Genius Steals — Hindsight Is 2020

Faris & Rosie’s Year in Review | Getting the joke in early, as the update is several years late

TL;DR: In 2013 we quit our jobs in NYC, sold our stuff, went traveling, started a nomadic creative consultancy. And now it’s now. We’ve got something special for 2020 in store, but you’ll have to read on.
Our stories so far: YEAR ONE, NO EXIT STRATEGY

0. Preamble | What a difference a decade makes: 87,600 little hours…

You never know where life will take you, if you are open to being taken somewhere. When the 20-teens started, we were taking on the biggest corporate jobs of our lives, ‘living’ around advertising agency hours, at the speed of NYC. It was exhilarating and exhausting. We still shudder when we ask someone, “How are you?” and they reply, “busy.” #TriggerWarning ;)

Fast forward 3,650 days and we find ourselves spending the month doing Whole30 and daily yoga with another couple in Greenville, SC, wrapping up last year and laying out this one, running entirely on our own rails.

As a nomadic, project-based small business, we have limited visibility about our year at the outset. And while it’s sometimes terrifying, it’s more often exciting. We are subject to the corporate cadence of budgets, and conferences, and so on, and have noticed that January is usually dead for us. So we use it to start the year off by working on our own content, IP and marketing assets.

We haven’t done one of these annual reports for a few years, but you told us you missed ’em, and occasionally we listen. In all seriousness, one important aspect of being a small business, that people don’t talk about enough, is that businesses can change — and ours has quite a bit. One of things you learn about running a business is that until you have, you haven’t.

1. Master & Mistress of Ceremonies

Over the last few years we have been asked to help with the concept, theme and programing for events, and to MC them as well as being speakers. We did that for the last couple of years for The Coca-Cola Company, working on the theme & speakers, hosting the event and speaking, as well as doing live slides to recap each part of the day. You can check out some 2018 highlights here and 2019 highlights here [local trending topic both times thank you very much].

Last year, we were hosting it in Atlanta during the Super Bowl, which was sponsored by Pepsi. Through a completely unrelated coincidence [Rosie’s dad manages an artist who played at the pre-game show] we also ended up getting tickets at the last minute, which also led to this article about “when advertising, isn’t”.

We didn’t imagine we’d be doing this kind of work but it turns out we enjoy it, and we’ve gotten great feedback about making long days more bearable ;)

Hit us up if you want an MC Dream Team to help take your event to the next level:

2. What We’re Trying | Changing the Keynote Format

Last year, speaking became the biggest part of our business for the first time. It was also the year that we decided we’d take the stage together — And we did: in Memphis, New York, London, Lithuania, India, Istanbul, Bulgaria, Brazil, Romania, Slovenia and Auckland. We share the stage, the whole time, intellectually sparring and occasionally landing jokes, all in the name of insight and entertainment.

When it comes to many conferences and events, middle aged white men with really bad Powerpoint slides still dominate. Y’all, it’s PAINFUL. We are always keen to make things more interesting, immersive, and fun. We have taken part in unprepared debates, stepped up when other speakers dropped out to give another talk on the fly. One conference in Lithuania we spoke at had a clap-o-meter, and we were overjoyed to find out that we had the highest rating, despite never figuring out how to hack the damn thing.

When we have seen people co-present it is usually awkward. One person stands on stage for 30 minutes doing nothing, off to the side, and the people rarely have chemistry, or complimentary delivery styles. Midway into the session, they change places, losing all momentum. We frequently hear on audience feedback about our “undeniable chemistry,” which, as a married couple, is good to hear ;) and we consider the whole experience as part of our speaking product. We’re proud to have gotten more than a few emails letting us know that the audience rated our session as the crowd favorite.

Our friends over at Goondocks made us this snazzy reel, which you should totally check out — and share it with all those event organizers you know.

Getting to be a part of client innovation days, taking the stage at conferences, workshops & training… We’re having a blast. And we couldn’t do it without so many of you who have hired us, or recommended us for conferences and internal events. Thank you, so much, for your support.

Those subtitles say something very inspiring

3. Conference Innovation | What We Saw

We spoke at a broad batch of events last year, and more than a few stood out. We got to speak in Porto Allegre Brazil at a conference run by (and for) a lovely group of planners which was wonderful, both deep and broad — and honest, introspective: bold rather than braggadocios, looking at the industry from many angles. There was an especially harrowing presentation of research they had undertaken about sexual harassment in agencies in Brazil.

We spoke alongside Dave Trott, Rory Sutherland, JP Rouser, Vicki Ross, Mark Pollard, Sam Scott and Laura Jordan Bambach among other all stars at the rather fancy ZEE MELT event in Mumbai, and gave out some of the awards at their award show, which was fun. Rarely do we see speakers stick around for other sessions, but ZEE MELT was the outlier, with all of us sitting in on each other’s sessions. We generally try to stay at any event we are speaking at for the duration so we can absorb other talks and incorporate the discourse when we speak. And because it seems rude to us to fly in, speak and leave.

We had a wonderful time speaking in Bulgaria, and ended up going on a 8 hour hike with our clients this feels like a great workshop product for certain kinds of things. We’re not sure how to price it, but we want to try more of these non-traditional formats when it comes to igniting innovative thinking. (Shoot us a note if you’re interested in trying something new together, and let’s figure it out together!)

By the time we got to the UK in June, we were tired but very excited because we had been invited to give the closing keynote [and run two workshops] at Learnfest— a learning and development conference run by Impact International. This event was killer, in so many ways. There was a single stream of keynotes with some fascinating speakers: a guy who skateboarded across Australia, a tv exec who gave it all up to become a stand-up comedian at 45, amongst others.

The talks were surrounded by workshops ranging from leadership skills to Shakespeare, puppet making to escaping a van, visual note taking classes, creativity tips and tools and much more. It is hosted at a hotel in the Lake District and everyone stays on site. In the evenings there are comedy, music and poetry performances and even a bar where we met loads of people (and Faris worked off his jet-lag playing the guitar until the wee hours, after our gig, of course.)

The audience was diverse, engaged, and participatory, from so many different kinds of companies. It was an event where it was clear the audience mattered as much as the speakers.

While we were in the UK we also got invited to attend the OFFGRID Sessions and that was also a very interesting, innovative, take on the conference. It is held over a weekend on Osea Island and again really has that instant community vibe that is missing at so many corporate events. The audience is mostly media and advertising people but none of the speakers are.

Every speaker was brilliant and wonderfully curated. We ended up going to see one of the speaker’s shows next time we were in NYC, and read many of the speakers books [your ticket price includes copies of books from all the speakers!].

3. Consulting | Year of the Retainer?

When we started Genius Steals, we said that we would not take retainers, and that we would limit engagements to a maximum of three months. Last year, we were convinced to take a retainer for the whole year.

The situation was progressive and interesting, and reminded us that there are exceptions to every rule. We had worked with this agency before, on their brand and business strategy, which ended up in a considered shift to a customer experience positioning, which led to them picking up a huge global piece of business. Our client, First 10, was then acquired by HOME, the largest independent agency left in the UK. To our delight, they sold us in to HOME and brought us on to work on the integration, positioning, products, strategy and processes. We helped them develop a flexible, extensible process that plays to their unique, integrated, strengths, and we’re excited to see that evolve in 2020.

We’ve loved getting to work with companies on their offerings and positioning. Working with so many different types of companies and agencies has given us unparalleled insight into what clients are looking for, and how agencies can operate in a way that’s profitable and fun.

4. And now, 2020 | What’s Next

So there you have it! A whistle stop tour, to give you a sense of the kinds of work we have been doing, and the kind of things we are keen to do more of this year.

We also have a little something that we’re working on… a community for creative thinkers who are looking to learn and grow.

You’ve got this, but everyone could use a little help!

In our combined 25 years as marketers, we’ve developed models and strategic frameworks, facilitated countless brainstorms, hosted workshops & training, and cultivated friendships with people who have inspired us & helped us grow — as entrepreneurs and individuals. We have assets and tools that we want to share. We have more assets and tools we want to develop. And ever since we started this nomadic lifestyle, we’ve been thinking about how we can better connect all of the awesome individuals we meet around the world. We want more events like Offgrid Sessions and Learnfest. And we want smaller group excursions, whether it’s hiking through Bulgaria or brainstorming in front of a fireplace in Beersheba Springs.

This is our attempt to address this confluence. We’re looking forward to sharing more in February :) The best way to stay up to date on The School of Stolen Genius is to subscribe to our newsletter, where we’ll officially announce when we’re in beta. (And yeah, of course we’re offering our subscribers a little something special.) If you’re really not into weekly inspiration in the form of our newsletter, you can also shoot us a note directly, and we’ll give you a heads up when we’ve got more to share.

If there is something we could collaborate on this year, please do get in touch:

5. The Post-Script | Travelogue

Because we’re never going to be travel bloggers, but we always hear you want more about the places we go ;)

This year, our favorite destination was Mexico City. We spent a couple weeks there (our first time) at the start of the year, and oh man, is it awesome. Such a vibrant, affordable, interesting, tasty, fun, huge city. We’ve already got two trips planned to return in 2020. Here is a little podcast — we do them very occasionally as postcards — hence they are called The Nomad Podcard, little snapshots of a place we are visiting.

We don’t usually get to decide where or when we go, since we mostly follow client engagements around the world, but we do get to go to amazing places.

If we could have planned our own travel route through we probably wouldn’t have decided to go from Slovenia to Turkey to Brazil to India to Bulgaria to Romania to the UK. Many long haul flights aside, we got to spend a bit longer in Brazil, and visit the Amazon rainforest — there’s a Nomad Podcard for that too.

On the way from Brazil to India, we got to go to Ethiopia which was super interesting, even though Faris got really bad food poisoning on his birthday. We want to go back. The food and history is, frankly, something we just knew so little about. Did you know they have their own calendar?

The Ethiopian Calendar has twelve months but each month is 30 days, and New Year usually falls on our September 11th, and it is currently 2011, because they don’t agree about when Jesus was born. The local time is based on sunrise and sunset — since it’s equatorial there is little seasonal shift — and 1 o’clock is 1 hour after sunrise [or sunset] with a 12 hour clock running as normal from then.

Over the summer, we were mostly in Europe: London, France, and Italy. We still love Aix en Provence, and with our god-daughter in Tuscany, we’re starting to increase our time in Italy, too. We made it back to the US to catch our dear friends Rachel and Mike get married, in September, followed by Burning Man and some west coast adventures, before a long weekend in NYC and visiting friends outside the city.

The last quarter saw us head back to India for a few weeks of yoga and detoxing after the intense summer. Speaking is a wonderful gig, and spending time eating and drinking with clients is part of why it can be so much fun, but we can’t live like we are at our annual industry creative awards every week and still maintain good complexions ;)

We also got to attend our friend Satish’s wedding in Delhi, which was so much fun, even if we got to sample the world’s worst air quality in the city at the same time.

Then we went off to our final gig of the year, AD:TECH Auckland, followed by some time to hang out in NZ. Since Faris is half kiwi and NZ is AWESOME, we jump at any chance to head there. After our talk, Rosie debated Tom Goodwin, who shares our passion of innovating the conference form. Then we got to spend some days with former clients who are now very dear friends of ours. We took them to Burning Man years ago, and they took us to their gorgeous holiday home an hour outside Auckland in Tawharanui Peninsula, where we hiked more than 9 miles together. We’re still reveling in the beauty we saw in New Zealand.

Hawaii with Rosie’s family over Thanksgiving was another highlight, and the first time we’d been together. (Rosie’s first time, period.) We’re crossing our fingers for a return trip, and won’t bore you with all the sunset pictures ;)

We wrapped our year hosting 34 individuals in Beersheba Springs, TN, where we played board games and drank whiskey. We’re planning more of these events, getting smart folks into the same room, without the conference format.

Why can’t leadership be fun?




Hello! I'm Faris. I'm looking for the awesome. Founder/Genius Steals. Itinerant Strategist//Speaker. Author of Paid Attention.