In my first weeks with BKD Executive Leaders I undertook one of our own company’s services, a Psychometric test, with our Executive Director Rob Kerr (PhD) so that I could experience and understand the service intimately. The resulting profile suggested, among other things, that I was “a radical thinker, [who will] look beyond the obvious, searching for the new and unconventional.” So, it was perhaps little surprise to Rob that one of my first ‘expense’ requests as an executive recruiter was a trip to Byron Bay for S P A C E series. Luckily, I had joined a company who saw opportunity and possibility in the unknown.
Space Series promoted itself as “A community of disruptive leaders coming together in Byron Bay for three nights to disconnect, collaborate, and create in one of the most inspiring locations on earth.” For me personally, a few months into my new role as Industry Lead for Media & Marketing at BKD Executive Leaders, meant that I was keen to explore the possibility and potential of this event from both a connections perspective but also a bubble-burster. After having been in media for over 15 years I just yearned for some topics and conversations outside ‘my world’. I love my industry but with a recent shift from working ‘in’ it, to servicing it through executive recruitment, it was important for me to shift my perspective… with action. I applied. That’s right, no one could just ‘buy’ a ticket to this event, applicants underwent a phone screener to assess their suitability to the event goal towards making a more ambitious Australia through shared ideas and collaboration.
The fact that the content and description of this event was relatively loose… as in, hard to explain if someone was to ask you what it’s all about (something that would normally annoy me) actually made it more attractive at this point… anything was going to be possible content-wise – and if 200 other guests were also thinking this way, well I figured that could make for a pretty unique experience. Or as I found most people were thinking beforehand, s p a c e was either going to be absolutely awesome or a complete F*ing disaster.
The buzz began at the airport in Melbourne where… you could kind of tell if someone sitting at the gate was headed to Space Series. This is hard to explain but as people were preparing to fly into the unknown, they had a shared ‘sparkle’ of enthusiasm in their eye, they were ‘smiley’ (open) and just vibing for lack of a better term. They were clearly ‘space cadets’. In the weeks prior to lift off we were sent snippits of other attendees profiles, not so much their occupations, but what they were doing on the planet (somewhat daunting for someone like me who’s been ‘doing’ advertising for 15 years and arguably not contributing much to the planet beyond brand driven content and partnerships). For example, I read one of the guests was using her senior citizen silent discos to help fight dementia. Another re-designing the integration of life and work. Another maintaining a healthy sex life after 70.
There was a lot of pressure on the launch night. We all had our eager, ‘ready’ faces on… for the event organisers who’d kept a fair bit of info close to their chest it was game time. Make or break. Plenty of mishaps tried to break it – sideways rain into the event tent space, speakers and electronics shorting out… but as the pre-show energy continued to lift, despite these faults, it became clear that one thing had been very carefully and strategically nailed… the people at this event. A guest lift of positive, influential, open-minded, leading people of all ages and walks of life rallied their support behind the organisers and I would argue literally created the energy that saw the electronics and speakers re engage in a crucial climactic moment of CJ Holden’s welcoming speech. Yes. This was going to be a good event. We could all exhale.
The event content itself was ‘brought by the people’, that is to say, all 200 attendees had to contribute their discussion, workshop or story topic. Other than some rather sensational pre-organised entertainment (a blind, sensory, dinner experience guided by Yuma Decaux a 3D artist who lost his sight to a firework in Bali to Isabella Manfredi’s first ever solo performance of original music outside her band The Preatures to nightly music vibes by Mykel Dixon & Phil Cebrano), this was the content of the event. We were the content. On the first morning there was a board of empty schedule spots (like a hospital OR schedule) and people literally pinned their topic post-it to the wall. What did this mean? A helluva spectrum of content and options. Here are a handful of the 200 topics to give you a sense of that diversity;
“It’s ok to not have kids these days, isn’t it”
“Creativity can Change the World, Lessons from a Life in Africa”.
“Giving the finger to convention”
“Would you Marry a Robot”
“Global Village – Designing the Community We Want”
“What the Hell is Your Child Talking About – A Conversation with the Next Generation”
“Bio Hacking our way to happiness with micro dosing”
“It’s 2100. AI has created a jobless world – find our meaning”
A broad spectrum meant for broad quality. Some sessions exceptional, mind-cracking and robust – leaving me with a feeling of needing more (and taking real action since returning home) – some sessions not quite what was expected (in some instances, I found titles were almost ‘click bait’ to draw a crowd, when the actual content was focussed elsewhere). I’d suggest the event organisers would see content curation as an opportunity for next year – not to change topics but rather ensure they were the best they could be, and pitched accordingly. No matter what though – conversations were robust. Whether it was a youth lobbyist (yes an actual young person) challenging someone from an older generation on their stereotyping or a leading business professional’s jaw literally dropping at learning about a world of micro-dosing they never even knew existed… you could see barriers coming down everywhere and I suppose that is the centre-point for change and progress. Understanding the world outside our own bubble.
I personally spoke about ageism in my industry, a topic I’ve always had an eye on that’s been supercharged since officially stepping into recruitment. It was unbelievably powerful having a CEO or two speak up, taking ownership for their own contribution to this issue – while another attendee shared learnings, strategies and benefits of specifically hiring more experienced people with years of experience under their belt. We all learned through each other.
More than anything, the cadet guide point to ‘leave your job at the door’ made this experience deeper in its authentic networking connectivity. We in fact burned a structure with all our names and titles on it. As a guest you got to know fellow space cadets by the sessions you saw them in, their points of view, how they approached challenging group discussions when they held a differing point of view… you got to like people (or decide they weren’t necessarily your cup of tea) for who they were, not what they did. For the most part, only on the final night when people were starting to swap details did you come to realise how people spent their nine-to-five… and making those realisations was absolutely fascinating. I literally got told “wow, I would never have thought you were an executive recruiter” (I chose to take it as a compliment). For me, that experience felt like being in year twelve and going around asking my friends what they’d decided to be after their careers counselling sessions, an anaesthesiologist, an educator, a politician? No way! Amazing! Only then did I start to grasp the gravity of the influence at the event.
So would I go again? Absolutely. Because any time we’re having progressive conversations, looking beyond the obvious, outside our industry and bubble, is a time for learning and growth, a time for perception shifting and ego smashing … is a time I will make s p a c e for.
At the beginning of this piece I mentioned BKD’s Psychometric testing service. BKD offers psychometric testing to provide a more objective assessment of personality than is normally possible from a typical interview… it can also teach you a lot about your self, which can be used proactively in interviews and career development. Get in touch for more details firstname.lastname@example.org