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Conversation with Kevin Clark, President and Founder of Content Evolution LLC


Conversation with Kevin Clark Conversation with Kevin Clark, President and Founder of Content Evolution LLC and co-Founder of DistributED

Kevin, thanks for your time today to talk about “SHIFT HAS HAPPENED…WHAT’S NOW!” …the theme of this year’s Close It Summit.  I am really excited to talk with you today, as you and I have been talking for more than a year about the changing global environment and how to address these changes with innovation and impact.

As we began our discussions around new ways to “gather”, we imagined a new way of working, learning, communicating, collaborating and gathering.    You had years with IBM convening teams of leaders.  Can you tell our Close It Community has this impacted your thinking, planning, and where you are seeing the future in a new way?

Kevin: The conversations and research about the future of work and learning arrived a decade early this year, didn’t it? After being on panels and participating in summits for the past several years, the pandemic has moved us from jawboning about what’s possible to being forced to do it. Working on a distributed basis a need, not a wish. I’ve been working online for decades and collaborating with people globally is second nature as a former executive and innovation convener at IBM. I can remember using “instant messaging” on a VM terminal the day I started working at IBM over forty years ago and could get a brief line of information to anyone in the world connected to our internal network instantaneously. It was a preview of how we connect and collaborate openly and with immediacy on the Internet and worldwide web today. This said, there is nothing that replaces being with people in person. The candor you can summon face-to-face with people that have met before and trust each other is something I experienced regularly as global Director of Strategy and Brand Steward for IBM ThinkPad notebook computers, today Lenovo. I convened and created advisory councils, 17 of them around the world, with the most valuable enterprise customers, road warrior innovators, industry analysts, and trade journal publishers and high-tech editors about our plans for the next ThinkPads. It was magical how much information flowed behind closed doors – and how much our management team could change in a brief period in these gatherings.

Jamai:  So, Close It Summit is leveraging this vision and the new model of DistributED to create a unique 7-month summit, driven by a community of expert knowledge.  How can this change the future of conferences?

Kevin: We are working to create a WOW for people stuck in an ongoing online Hollywood Squares existence in what seem to now be endless videoconferences. Our eyeballs and necks hurt. DistributED puts the emphasis on people first, then uses tech to help them connect and collaborate. Yes, we call it DistributED – and I’m doing it with you, Jamai. We hit it off pretty quickly after comparing notes. The Close It Summit that you’ve developed over a half decade is the right group of people passionate about education to come together over an extended period of time and create what education should be and do next. We have the opportunity to bring them together in person in Santa Fe next May 2021 after seven months of working in Ideation Hubs online and hearing from industry leaders, thinkers, and professionals taking action. Instead of sitting in rows in a ballroom, Close It community members will be convening and will be on stage themselves – sharing what they’ve created as Ideation Hubs. We are in the both/and business – transforming both human uses of technology – and disrupting and reimaging what it means to be together both in-person and online. A new form of designed presence as I just wrote about and delivered with Dr. Kaz Yamazaki in our keynote paper “Designing Presence” for the IHIET-AI Conference.

Jamai:  Most conferences are doing multi-day virtual conferences that go throughout the day.  What do you see as the strengths and weakness of this newer model?  How do ensure that we have significant engagement as conferences and convenings change rapidly in our virtual world?

Kevin: It’s just exhausting. Well-intended and generous to swing open the doors for convening online, many times without cost these days, yet not well designed for human interaction and engagement. You need to think about how the content should flow – and it’s not moving an in-person conference or meeting online using the same schedule. It’s a lack of imagination at best, and a lack of consideration at worst. We invented the acronym CEMTS – conferences, events, meetings and trade shows – to talk about the sector we’re designing for and both disrupting and reimagining at the same time. I worry most about people who have just flat-out cancelled their gathering. This is a loss of momentum and potentially an extinction event for some of these businesses. If you’re in this camp, we should talk.

Jamai: Kevin, you and are leading an Ideation HUB for the Close It Summit on the “Future of Coming Together.”  What do think success looks like for outcomes in May 2021 for this Ideation HUB? 

Kevin: Here we’re inviting people who share our interest and energy in the “Future of Coming Together” as one of the hubs we’re sponsoring. As you know, I volunteered this one after looking at the initial list of hubs you proposed. What about us and what we’re trying to catalyze? Boom. You immediately said yes and the “Future of Coming Together” Ideation Hub was born. It’s going to be a great community and conversation functioning both as a innovation team for Close It in May – it will also have the seeds of a community interested in the development and people-first mission of DistributED.

Jamai: In a perfect world, what does a Summit look like?  What makes it good?  What makes it stand out?  And, why does the consumer attend in the first place? 

Kevin: Hmmm, I’m probably not the right person to ask about perfect worlds, since I believe as Voltaire says, “the perfect is the enemy of good.” What I will say is a good summit is captured in the name itself – both an elevation of discourse and thinking for a moment, and a safe place for it to happen with trusted peers. People come to summits to learn – and to meet new people. I met you at Close It last year at Parminder Jassal’s suggestion, and look what happened.

Jamai:  Finally, what is the significance of “coming together”?  Do you believe we can accomplish this in a DistributED fashion as well as face to face? 

Kevin: Coming together has never been more important or vital than this moment. Innovating and designing new ways to come together productively, safely and with actionable outcomes is not bounded by face-to-face or technology mediation. It is about using what we know about human interaction and tech to create a new both/and that delivers trust and presence faster. This is at the core of DistributED. We have the potential to grow beyond CEMTS and become foundational to how we organize to solve problems, address challenges, and what it means to be fully present and fully human.