┇ Event Planning

Sisyphus the Event Planner

The endless but beautiful struggle of designing experiences.

By: Richard Kim
Tags: efficiency, random thoughts

"They make cars, I run a kitchen."

This is what Dariel Foriest, director of distribution at the Food Bank's pantry and soup kitchen in Harlem, said when Toyota offered to send one of their engineers rather than a financial donation.

But according to an article in the New York Times about this phenomenon:

At a soup kitchen in Harlem, Toyota's engineers cut down the wait time for dinner to 18 minutes from as long as 90. At a food pantry on Staten Island, they reduced the time people spent filling their bags to 6 minutes from 11. And at a warehouse in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where volunteers were packing boxes of supplies for victims of Hurricane Sandy, a dose of kaizen cut the time it took to pack one box to 11 seconds from 3 minutes.

Engineers are trained to stare at inefficiencies and issues until they can come up with at least 3 viable solutions to present to a team. So when we strip down the thought processes of an engineer, it becomes clear that we need to become engineers to some degree.


Can you spot the inefficiency?

Of course, what the Toyota engineers suggested may sound obvious, like having a host to seat people more efficiently, for example. But sometimes it really is just a matter of sitting down and looking at a problem and fighting through several solutions. However, we can take it one step further than our analytically-minded friends and delve into the minds of philosophers. Enter the cycle of deconstruction and reconstruction proposed, in deliciously frustrating fashion, by Jacques Derrida.

Derrida Illustration of what is most likely, but not certainly, Jacques Derrida

​What Derrida advocated was the courage to face, even lionize, aporia: an "impasse" of thought and decision. Although we love to read articles about how to plan the perfect event or give advice on the best strategies to negotiating prices, we don't have to be ashamed about sitting there and being utterly confused. One week, our office at Event Insider will be inundated with requests for proposals and the phones will ring in a cacophonous symphony, and other times, after a string of frustrated typing and cold calls, you only hear crickets. We could not tell you which effort allowed for the universe to align on one week and forsake us on another. For all the theoretical calculations about engagement and acquisition costs, there comes a point where we stare at the screen and wonder why people do what they do when they do it.

​And that is why we should deconstruct what we know, and look at everything we do with fresh, objective eyes. What is the difference between having round tables and rectangular pods? How much does it matter? At what point does focusing on design trends distract attendees and approach empty sensationalism?

At what point do we move from engineers solving a problem for our clients to master event planners who rest on our laurels and look down from our thrones?

We strive for perfection knowing that we cannot achieve it. We take a mess, try to organize it, deconstruct what we do, and reorganize it. Deconstruct and Reconstruct, Rinse and Repeat à la Derrida.

If this sounds like the myth of Sisyphus, we don't think that this is a point of shame but a point of pride. Hubris and complacency look like confidence in the beginning, but only act as camouflage to mask shallowness of thought. It is in the absurd struggle toward something we cannot obtain that we find humility and constant improvement that lead to success and perhaps, satisfaction.

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