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The Lost Art of Thinking

This year's AIPC-Conference was quite a challenge on visitors: extensive input on the first conference day was followed by a considerable workload on the second one. The ambitious goals were complex and made the delegates leave their comfort zones.

t was quiet at the Flanders Meeting and Convention Centre Antwerp (FMCCA), remarkably quiet for a conference. The 188 delegates at the AIPC Annual Conference from June 23 thru 26 in Antwerp passed from Knowledge Station to Knowledge Station to read about the Innovation Programme presented by Ernst & Young, understand the differences in growth strategies applied by Microsoft and Amazon, learn that BMW and Toyota have occasionally cooperated in development projects and to do some thinking about go-to-market-strategies, lean management and own business segments. A number of questions were posted at the diverse stations; statistics were displayed on TV screens; business models were presented. Participants were urged not to interact with each other for the first two hours, but instead to read, think and reflect. 'The Lost Art of Thinking' is the name of the workshop masterminded by Oscar Cerezales with the MCI Group event agency; its intent is to increase and sophisticate awareness of the attending heads of international congress centers: "Your job in management is to make the right decisions. How often in everyday life do you reflect on this?"

While Sunday was dominated by networking, a sight-seeing tour and the Welcome Dinner with diamonds in champagne glasses, AIPC-President Aloysius Arlando on the first regular day on Monday announced that this year's conference would differ from prior editions. "We are going to give you a lot of input today. We are starting with a big picture from a global geopolitical perspective, present you insights from key clients and close with special focus sessions. And tomorrow, then, it's going to be work-shopping. Not shopping," he added with a smile. Anja Stas, Chief Commercial Officer FMCCA, who as host played a major role in concepting the conference, promised: "You will find the conference different from previous editions, you will experience new formats, receive great ideas and you will be able to convert the input of these coming days into your own centers and events."

First in line was Dr. Linda Yueh, Adjunct Professor of Economics at the London Business School. The economist's keynote was centered on current geopolitical turbulences, she gave her forecast on the economic future of various regions and explained how the middle classes will develop throughout the world, speculated on potential post-Brexit scenarios inside the EU, gave her opinion on the trade disputes between China and the USA and finally admitted: "Anything I say is valid only up to the next tweet from US-President Donald Trump."
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At the beginning delegates had to work on “The Lost Art of Thinking”.

Key Clients including Isabel Bardinet, CEO European Society of Cardiology (ESC), and Kai Hattendorf, CEO Global Association of the Exhibition Industry (ufi), subsequently augmented the economist's scenarios with their particular industry-specific perspectives. "At this point of significant geopolitical global turmoil with all its uncertainties, meeting and exchanging is absolutely fundamental," said Isabel Bardinet. "The more there are problems, the more there is a need to meet." This applies to all branches, and for her cardiology society, which brings together some 65,000 delegates annually for conferences all over the world, she promised: "We will continue to meet, that is certain."

Kai Hattendorf reported how profoundly the expo industry has changed in the past years: "We're talking fundamental changes, and we need to adapt to these transformations. We've been aware for some time that the emphasis is on services, not on square meters, but we must further intensify our efforts to establish ourselves as partners and not merely as suppliers."

The second day was dedicated to workshops. After two hours of concentrated work and reflection, the assembly was split up into groups to accomplish a complex and challenging program. The senior executives of congress centers were required to transform the key findings gained from case examples from other sectors such as Microsoft, Amazon or BMW to their own particular operations. This had to be done under given perspectives, e.g. 'Talent', 'Scaleup' or 'Focus', with no further information provided. "That called for some imaginative out-of-the-box thinking," said Heike Mahmoud, Chief Operating Officer CCH Congress Center Hamburg.
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The second day of the conference was dedicated to workshops.

The fact that attendees were expected to present their findings i.e. elaborate strategies and factual guidance and thus share them with colleagues, who are at the same time their competitors, wasn't to everybody's taste. "That called for all of us to leave our comfort zone, no doubt about it. It didn't make things any easier that we had to come up with our results without any guidance or instructions," Mahmoud admitted. She supported the workshop as one of the team leaders who provided support to the delegates, if at all needed and possible. "Yes, this session is a challenge, and yes, this session is complex as well, but the AIPC strategy has just what it takes," said Mahmoud. "This is because it's not only important to all of us to learn more about various new formats and particular processes. We all simply occasionally need to feel a bit helpless to be able to understand how delegates feel at our venues whenever they leave their comfort zone. I think this shift in perspective is absolutely the right thing to do."

The concept proved successful. Several delegates might have felt some discomfort at delivering a presentation to their colleagues, and in fact a few faces were missing at presentation time, but group work was very productive, the results were profound and substantiated.

"Our intent was to make delegates put in some extra effort, as they would then return to their centers with an abundance of new perspectives and valuable learnings," said Arlando during the three-day event. And that appears to have gone well: at the close of the workshop, it was not at all quiet in the congress center. Much to the contrary, the need for interaction and communication was obviously on the rise.