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Marketing Project Manager, Sarah Gledhill joined the staff development programme, Future Focus, in 2016 and discusses what happened during last week’s ‘Futurology week’ - a series of sessions inviting colleagues to step away from their day-to-day, to imagine the future and ‘SPARK’ their thinking.

Future Focus is an initiative which identifies individuals to fulfil potential future roles within Ashfield Meetings & Events and its sister brand, SPARK THINKING. The programme has provided me with a platform to network with colleagues in roles that I may not normally have had the opportunity to. As a result, I’ve built solid relationships and established valuable skills; including interpersonal skills which will become indispensable throughout my professional career.

As we are nearing the end of our Future Focus journey, we wanted to show our colleagues aspects of what we’d learnt and provide them with something valuable. The events industry is fast-paced, demanding and something which my Future Focus group and I were keen on disrupting – to encourage our colleagues to imagine how features of our future industry may be in five, ten or 100 years’ time.

We began our exploration by using the SPARK THINKING methodology; explore, refine, deliver and soon narrowed down topics which we were most interested in as individuals, and what we thought would be beneficial to our colleagues. These were, The Future of Event Technologies, The Future of Hotels and the The Future of Medicine. Our aim was to challenge the current mind-set of our colleagues and provide them with the confidence to openly discuss the changing behaviours with clients.

It turned out, our colleagues were as open as we were when exploring these topics.

The first session in the week was ‘Future of Event Technologies’ ran by Dan Gooch (Senior 3D Exhibition Designer) and Simon Read (Production Manager). During the session, various topics were discussed; artificial intelligence, 3D printing, smart objects and mood detectors to name a few.

“The session today blew my mind in how the industry (and the rest of our lives) could change in the not-so-far future. It confirmed that we are heading towards living a life of a sci-fi film,” said Adam Smith (Project Executive). He continued ”It’d be great to have futuristic technologies in place to ensure smoother delegate experiences; capturing feedback through facial recognition technologies so they didn’t need to complete surveys; autonomous travel so we no longer rely on other modes of transport and improve carbon footprints, or perhaps the creation of personalised experiences for those attending virtually.”

Up next was the ‘Future of Hotels’ which I ran. I wanted my audience to consider what could change in the hospitality industry; to make our lives as #EventProfs easier and what could change to create a more personalised and enjoyable guest experience. During my research for the session, I found that 64% of hotel guests said it is very or extremely important for hotels to continue investing in technology – this formed the basis of the session and it was eye opening to debate the possibilities.

Account Manager, Saira Price, commented after the session, “Personally, I love a high tech offering when I am staying in a hotel for work. When working on-site I want efficiency, ease and simplicity! However when I stay in a hotel for leisure I want a more homely and luxurious experience with high class service from actual people and lots of nice touches that make me feel like I am being pampered and getting value for my money. Perhaps a future hotel could adapt to my needs through an augmented reality command centre!”

The following day, Emma Greaves (Account Manager) ran the ‘Future of Medicine” where she covered some new and upcoming medicines and technologies that are about to come to market and also some ‘make-believe’ ones too.

Agnes Morgan (Project Executive) said, “This session was so interesting and filled with some really mind blowing stuff. After a sport injury, I had to wait 16 months for knee surgery due to wound infection and waiting lists. It’s incredible to think that perhaps one day, I wouldn’t have needed to worry about infection in the first place as 3D skin could be immediately printed on and perhaps surgery as we know it, may not have even been needed as they could possibly grow me a new ligament! Unbelievable!”

In the session, we also had a live video call with one of Emma’s friends, Helen, who is currently a study participant of a new type 1 diabetes treatment. It was fascinating and everyone in the room was fixated on hearing her experiences on how the new technology was hugely benefiting her life.

We concluded the week in a ‘hackathon’. We gathered everyone together and collectively identified current issues in the industry before curating possible ways in which we could overcome them in the near and distant future, given the discussions and evidence we’d gathered throughout the week.

So, what does this mean for our business now? How can we keep the momentum going and how can we continue encouraging a “futurology” mentality when our project is over?

Due to the success and inspiring conversations that our futurology week created, we [my future focus group and I] will continue exploring other areas of the industry, hold sessions throughout the year and post inspiring content to Yammer (our internal social network).

The project was a great opportunity for us to collaborate, challenge one another and use the many skills which we’d learnt in the last two years since joining the programme. Looking to the future, and staying one step ahead is something our senior leadership team do on a day-to-day basis, in order to ensure Ashfield Meetings & Events and its sister brand SPARK THINKING remains at the cutting edge of the industry for our clients. It was great to lead an initiative that aimed to encourage that forward-thinking ethos across the whole company, and seeing how enthused our colleagues across the different departments were, during and beyond each session, was an achievement in itself.

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