Last year, during SilkRoad’s Connections Conference, keynote speaker Polly LeBarre talked about going places where you might feel a bit uncomfortable to stretch your thinking. It reminded me of some lessons from a trip that Mr. Bartender and I took to MegaCon Orlando.
A “con” is a specific type of convention for fans of pop culture. A con often includes genres such as sci-fi, gaming, anime, and manga. The term has been around since the 1940s.
I had always wanted to go to a “con”, but I wasn’t sure it was going to be something that I would really enjoy. I’ve always heard that cosplay is a big component and frankly, I’m not really into it. So instead of spending a lot of money to schlep across the country to the most widely known con (i.e. San Diego Comic Con), we decided to attend the lesser known but closer MegaCon. Which unbeknownst to us at the time is a really big convention. And I learned some business lessons along the way.
Compliance doesn’t have to be boring or mean. This convention had the nicest security guards ever. Yes, they had a job to do in checking bags and making sure no weapons were entering the building. But they did it with a smile. It’s amazing when you turn compliance into a nice thing how well people respond. Sorta like how the airlines are getting really creative with the security announcements on planes.
Ask questions to gain understanding. Speaking of the security officers, I thought it was interesting how they would ask attendees about what they were wearing. If they didn’t recognize an outfit, they would ask “What show is that from?” or “What does that headgear represent?” And attendees would take the time to explain it. You know the attendees were anxious to get into the event, but they helped others understand. Think about how far we could come in bridging differences if everyone did that.
Allowing people to opt-in gets positive results. In the business world today, we’re quick to just add people to lists. We don’t ask. Even when someone says they don’t want to be on a list, companies do it anyway. At MegaCon, people asked if they could take pictures. They didn’t just assume that they could. Asking permission gets positive results. The participants who were dressed in cosplay were happy to oblige. Organizations might find asking permission instead of opting people in gets a better result. Some great lessons there.
Study the basics. I loved attending the sessions with the artists that draw the comics/graphic novels. One of my big takeaways from those sessions was how the artists studied classic art. There is a place in today’s business world for studying theories, old models, and historical trends. Then using the information to build new models and disruptive practices.
Visuals are important. I believe all types of learning are important, but organizations might not place enough emphasis on visual learning. The visuals at MegaCon were everywhere – anime, graphic novels, manga, cosplay, etc. It made me realize how much people are attracted to visuals and specifically fun, brightly colored visuals. It might be time to figure out how to reduce our reliance on safe and conservative stock images.
Pop culture can be a great learning tool. I’ve mentioned this one before. Don’t dismiss the value that mediums like graphic novels can bring. “Define the Line” is a graphic novel that addresses workplace harassment. I just discovered “March”, a three-part graphic novel about Congressman John Lewis and the civil rights movement. If the goal is to get people to read and learn, give them the message in a medium that they enjoy. It will spark their interest to learn more (and expand to other mediums).
Mr. Bartender and I had a good time and we learned a lot. The event shattered some preconceived notions that I had about this type of event – like everyone who attends a con doesn’t participate in cosplay. But who knows, maybe I will venture outside my comfort zone and do a little cosplay in the future. After all, the goal was to stretch my thinking and learn a few lessons along the way.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby while exploring the streets of Orlando, FL13