we said, Oh, apparently we haven’t been clear enough. Let’s add questions to these boxes to guide the conversation. And then we ended up using it over and over again. And as you use it, you develop a systematic way of using it. And then people got curious when you do it and you make it look so easy. Can you teach us how to do that? And so, we created a program called the Event Design Certificate Program to guide people through how to do that. And then organizations knocked on the door and said, Well, we’d really like to take our high stakes event and figure out how to do it better. Could you help us think as a team to get through this process? And by doing this over and over again, we kind of developed the practice, I suppose, and in the community of people that were practitioners, the level of geekiness increased over time, which forced us to then, you know, some of these people said, Can I translated into Chinese or into Turkish or into Polish or into French or Spanish? And so, we allowed the community to translate it. It’s now available in 16 languages. But the community wanted more and more and more and more and more. And so, we ended up writing down our thinking and our application in a book called The Event Design Handbook between a Golf Lesson and Dennis Layer and myself, which was really a document and a testament to just documenting what it is that this is used for and how it can best be used.
Bill Sherman One of the things that I hear in the story is and I and I love it because it rings true. And I’ve often said that an idea doesn’t have to be complex. It could be a sentence or two or an idea could be as simple as a two-by-two matrix. The event design framework right fits on an A4 sheet of paper. It’s got, what, 14 boxes, if I’m remembering correctly? Yeah. And it’s simple. You could teach someone to draw it in a couple of minutes. You could draw it on a napkin. Yes. But you went from that really thoughtful, wireframe simplicity into what you describe as a movement which was creating demand and saying, give us more rights and having people sign on and say, we want to use this in our community, our country, our organization. And I think back to other movements based on statements of principles or a framework. And this fits in so nicely with that, where it’s almost unexpected. You know, the problem that you solved. Took on a life of its own.
Ruud Janssen Yeah, well. Because so many people spent such obscene amounts of times at events. And many of them are, you know, like we said, mediocre at best. There’s a lot of improvement to be made. Right. And it cannot be made by a small team of people. Everybody needs to contribute. And so everybody that is at events and has a guilty conscience about spending their time at that event because the event is not up to par for them. You can take that responsibility and walk away. Everybody can change their behavior. What we felt, Bill, was that. Equipping others with the ability to be able to use this in practice was such an important thing because by giving away the knowledge and the actual, you know, you cannot own a process. So we wrote down the process in a facilitation kit. We teach people how it how it’s used. We currently haven’t even announced that for the Young Professionals program that’s embedded into universities to get people exposed to this as early as possible. And it’s fascinating to see that there’s this whole community of people using this and sharing how they practice it and then coming back for more. Right. So our role as the provocateurs of this thing really boils down to two things. One of them is making it simpler and simpler to understand and decode. I think that’s very important. Simplicity is super important. So you set 14 building blocks. But one of the first things Dennis said was, no, no, it’s three things. It’s not 14 things. It’s three things. It’s change from prototype. Right. So he by looking at, let’s say, the sheet music of events, right? The event canvas, he saw the three steps because people cannot remember 14 things. They can remember three things only. And really, it is about the change of behavior, but the time frame and then the hourglass in the middle is actually the prototype as to how people spend the time at the event. So it’s also interesting how. By adding brainpower from various different disciplines and getting people to interact with the thing that was initially created. The value of it in its application becomes tenfold. We sometimes jokingly say, Well, and I and Dennis, you know, we created a business out of a simple piece of paper, and it’s really the truth. And it was never our intent to create a business. Right. So this is just a little project that kind of got completely out of hand. And now there’s, you know, a good, you know, two handfuls of us in different countries doing this day in, day out. And there’s a community of 20,000 plus practitioners and 500 certified event designers that are doing this day in, day out, because they care about how people spend their time at events.
Bill Sherman And this is one of the things that I want to be clear as we begin to wrap up. I want to ask you, because I think I would describe you and Raul and Dennis as accidental thought leadership practitioners who have become heads of a movement. Right. In terms of a community of practice. And when you have 20,000 people utilizing these tools and you think about how many events they touch over the course of a year, it’s a massive number. There are many people who have been handed a mandate from their organization to be the head of thought leadership. Maybe those insights are being sold directly, or maybe it’s something of a vision of the future or it’s being given away. Creative Commons or not. My question to you, having been on this journey, is what advice would you give yourself earlier in the process? So, if you had just been starting out, what do you wish you would have known? Because I think there are many listeners who are out there just staring out stage.
Ruud Janssen Yeah. One thing that we’ve done maybe a little bit too late, but just in time, I think was. Taking the big chunk and shrinking it down to the smallest unit possible. So when we got to a point where we were, you know, it took us a year to come up with that single piece of paper, which is a ridiculous amount of time, but it requires that amount of deep thinking. And probably it wasn’t just that one year, but, you know, the 22 years before that as well. Right. Thinking I’m experiencing the pain.
Bill Sherman Elegance takes a lot of sweat and effort to find a solution.
Ruud Janssen But let me give you a small other example. When we started writing the event design handbook, that was quite a monster because people didn’t need a book. People said, Nah, first, create a facilitation kit. Tell us the steps in the process and just write those down. But that wouldn’t make an awful book, right, if you would just write down the steps. So we first created a facilitation kit, which we first thought was a game. And so we created a prototype and tried out the game on a number of people and people said, Yeah, but this doesn’t have a winner or loser, so it’s not a game. And then we tried putting it on a napkin and we tried that. And so very rapid prototyping all the way along when we got to the book, because writing a book with three people is like, you know, birthing triplets through your nostrils. It’s, it’s, it’s it is not a pretty, you know, exercise to imagine, especially when it’s, you know, three pretty vocal Dutch guys that each have an opinion. But the one thing, the task we said to ourselves over lunch is we said, let’s see if we can write a micro story. On how we would explain this to our grandmother or our own kids. And so over lunch, while having a sandwich, we wrote Elsa’s seventh birthday story. Which is actually featured in the Event Design Handbook as a case study. And the true story is it’s actually Dennis’s daughter at the time going from 7 to 8 from three stakeholder perspectives, you know, her 78th birthday and the fact that she one of the many iPad, her parents who have a specific picture as to what they see the birthday to be and then the grandparents who have a specific view on what that what that should be this birthday thing. And by doing that over lunch and scribbling that on a single simple piece of paper and making that the first case study that became, let’s say, the core stories, simplicity, which we were then able to hone in on to the full book. So I think a small installment of a proof of concept that you can actually do this in a very limited amount of time and doing that very quickly each time after each other, which is rapid prototyping in its essence. Really as a proof of application of whether your thought leadership can actually turn into something transferable to other people.
Bill Sherman And I think that’s a good place to end the conversation. Keep it small to begin with, rather than to try to boil the ocean, but find your clarity. And when you have that clarity and know, what is it that you’re talking about? That’s how an idea reaches scale. Richard, thank you for taking time today to chat with us.
Ruud Janssen Thank you so much, Bill. It was an absolute pleasure.
Bill Sherman If you’re interested in organizational thought leadership, then I invite you to subscribe to the OrgTL newsletter. Each month we talk about the people who create, curate and deploy thought leadership on behalf of their organizations. Go to the website, OrgTL.com, and choose join our newsletter. I’ll leave a link to the website as well as my LinkedIn profile in the show notes. Thanks for listening and I look forward to hearing what you thought of the show.