I Never Knew My Boss Could Rap; that is, until I attended WPP’s Stream Asia in Phuket last week. Imagine this: your organisations calmest and most collected senior executive, the one who wears a well-cut suit with newly polished dress shoes onto a plane bound for sunny and sandy Thailand (no, comfort is not a consideration) — transformed into an urbanite sporting a snapback, a tee and baggy jeans. Rapping. This happened to be my boss. Zoom out and you’ll find he’s not alone but accompanied by some of the region’s most respected leaders ranging from brand owners and digital mavericks to young entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. Not only do they sing, dance and beatbox, the Stream Band rocks the stage and puts the Red Hot Chilli Peppers to shame. Oh, and I can’t forget the Powerpoint karaoke — a random selection of 15 slides which required the ‘singer’ to weave an impromptu (and often hilarious) story in front of 300 other participants. Get the picture? This was the Extravaganza or as it’s affectionately called — Stream Asia’s Got Talent.
This brilliant display was just one piece of entertainment in the 3-day Asia chapter of WPP Stream, a self-proclaimed (un)conference hosted by Sir Martin Sorrell and Yossi Vardi. The bulk of the event is focused on fostering discussion and ‘off-the-record’ interactions with topics completely crowd-sourced from attendees. Anybody can host a discussion — the role is to be a facilitator and you’re not expected to have the answer. In fact, if you already have the answer — what would you be discussing?
My favourite included an in-depth look at ‘The Future of Ecommerce’, which examined the challenges faced particularly in emerging Asian markets while learning from retail brands like Alibaba and Tesco on their market expansion. The ‘Sexy Niche: Social Influencer Marketing’ session tickled my fancy, highlighting the need for trust and authenticity when engaging with potential bloggers and vloggers. But it’s not all business; other sessions included ‘Mindfulness’ and the ‘Why China Fashion Hasn’t Influenced The World Yet’. Of course, how would this be complete without some mention of Tinder in ‘The Psychology of Dating Apps’? As Sir Martin Sorrell describes it, ‘Collaboration is valued over hierarchy, discussion over statements’. These sessions achieved that precisely — banter and debates between veteran CEOs and the energetic Millennial entrepreneur doesn’t usually happen in other settings and these conversations truly produce the most dynamic learning.
[WPP Stream] empowers individuals to conduct informal brainstorms and idea sharing.
This was what I loved about WPP Stream. It empowers individuals to conduct informal brainstorms and idea sharing. It removes the boredom of listening to repetitive and long-winded keynote presentations from those who frequent the conference circuit. It’s a platform for participants to put aside their egos and let their hair down — interact with people they otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to, while obliterating any hope of winning the ‘I have the thickest stack of business cards’ award.
Perhaps unintentionally, WPP has created an avenue enabling participants the build on ‘The Strength of Weak Ties’, a paper, which I came across published by Stanford professor and sociologist, Mark Granovetter in 1973. We spend plenty of time within our organisations and attending insular industry events to build strong relationships. Especially here in Asia Pacific, it doesn’t take long to know everyone but what we often lack is the opportunity to extend beyond our immediate circles and build ‘bridges’ or ‘weak ties’ which not only grow our network, but, encourages different ideas and conversations to happen. Stream brings together an impressive cross-section of participants to help us build these ‘weak ties’ — it helps us meet people whose opinions can empower us to approach conversations and problems from a different angle.
Splitting up these discussions, participants are also given the chance to dazzle the group with their gastronomic creations during the ‘Midnight Cooking Madness’. Not being much of a chef myself, I volunteered to eat instead — a decision I did not regret. While the spicy Szechuan Kung Pao chicken was the winning dish of the evening, I was amazed at the culinary standard present amongst the group and was convinced that they all moonlighted in kitchens.
On the other side of the spectrum, Ignite Talks offers participants a 4 minute window to present on a topic they’re passionate about which they’d like to impart upon the audience. The catch? The slides rotate automatically every 15 seconds. This ensured that the talks were punchy and memorable — ranging from a campaign against plastic bags and sleep hacking cheat sheet to the societal shift to shorter extension spans and the complicated Asian consumer mindset.
Finally, the ‘Gadgethon’ and ‘Tech Lab’ was the ideal opportunity for the inventors and tech geeks amongst us to conduct a short show-and-tell of gizmos that WOW. The showcase included a mug which had a touch screen surface enabling you to send WeChat messages, play games and even check the weather (which unfortunately could not hold hot liquids), a selfie toaster as well as a wireless charger which could help you track the whereabouts of your smartphone too.
The experience of Stream is almost magical, one which you really can only understand as a participant, but hopefully what I’ve written will encourage you to say yes should you receive an invitation next year. This was my first time but definitely not my last — should the opportunity be extended again, I would very much like to see you again, Stream!
This post originally appeared on WPP Stream.