Designing an Experience

I used to think that a curator was someone who managed the galleries at an art museum. Of course, that’s true, but I’ve come to realize that at a deeper level, a curator is a designer of experiences. I first awoke to this deeper meaning when I was invited to speak in Amsterdam by De Appel arts organization, as part of their “The Old Brand New” speaker series in 2009. They talked about “curating” the speaker series, and I loved this way of speaking. A curator designs experiences, whether presentations, performances, or art spaces.

The WEF staff are extremely talented curators. At each session I’ve been in, including the two that I moderated on Friday, there were about ten people who had been selected to lead discussion. And in each case, I could tell that these invited participants were selected very carefully. They were always from an extremely broad range of backgrounds: every region of the world, politicians and business leaders, men and women, and every industry sector. My own research on groups demonstrates that cognitive diversity results in greater group creativity: More surprising new ideas, more unexpected combinations. It’s all about what I call emergence: in a creative group experience, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

My morning session on Friday, The Creative Workplace, brought together myself, a professor; Marc Beniof, CEO of; Tim Brown, CEO of the design firm IDEO; and Marcus Samuelsson, the famous chef known for restaurants like Aquavit and Red Rooster. My afternoon session, Managing Across Cultures, had seven discussion leaders, one for each table, and these world leaders came from every region.

So yes, I think these sessions provide valuable experiences for the participants. But I read an article in Thursday’s International Herald Tribune that claimed that “no one attends Davos for the sessions.” And I believe that’s at least half true; they certainly don’t attend only for the sessions. I’ve met people in various hotels that aren’t actually registered for the WEF, but they come to Davos because everyone they want to meet with is here, and their schedule tends to be more open than when they’re back at home running their company or their country. As I said in my last posting, I believe there is real value in the unplanned and unexpected connections that happen on the shuttle bus or at the bar.  But those are “undesigned experiences” (or at least, less obviously designed); the sessions are very thoughtfully designed, and I have been impressed with the staff of the WEF and how they have curated this event.

5 thoughts on “Designing an Experience

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