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Team Spotlight: Geoff Amidei on conditions for creativity, tree houses, and middle-age athleticism

Team Spotlight: Geoff Amidei on conditions for creativity, tree houses, and middle-age athleticism

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Collective Next
December 6th, 2018

geoff amidei talking machines collective next facilitator facilitation podcast production corporate creative communication boston new york washington dc

In addition to being a facilitator and speaker/storytelling coach, Senior Principal Geoff Amidei moonlights as a tree house architect. Or at least he did for 13-weeks while building an epic tree house for his two daughters. Other interesting chapters in Geoff’s life include studying philosophy at UC Santa Barbara, exploring life as a thespian, spending 20 minutes chatting with Jerry Garcia in the green room of a TV station, and marrying his one-time roommate (they celebrate their sixteenth wedding anniversary this year).

How did you get into this work?
After finishing my master’s degree in the lucrative field of performance studies, I was supporting my nascent improv career with a series of temp jobs. One day I returned home to an answering machine message (I date myself) inviting me to interview at “a Romper Room for adults,” where I would work 90-100 hours per week, but have “lots of fun.” I hit delete. Those hours were nuts.  The recruiter was persistent and when she left a message promising free pizza I responded. The “Romper Room for adults” was in fact a highly creative and collaborative environment in which we facilitated organizations through accelerated strategic planning and transformational change. The recruiter hadn’t exaggerated about the long hours, but I loved the work so much I didn’t even mind.

geoff amidei talking machines collective next facilitator facilitation podcast production corporate creative communication boston new york washington dc

What is your favorite part of the job?
Besides when participants applaud you at the end of a Design Session? Just kidding. I love that you can’t do this work without meaningful, human interaction. Successful sessions depend on providing the structure for people and content to collide and produce something new. In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the value of creating frameworks within which creativity and innovation can emerge. As an example he highlights the Harold, a long-form improv structure developed by Del Close, the storied improviser and teacher.I had the opportunity to take some classes from Del in Chicago. In fact, there are a lot of similarities between improv theater and what I get to do as a facilitator. I really like that.

What are a few creative interventions of which you are especially proud?
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to partner with a large public charity planning a Ted-style conference focused on philanthropy.  Their goal was to advance the conversation in the philanthropic community by bringing together nonprofits, donors, and recipients. Working with the client, we designed a one-day program featuring thirteen talks. We assisted in selecting and coaching speakers and designing the overall experience. We incorporated several local nonprofits into the fabric of the conference. An organization focused on making art from recycled materials created installations for the venue, a poet’s collective wrote “short order poetry” and “Ironing Board Sam,” a 76-year old blues musician represented a group focused on helping pioneers and forgotten heroes of Southern music. The conference successfully energized and aligned the philanthropic community and was very rewarding.

Another intervention that stands out is a series of narrative workshops we have run within organizations focused on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Fields like AIML are highly technical and experts are often challenged to translate their research into stories that are compelling and accessible to a broader audience. A gulf exists in current the conversation about AIML. On one side there’s a hype-filled public discourse focused on utopian, or more commonly, dystopian future states. On the other side of this gulf is the reality of the current science, which is plenty cool without either flavor of hype. We have been able to help bridge these two sides by working with this community to flex their narrative muscle and tell better stories about the reality of their work. Everyone can be a better storyteller.  You’d be surprised what people can do when you give them a basic set of tools, some coaching, and some practice.

geoff amidei talking machines collective next facilitator facilitation podcast production corporate creative communication boston new york washington dc

What new work is on the horizon for you?
We are beginning to take the knowledge we’ve accumulated about accelerating alignment and creating what’s next for organizations and applying it to broader communities. For example, take the AIML space where the community is highly distributed and there is a great deal of activity and progress that affects us all. Our goal is to support the most productive dynamics of this community in order to create a self-sustaining, fertile AIML “ecosystem.” We began by developing an AIML-focused podcast, Talking Machines. We built on this by hosting live community events, and we plan to create a shared digital platform that will facilitate collaboration and knowledge sharing. This ecosystem-based approach can be used in multiple communities and represents an exciting opportunity for positively impacting the future.

What are your favorite extracurricular activities?
I’m part of an “old guys” ultimate (Frisbee) group. The youngest guy involved is about 40. We play semi-regularly. We spend the morning running around like, um, younger guys and crossing our fingers that nobody leaves in an ambulance (which has happened, but only once). It is great fun, if occasionally grimace-inducing. If I want something more low-key, my wife and I watch British crime procedurals.

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