S. P. A. C. E: ‘Diary of N’

Published in S. P. A. C. E. for members of SELF.

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I’ve given myself a task. To find 256 people. In cities that have an ‘N’ in them. To talk about a topic that starts with ‘N’. In a venue that starts with ‘N’, too. So far we’ve gone to Phnom Penh for ‘N’ Normality at NUK Cafe, and to Bangkok for ‘N’ NOW at Nikko Cafe. The next few places are on the books for later this year, and I am now working to invite the magic set of 16 to each of those places. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the number one reason is:

‘N’ is magical.


It’s working. The thing that an innovation consultant we know and work with closely said innovations are solutions to the right problems that users love to use. The important parts: ‘Right problems,’ and ‘love to use.’

The problem: people aren’t connecting in meaningful ways. Outside of work or romantic relationships, it’s hard to discover space and time to connect for quality dialogue, intellectual play and stuff like that. ‘A 30 year old guy talking to another 30 year old guy?’ someone on a train I met somewhere in the autumn said, ‘Well, that’s just weird. It’s like a date. What do you like? I don’t know. What do you like? That’s just… weird.’

Is it?

Can ‘N’ let it happen, so it’s NOT weird?

My original gut feeling was, ‘What if we could stop trying to collect people? As if we’re all numbers. What if, instead, we were all N, so randomly chosen and highly self-selecting. And then, when we have this very short moment of a conversation space in real life, those ‘N’ who’ve chosen to join the project become real people. The kicker: you have to check in your phone at the start. This is a picture of what it ‘feels’ like to be there. I took this picture in Copenhagen.

People. It’s about the people.

256 in total.

You. Me. Us.

People who’ve said ‘yes’ to this wacky and weird idea. Followed all the instructions. Showed up, on the day. What happened in Phnom Penh and Bangkok was very special. And it’s because of the people who came. I can’t even tell you how cool it was. We made it possible, ourselves. We chose to be there, and we were there. Because we were curious. We wanted to be. That’s what made it magic.

‘A – H A!’

EVER SINCE the idea to make ’16N’ flashed into concept in March 2015, I have sort of obsessively been writing people or bumping into them and asking, ‘Will you like to hear more about ‘N’?’ Sometimes they say yes.

I wanted to design a way for us to all meet each other at the SAME TIME. Serendipity and chance, but sort of on purpose. An experiment? Something. The idea being let’s see who comes. Let’s see what happens. Non-boring conversations, please. How to make it happen? This was my premise: You can design for great conversation. You can engineer conditions so that it’s more likely to hit on something cool in the space of a short burst of time. (PS, I’m an engineer by training, a designer by school of life.)

What I needed were these things:

People’s trust.
A unique proposition.
A firmness in structure.
A way to make it fun.
Openness within the structure, on the day.

NO DOUBT this is a work in progress. But if you’re here because I invited you to an ‘N’ in your city, there’s more to share, at the password-protected link. Let me know you are there, and I can share more.

Diary of ‘N’ is published in Design Kompany’s eZine S. P. A. C. E. —DK

Published in S. P. A. C. E. for members of SELF.

Subscribe now