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#4 Scale for Impact

This is an ongoing series, based on conversations with Bruce Mau, to help people working in the brand-experience medium embrace and apply the 24 Design Principles. I believe that spending time with these interrelated, non-linear habits of thinking can help us realize better outcomes – at work, in our personal lives, and in the world at large.

If you created a narrative about the 20th century, what detail would be most telling? Productivity made possible by the Industrial Revolution? Medical breakthroughs? Scientific discoveries? 

Bruce Mau suggests that the most significant fact of the last century is a fourfold increase in the global population. In 1900, it was estimated at 1.6 billion; this year, we reached a global population of 7.5 billion and are rapidly heading toward 8 billion, which we are predicted to hit in 2025.

“When you put those kind of numbers on the planet, the potential for impact is really dramatic,” Bruce says. “When we’re changing behavior, and redesigning what we’re doing – and what people do – we’re not just doing it for that example, we’re setting a prototype or a template for behavior all over the planet. If we change how people interact with business ideas in live experience, that will affect hundreds of millions and even billions of people.”

What does that mean to us as professionals in the brand experience industry? What does it mean to us as citizens of the world?

This is a huge topic, but let’s focus on two things:

First, while the expanding population presents challenges in how we feed, shelter and ensure the well-being of so many people, we need to acknowledge that this so-called problem is a result of success. Human beings are living longer, largely as a result of all those innovations and breakthroughs made in the previous century. And as much as our headlines are filled with violence and acts of terrorism, the data show that more people than ever are living in a time of unprecedented peace, especially in the years following WWII. The facts behind population growth tell us we are making headway in the struggle against disease, starvation and war.

Second, the opportunity to effect positive change scales geometrically with population growth. Roughly 69 million people attend exhibitions and conventions each year in the U.S.  UFI has estimated that 260 million attend events globally each year. Consider how this power to connect people scales. Freeman is the world’s largest brand experience company; we serve 300,000 exhibiting clients every year. Last year we worked on more than 14,000 projects around the globe. What we do matters — our efforts have unimaginable repercussions.

In our Freeman Manifesto, we claim the responsibility to advance society and elevate the human experience. This isn’t romantic puffery. When we help inspire professionals at the American Heart Association to share new life-saving methods, we help spread those ideas globally. Lives are saved. When we work with the Institute of Food Technologists, we further their goal to feed 10 billion people in the not-too-distant future. More people eat nutritious food. When we bring together the world’s innovators attending the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, we help expedite the social and economic opportunities promised in 5G connectivity.  More people have access to the things that matter. We are helping scale big ideas for big opportunities.  Even cooler, as we master our ability to apply metrics and digital technology to personalize these encounters, we can scale in both directions — toward the vast masses, and toward specific, individual needs.

We’re all familiar with the story of the bricklayers.  We are in much the same role — we can simply put bricks on a wall, or we can help build the cathedral. Freeman, in fact, is very much a part of building a new world. That’s what makes our work exciting, challenging, and so worthwhile. I believe that each of us has innumerable opportunities every year to inspire the person who will inspire the person who inspires the next breakthrough.

When Larry Brilliant, working with the World Health Organization, was challenged to eradicate smallpox from the face of the earth, he wasn’t overwhelmed by the notion that it had been around before the dawn of civilization. He studied the scale of the problem in India, then helped design a way to distribute the vaccine so that with each outbreak, anywhere in the world, the smallpox could be stopped from spreading by isolating and vaccinating everyone in the area. It worked. And his methods have inspired countless others working in epidemiology and global healthcare.

“When you start to think about the impact that you’re having, and really understand the potential of that,” Bruce says, “it lifts our spirits in a way that really inspires us to look at the challenges that we face — as the opportunities that we have.”

The influence we have at Freeman, as leaders in the far-reaching world of brand experience, is mind boggling. We can squander this opportunity to inspire innovation. Or we can start with our next event, and scale for impact.