Kevin White is leading a workshop titled “How to Think Like Google, Disney, and Other Innovative Brands” at BizBash IdeaFest Los Angeles on June 19 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. For more than 17 years, Kevin White has been designing and producing corporate experiences worldwide. His portfolio includes large-scale marketing events, corporate initiatives, and immersive New York City experiences for Fortune 100 companies. His current endeavor, XPL, delivers innovation to the experiential industry and its products by rethinking how organizations develop ideas. We were fortunate enough to have a chat with Kevin about his experience in the industry and his insights on innovation.
For our readers, can you start by telling us a little bit about who you are?
I am a producer by nature. I grew up in a large extended family where our Irish roots played a big role. Hospitality and story telling were the norms while growing up. You can’t ask for
two better foundations for the experiential industry than those as every experience you may plan is based on them. For almost two decades now (yikes!) I have been fortunate enough to produce events worldwide for corporate clients; some as big as 30,000 people, some as small as 2 people. And while I COULD imagine doing something else – I’d trade places with Spielberg or Manning or Diddy’s assistant – this ride has been unbelievably fun.
On your LinkedIn profile, you note that “live events are the catalyst for change.” Why do you believe the face to face experience has this power?
I love this question! And it’s such a simple answer. For the status quo to shift, there needs to be an emotional impetus. Evolution occurs through emotional change. I’m not talking about breaking down and crying or maddening outbursts (although sometimes yes.) I’m talking about an emotional connection with the message. Be it greater trust, empathy, excitement or any other emotional change, there is nothing that brings the emotional connection to someone the way face to face communication does. Well, except those pet commercials with the Sara McLachlan song. Those things are in a class of their own.
What is your definition of innovation?
Now you’ve hit a topic I could spend days on. I’ll try not to. Most people quickly jump to certain images of innovation when they think about it. Science. Technology. White coat labs. I think because we deal in designing experiences, our profession is so confused about what innovation could possibly mean they don’t put too much effort into it. Dictionary definitions spend a lot of time using the word “new.” But simply being new doesn’t make something innovative. Like other creative industries, events constantly follow trends and thereby always seem new. I think innovation is when a new approach is applied to an old problem that makes lasting and far-reaching changes in behavior. And I believe innovation is bred by culture and process. I’ve done enough innovation workshops with organizations to know that any company can be innovative. They just have to commit to it. Its also why I believe a company like Apple is very much NOT innovative. Steve Jobs was an innovator’s nightmare.
You were one of the youngest event professionals to attain the Certified Special Event Professional (CSEP) certification. How did this achievement help you during your career?
The Certified Special Event Professional certification is such a great and necessary designation for our profession. If you have a goal, as the International Special Events Society (ISES) does, of raising the level of respect garnered by practicing professionals, then you must have an accredited measurement system of competency. I decided to attain the certification as a personal goal. And I have been closely involved in its administration to the industry, working to evolve its efficacy as an exam as well as to broaden its exposure to the entire profession. By gaining the certification and remaining an advocate for it, I have gained a “long zoom” view of the entire experiential industry and have been able to see the larger, big wave influences on it. I’m excited to see younger and younger practitioners achieving it and I look forward to the day when a master designation is developed.
How did your experience as a professor contribute to your success in the events industry?
If I could give any piece of advice to those who have been practitioners for a while in this industry, it would be to go back and teach. It allows you to see just how much the industry is evolving as you watch each new generation enter the workforce. If you approach it with passion, it forces you to stay relevant and current. If you are an employer, it gives you such a GREAT perspective of how new employees think and what their perspective is. Finally, it keeps you very grounded to your beginnings. No matter how successful you become, never forget where you started. Giving back is a pillar at my company and we try to give back to our industry any time we can.
One of the pillars for your latest venture XPL is “sustainability.” Can you elaborate on your passion for sustainability in the industry and describe what it was like to be a part of developing the international standard for sustainable event management?
One of the great characteristics of our company is to follow our passions in how and what we do. Sustainability sits right at the top of that list. If anyone has had their eyes open the past fifteen years, stayed informed of what studies are showing, and listened to all sides of the global environmental debate, they really can only can come up with one plausible conclusion. We are on a sinking ship. To say this is an innate passion of ours is a misnomer as sustainable practices are now necessity, not fun little pet projects. It is our responsibility as stewards of this Earth, our only home, to live and work sustainably. When I and several others were selected to represent the American experiential industry in developing an international sustainable event management standard, I was excited to make an impact, move the industry forward and see what this process would be like. It was such an eye opening experience. What I learned: there are some amazingly smart people who have developed amazing processes to make international standards happen; the amount of work involved in something like this is staggering; America is so woefully behind in its conceptualization of sustainable practices it borders on embarrassing. As I look back at all of your questions, they are all summed up nicely by our involvement in this international process. The exchange of innovative ideas in the hopes of developing a certified standard will hopefully teach current and new generations of practitioners that an evolution is necessary. Change must come. And it will.
Written by: Colleen Donnelly