The Blog

What We’re Shooting For

Consider the paradox of business conferences: they are sold as pivotal events that instantly educate and enlighten. You will leave here informed! Up-to-the-minute! Vastly improved for the experience!

But, in fact, great conferences generate most of their value after they’ve concluded, when everyone has returned to Real Life and the ideas and inspirations from the conference have time to bubble and stew. An effective conference sets things in motion that take time to percolate, to become something new.

Now consider Shamen, and what that new thing is intended to be. At the risk of immodesty, here’s what we’re aiming for: a new way of doing business.

Yeah, that’s right. You heard me. A new way of doing business.

Since the onset of the Industrial Age, business has been manly conflict against a backdrop of smoke and showering sparks. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, people like to say, and battles for market primacy are occasionally, literally deadly. Business has been the art of war, swimming with the sharks, a zero-sum battle to identify predator and prey.

Shamen proposes a different model. In an era of stylish cynicism, it is a model built on belief: in ideas, in yourself, in the people and community around you. It’s a small business model suited to the modern, networked age, where the whole world has become a small town. It’s competitive, certainly, and the risk of failure and rewards of success remain.

But look at this line-up:

  • JK McKnight knows as much as anyone how to turn vision into thriving reality. His Forecastle Festival started 10 year ago as a $500 picnic/music festival in a local park. It’s now, according to a couple of different magazines, one of the Top 15 Outdoor Festivals in the country and one of 101 Things You Need to Do Before You Die.
  • Mike Mays is co-owner of Heine Brothers Coffee, a refutation of cartoonish, industrial capitalism, who remains a capitalist nonetheless. Heine Brothers profits in a highly competitive market, doing well by doing good. Mays is his own brand, nestled into the larger Heine Brothers identity, which is integrated thoroughly into Louisville itself.
  • Peggy Noe Stevens is a brand strategist, but that’s not the half of it. She personifies all the attributes my mom used to advocate – being polite and friendly and helpful and sincerely concerned – while maintaining an energetic, always-forward business posture. Her basic thesis (paraphrased): your brand begins with you.
  • Chris Brogan ties it all together. A guru! A Yoda! Dare we say: a shaman of that worldwide small town of connectivity and caring about one’s customers. Brogan challenges you to think (to actually think) about possibilities, and then rolls up his (metaphorical) sleeves to get you from what am I going to do to how am I going to do it?

There are others, too: speakers and panelists and people in the audience standing up to be heard, informing and challenging and inspiring each of us. There is not a robber baron among them, and those who pay attention and really engage will walk out into the evening glowing: confident, empowered, inspired.

What really steers business is not big decisions; those are rare and, truth be told, easy. The determination of what business you are is embedded deeper down, in all those small decisions that, in misaligned companies, are made almost without consideration of context.

Shamen is designed to align those small decisions, to nudge you and your business choice-by-choice into something new you create yourself, long after the meeting is over.

And there will lie the value.