4 Ideas From Chicago Ideas Week

This weeklong event brings together thought leaders and attendees in hopes of creating change and measurable results. Even better is that associations can apply some of CIW’s ideas to their own meetings.

I was catching up with a friend who lives in Chicago earlier this week when she told me she had to cut our phone call short. “I have to run. I’m going to learn how to turn plastic bags into a handbag or maybe even a skirt,” she told me.

The goal of CIW is to become a catalyst to stimulate new initiatives and ventures, creating new connections and points of collaboration designed to enhance the world we live in.

“Huh, what?” I asked.

It truly was one of the last reasons she’d give for having to hang up. But then she told me it was part of Chicago Ideas Week (CIW), which, she explained, offers a bunch of interesting talks and hands-on classes for pretty cheap.

Of course, as soon as I hung up the phone—after first demanding that she text me a photo of her finished product—I went straight to Google for more information.

Here’s how the CIW website describes it: The event, which began Monday and runs through the weekend, “is an annual, weeklong gathering of global thought leaders created to drive ideas into actionable results. The goal of CIW is to become a catalyst to stimulate new initiatives and ventures, creating new connections and points of collaboration designed to enhance the world we live in.”

Bingo, I thought, and immediately send her this text: Thanks! You totally found my blog post for me this week!

Some other details I picked up in my short search: CIW has been around for four years; this year’s event offers 21 90-minute talks, two summits, and 100 hands-on labs; and it will feature 150 speakers, including big names like George Lucas, Mario Batali, and Sean “Diddy” Combs.

Here are four things I really liked about the conference—just from reading about it—that I think associations may want to consider for future meetings and events.

Keep it affordable. Almost all of CIW is open to everyone, but what I really think makes it most accessible is the fact that it is well priced. Most events cost only $15 each. Even the daylong Edison Talks, which requires potential attendees to apply to attend and which will feature the likes of singer Naomi Judd, magicians Penn and Teller, and journalist Charlie Rose, costs just $99.

Offer creative learning and networking opportunities. Clearly these include the Edison Talks and summits, as well as the hands-on learning labs like the one my friend attended. (Another lab that sounded interesting to me: “Be the Brewer” at the Lagunitas Brewing Company.) But another series I found particularly creative is the “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” events. Each of these dinners—held at top Chicago restaurants—feature two surprise guests who address varying themes and topics, such as music and creativity and the future of learning. The conversations happen at tables of 12 or fewer and include a specially prepared meal and wine pairing, starting at $75.

Spotlight the city (or your meeting’s location). CIW uses various venues across the city for their many labs and talks. This gives attendees the opportunity to see places they may never otherwise have the chance to check out, such as Ink Factory Studio, the Canadian Consul’s residence, and, hey, even an association—AIA Chicago.

Create content around the event. For those who are unable to attend, CIW has done a great job of making some of the event’s content available. (Or even for attendees to read more about.) The event has a regularly updated blog, The Ideasphere, and has partnered with a local ABC television station to live-stream some of the sessions.

All of these ideas have helped Chicago Ideas Week deliver a unique event with compelling content. Have you tried these approaches or something similar at one of your meetings? If so, how did it turn out? Let me know in the comments.

(iStock Editorial/Thinkstock)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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