Why you and your company should invest in “open”

Last fall I wrote about my experience at the inaugural OpenCo festival here in San Francisco. OpenCo launched last week with an Indiegogo campaign and a calendar of events covering New York (May 22-24, as part of Internet Week), London (June 6-7), Detroit (September 12-13), and San Francisco (October 9-11). I’m proud to be the first lifetime VIP patron of OpenCo. $2,500 is a fantastic deal for unlimited access to what will prove to be a very powerful model for bringing together people and companies in a new and exciting way. 

If you’re interested in interesting companies, the future of the workplace, and the future of cities, I encourage you to join me at OpenCo NY, and, if you run a company, to become a HostCo. This is about much much more than an “open house” – it’s an opportunity to personally, directly experience and interact with the companies that are changing our world. 

Sign up for OpenCo NY by contributing to the Indiegogo campaign, and read on… 

Original post from October 2012: 

We get ideas from other people. Where do companies get ideas?

Technology has changed the way that we relate to each other, and how ideas are exchanged. Social media is the new social fabric, and while all these new digital platforms have created new opportunities for interaction, we remain hungry for convocation – to talk, together in a place (thx @brionic). These convocations of all sorts are more popular than ever, and are taking new shapes, from CES to Burning Man, from TED to OpenCoSF, and everything in between. The more that technology enables us to operate like atoms, the more we crave human chemistry. 

Beyond us as individuals, how do people exchange ideas with companies, and how do companies exchange ideas with each other? Offices, meetings, and conferences are all part of the process, but chemistry is part of it too. My parents were both at ESPRIT early on. Growing up, I would often tag along for lunch at the Esprit Cafe, or spend the afternoon bouncing away on the trampoline in the huge third-floor gym. I can still recall in detail the hexagonal interior geometry, the texture of the reclaimed wooden beams, and the colors of the tapestries hanging around the office. Esprit was a place to me because I could spend time there; Esprit had a personality because it was open for me to interact with. The experience of the Esprit office – lunch in the cafe, the “parcourse” next door (remember those?) – was a key part of how Esprit related to employees, suppliers, partners, and customers. As a kid with access to these things, I thought Esprit was pretty cool. 

Yesterday at #OpenCoSF, I visited one company that has taken Open several steps further. With Mad Valley SF, Universal McCann has transformed some extra square footage into something new, and much more valuable. Combining elements of corporate incubator, shared co-working, and innovation lab, McCann has created a place to exchange ideas with other companies.

This is already paying intellectual dividends, but there’s an additional hidden benefit. The people and companies participating in Mad Valley SF are experiencing who Universal McCann is in a way not previously possible. As with any relationship, provided that McCann is intelligent, has integrity, and doesn’t forget the beer, Mad Valley participants will come away with a better perception of the company itself. And since the guy running the show – Jeff Bernstein – is an old-school Monster himself, there’s no doubt that will indeed happen. 

Civilizations know the value of shared experience in public space, but it hasn’t really been possible for companies to do the same thing until now. Companies have learned to sponsor public experiences in other places, but so much not in their own. In the meantime, workers have become fully mobile, and many are choosing dynamic public workplaces over their own closed offices, regardless of the perks. 

Smart companies will recognize these two memes and create new workplaces where staff and the public can work together. With open interaction they will recapture the social excitement that draws workers off campus to cafes and co-working spaces, enable idea generation, create community, and – here’s the kicker – create brand equity by sharing the experience of the corporate place.

What does this have to do with advertising? It’s about breaking barriers and redefining relationships. In John Battelle’s intro to OpenCoSF, he says the goal was the turn the conference inside-out, creating an environment where “attendees ventured out into the world to see entrepreneurs and and leaders in the their native environment.” Speaking of native, there’s been a lot of discussion lately about “native advertising”, which, by the way, has made the distinction between “real” content and advertising much fuzzier. 

We are moving beyond the idea that marketing objectives can only be achieved by creating messages so nakedly commercial that they could never be confused with content. The collorary that companies doesn’t really have anything to say if they’re selling something is also being rapidly discarded. The premise of native advertising might be that if marketers behave like content creators, their stories can be interesting. In the same way, the lines between individuals and companies, workers and employers, partners and competitors are all fuzzier than they were in the past. The assumption that the office (like advertising) wasn’t a place of much interest to outsiders is wrong, and the assumption that offices should be closed and inward facing (like marketing messages) is also wrong. 

As brave companies open up their native environments, their offices will become more like the Italian piazza – a shared place for the exchange of ideas.  And furthermore: these Open companies will discover that their native environments can be a powerful form of “native advertising” – helping to shape our perception, enage us, and ultimately, turn us into willing partners and customers. 

Thanks to the OpenCoSF team for an inspiring day. I reiterate my OpenCo challenge: who will leave their “Open” sign up? 

We get ideas from other people. Where do companies get ideas?