This year has been an extraordinary one for travel: from Saudi Arabia to Australia, Angola to Nigeria, and Turkey to the States (to name a few), I ended 2015 with a trip to South Africa to attend WPP’s Stream conference. The WPP Stream conference is like an innovation summer camp for creative adults, dubbed by Wired as, “One of the world’s best tech conferences”. Technology innovators, marketers and advertisers from around the region meet and discuss…well, any innovative or creative idea that comes to mind. The agenda is ‘set’ (on a white board using an erasable pen) by the 200 or so participants, who fill in a 60-minute slot with their topic of choice. It’s everything a typical conference is not (so, definitely not boring).
At times it can be challenging (especially in a whirlwind of airports and airplanes), to be authentically present at a new location. However, WPP’s Stream was pretty much the exact opposite.
From the moment the plane touched down in Cape Town, I knew why I was present and more importantly, that it was right.
And, let’s use the word ‘conference’ loosely here, because in actual fact, WPP Stream can be better likened to an open, safe space event where egos are left at the door, and collaboration, innovation and discussion are the only priorities. At the kick-off on the first evening, you have the opportunity to identify how you’ll contribute — for example, through midnight cooking, as part of the Stream band (I’ll get back to that), or by leading a discussion. Everyone plays an active role and words are not required.
My work — largely guided by storytelling, influenced by passionate creativity and fueled by travel to 91 countries — was perfectly at home here, and as a result, I was, too.
Homegrown topics ranging from “Bionano Technology and the Future of the Human Race”, to “Does Big Data Really Matter?”, to “The Importance of Play at Work” (so fun), and “What the Internet Means to Kids”, were explored. Facebook brought our attention to the next billion connected people through an enlightening chat, while Twitter discussed the need for a new social network.
There was the opportunity to fly a drone, build a computer and tackle real-life world challenges, like the Early Childhood Development crisis currently facing South Africa’s population. The teams participating in this particular challenge, aptly entitled ‘The Pitch’, came up with sustainable solutions to a very real problem. Everybody — whether CEO of a tech company, an investor, or leader of an NGO (all present, by the way) — participates, so in turn, everybody wins.
When the sun started to set on the rolling Stellenbosch hills — part of the gorgeous town surrounded by vineyards where Stream Africa took place — creativity did not go down with it. The Stream Band started to set up, while the stage lights lit up the amphitheatre.
In the tranquility of the vineyards, surrounded by green trees, flowing water and the colors of an “African” sunset (side note: this is a sunset like no other), we opened our set — after a mere two rehearsals — with Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas”. There’s no rush of adrenaline quite like singing acapella to your industry peers…And, on another positive note, I can remind my parents having a Bachelor of Arts degree has paid off.
Describing the WPP Stream experience is very hard, but to make it even harder, the organizing team asks participants to summarize the event in five words. I’m a little more fortunate; I was awarded 800–900 for this article. With so many words in all of the world’s languages to choose from, I still wanted to challenge myself to provide only five, English ones.
And, albeit selfish, I am going to go with: “Please, can I come back?”
WPP’s Stream is a re-confirmation of everything that feels right about creativity. And to me, that’s the right place to be all of the time.