places

A New Vision for Ford and the city of Detroit

This week, the Techonomy team and I went to Detroit to meet with Ford to learn about their vision for the future. Part of that future includes bringing the company back downtown. They've purchased the Michigan Central Station, the iconic building that has been vacant since 1988. Ford will take on the massive task of renovating the building to create a new workspace in Corktown. 

We also hosted a community event at Gold Cash Gold, a fantastic local restaurant in a former pawn shop. Chef Brendon Edwards is a super cool, low-key guy who made his famous fried chicken for us (even though it wasn't on the menu) and spent time chatting with everyone who attended.  

Here's Techonomy founder David Kirkpatrick's report from the trip

I've been to Detroit regularly over the last few years (as I've written about before) and each time, it's striking to see the change happening in the city. See below -- two photos of the same house, taken 5 years apart.

 Photo taken in 2013

Photo taken in 2013

 Undergoing renovations in 2018

Undergoing renovations in 2018

City Brilliance: New Orleans

After many years of traveling the world to meet with clients and work on projects (plus, I just like to travel) you might think that my favorite places are far-flung locations that require an overnight flight and subscription to Duolingo. It's partially true - there's nothing quite like landing in a city or country where you don't speak the language, can't make sense of the landscape, and need to adapt quickly to new cultural norms. (Jan Chipchase recently wrote a great post about this) But guess what? That can happen in this country, too.

  The iconic Blue Dog by artist George Rodrigue.

The iconic Blue Dog by artist George Rodrigue.

New Orleans is America's most exotic city. Put simply, it's not like anywhere else and arriving there can be a shock to the system. The accent is southern but different somehow, and often difficult to understand. The streets feel more European than American. Mother Nature plays all her keys here -- a damp chill in winter, unbearable heat in the summer, and when it rains, it feels like the world is about to end.

To people who don't venture far outside the French Quarter, I suppose it feels like a Hollywood studio or Epcot - not real, just an escape from reality where the world is made of beignets, Hurricane cocktails, pretty plantation homes and jazz music. That's certainly part of it. But to me, New Orleans is as real as it gets. The city has a deep and complicated history, and there is a true sense of place. The best way to visit New Orleans is to see it all, even if you've only got a day or two. It's one of the world's most enriching destinations.

So, when I had a client project that was focused on improving storytelling capabilities (read: rethink their marketing message, give better presentations, increase engagement), simply running a workshop in a meeting room was not going to do it. They needed to get out in the world and find some stories of their own so they could get some fresh perspective and get back into practice. The obvious solution: an off-site, immersive working session in New Orleans. 

 The famous above-ground tombstones.

The famous above-ground tombstones.

From Tennessee Williams to Anne Rice to Louis Armstrong and Lucinda Williams, New Orleans-born and bred writers, artists, and musicians have been telling their stories to the world throughout history. So, we spent our days with storytellers. We began by grounding ourselves in the place itself via a walking tour with the charming Dr Gumbo. "The Cure for the Common Tour" was a walk along the riverfront, through the colorful history of the city, finishing up - as you do - in a bar, cocktail in hand. We spent an afternoon inside The Cabildo talking about writing and storytelling with Tom Piazza, one of the lead writers on HBO's "Treme". We had lunch at the Contemporary Arts Center with a jazz band, learning about the importance of improvisation in music and art (and, innovation) in between musical interludes. 

We worked into the evening, albeit around the dinner table or at the bar, learning about the history of cocktails from one of the city's best bartenders (because bartenders = good storytellers) or doing a whisky flight with a meal to connect the flavors of food with drink. After dinner, we found our way to Frenchman Street, where I let everyone go off to find their own adventures (totally awesome and potentially dangerous).

They all made it back in one piece and the next morning, they all had stories. 

 Inside Preservation Hall

Inside Preservation Hall

You don't have to go far to change your perspective or inject some adventure into your life, professional or otherwise. New Orleans is a great place to get it done. Here are a few places to add to your itinerary:

STAY in the Warehouse District or Garden District, not the French Quarter. I like Old 77 and the Henry Howard

IF YOU MEET for business, don't meet in the hotel - book a space at one of the city's amazing museums, like CACNO

DO see some music. It spills out from everywhere so it's an easy to-do, but make sure to hit Frenchman Street and Preservation Hall. Add Tipitina'sMaple Leaf, and Candlelight Lounge.

It may seem weird to visit this museum, which is located in a residential neighborhood in a former funeral home -- but, if you want to go deep into New Orleans culture in an easy and interesting way, this is a cool experience. Backstreet Cultural Museum in Treme.

EAT everywhere. The food scene is outrageous, as you can imagine. I'd have to write an entire post dedicated to my favorite places in order to include them all. Here are two that I visit every time I'm in NOLA: Herbsaint and La Petite Grocery.

DRINK same as above: everywhere. Some of my favorites: Bouligny Tavern in the Garden district. French 75 in the French Quarter. Addiction Coffee. Catahoula for coffee and cocktails.

For more ideas, feel free to drop me a note.

The hotel of the future will be... invisible.

You could say it's the inevitable evolution of Airbnb - a concierge-less, staff-less hotel. Book a room, arrive, and ... you're on your own. Armed with a guidebook curated for you by an "invisible" hotel staff, you experience and explore a city without ever needing to have a conversation with anyone.

Lokal Hotel in Philadelphia is turning this concept into a reality. Still in development, the hotel will have rooms designed to feel like loft-style apartments, with kitchens and washer-dryers. As someone who prefers to stay in vacation rentals to hotels (though I do love a good hotel), I'm looking forward to the completion of Lokal so we can check it out. I have a lot of questions.

City Brilliance: Detroit

This year, Detroit, Michigan landed on Travel & Leisure’s “Best Places to Travel” list at #27. Since 2011, I’ve been traveling to Detroit regularly and was surprised, though pleased, to find it on the list. Ask anyone who lives and works in Detroit how they’re feeling about things and you’ll get spirited optimism mixed with pragmatic caution. There’s still a lot to do.

I began taking clients to Detroit to get them away from the saturated markets of New York and San Francisco, for meetings, retreats, “expeditions” and other [insert business jargon here]. It’s not easy to convince overworked executives that they should take their teams offsite to ruminate on innovation in a place that’s not a resort, doesn’t have a beach, or beds with 400-count Frette linens. But, that’s the point. Because it’s nearly impossible to understand markets, customers, or employees while sitting in a temperature-controlled ballroom with endless “refreshment breaks” and Powerpoint presentations, everyone dreaming of when they can hit the golf course. You need to hit the streets.

As a practice, we visit places we consider to be gritty and complex when working on a project - Oakland, Brooklyn, Houston, New Orleans, the underbelly of Los Angeles, to name a few - because we’re searching for the drivers of innovation, change, and creative thinking. We walk through neighborhoods, talk to locals and industry experts, dine in backroom kitchens, visit cultural institutions, and often wander off track. But we always know where we’re going (even the off-track is on track) and more importantly, where we want to end up when we wrap. The trick is finding the people and places who, somehow, show you the way to the future.

I've written about Detroit before, and though cities change all the time, the contrasts in the motor city continue to be striking.

Here's what I found on my recent trip.

  Trumbull & Porter , a new boutique hotel in Corktown. It has a very colorful past, as a Holiday Inn where drug dealers and prostitutes used to gather...

Trumbull & Porter, a new boutique hotel in Corktown. It has a very colorful past, as a Holiday Inn where drug dealers and prostitutes used to gather...

 Lobby lounge at Trumbull &Porter. The building re-design, furniture, materials, food & drink are all local to Detroit and the state of Michigan.

Lobby lounge at Trumbull &Porter. The building re-design, furniture, materials, food & drink are all local to Detroit and the state of Michigan.

 Renovated room at Trumbull & Porter. The first two floors are creepy on first approach because they're not renovated yet - cold, dark empty hallways of a former Holiday Inn. But the (upper floor) renovation is fantastic, the staff is wonderful, and by the time I left, realized how cool it was to experience the hotel transforming before my eyes... like the city itself.

Renovated room at Trumbull & Porter. The first two floors are creepy on first approach because they're not renovated yet - cold, dark empty hallways of a former Holiday Inn. But the (upper floor) renovation is fantastic, the staff is wonderful, and by the time I left, realized how cool it was to experience the hotel transforming before my eyes... like the city itself.

 MOCAD, the Museum of Contemporary Art, is a multi-use venue that often has terrific exhibits and performances, plus local food, craft beer and spirits. A good spot to take the pulse of city creatives.

MOCAD, the Museum of Contemporary Art, is a multi-use venue that often has terrific exhibits and performances, plus local food, craft beer and spirits. A good spot to take the pulse of city creatives.

  Our Detroit  craft vodka distillery, near Corktown and Trumbull & Porter. Because, local distillery.

Our Detroit craft vodka distillery, near Corktown and Trumbull & Porter. Because, local distillery.

 The 1,037-room  Masonic Temple  - it's the world's largest. I have never seen anything like it. Three theaters, ballrooms, a cathedral, a bowling alley, barber shop, swimming pool, gymnasium, pool hall... it goes on forever. Now mostly empty, available for private functions and live performances. I asked my contact if she'd been in all the rooms... she had not. Probably because it's possible to get lost in there forever. I'd take a  Sleep No More  approach to an event here: drop off, get lost, found, discuss.

The 1,037-room Masonic Temple - it's the world's largest. I have never seen anything like it. Three theaters, ballrooms, a cathedral, a bowling alley, barber shop, swimming pool, gymnasium, pool hall... it goes on forever. Now mostly empty, available for private functions and live performances. I asked my contact if she'd been in all the rooms... she had not. Probably because it's possible to get lost in there forever. I'd take a Sleep No More approach to an event here: drop off, get lost, found, discuss.

Booze Traveler

The hotel bar just got an innovative new model: the traveling pop-up. 

Loews Hotels, the luxury brand with properties in the US and Canada, have launched a new concept - a traveling speakeasy that will move between 24 properties. Constructed from an old elevator car and with only four barstools, the bar will be reassembled in every hotel and feature a menu of 32 classic cocktails. The Traveller Bar kicked off in downtown Chicago this month and will be there until May 16, when it moves to Loews Chicago O'Hare (thru June 18). 

Destination: Hotel Emma

A new hotel in San Antonio gives us a reason to trek to south Texas, and bring along a few clients who need a perspective-shifting journey out of the office. Sometimes all the inspiration you need for an event is a great destination - a restaurant with a ground breaking chef, a neighborhood that's changing the texture of a city, a hotel with a great story.

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steampunktendencies:

San Antonio’s New Emma Hotel by Roman and Williams

“The Pearl, an old San Antonio brewery deftly transformed into an entire neighborhood of restaurants, shops, and an outpost of the Culinary Institute of America, has just opened a place to stay. The 146-room Hotel Emma is the work of Roman and Williams, former set designers who have become masters of the historic conversion. Several years in the making, the quarters put original curiosities, such as fermentation tanks and a giant copper engine, to clever use. And there’s an overall expansiveness and down-home grace that plants the place firmly in Texas.

The eight-story structure was designed in 1898 by August Maritzen who ultimately had more than 80 breweries to his credit and is in the Second Empire style. “ ~ Margot Guralnick 

Added to the list of must-go’s.

This 25-Year-Old Is Turning a Profit Selling Pencils

So many things in this story: the nostalgic product trend, the idea of focusing on a very specific (niche) product, the fact that her shop is above a champagne and fried chicken restaurant, the youthful approach: “I really wanted to sell people pencils.”

And I’ve just added C.W. Pencil Enterprise to my list of to-do’s. 

 

Innovation in a cup of coffee

Because we often take clients to coffee shops to study the product experience, I’ve had many (many) cups of coffee in lots of different cities. And, in New York, Joe Pro Shop and Headquarters is one of the best cups in town. It’s in a delightfully geeky shop where serious coffee drinkers can buy equipment, and take classes on how to make the best brew. (if you’re in NY, swing by - it’s on 21st Street)

Coffee is an easy product to study at the onset of innovation work. Everyone understands it, and most people fall somewhere on the coffee spectrum. We often compare boutique, small batch roasters to Starbucks in order to provide contrast. Going in, everyone has strong feelings one way or another about Starbucks, and they never think they’re going to be surprised. 

The other morning, I got my coffee at a Starbucks Reserve in NYC. I really like the Reserve experience, despite my feelings about Joe Pro Shop or a few other places in the city where the product is exceptional. In this case, I was lucky to have a barista who was in a chatty mood; so, I asked him which blend was his favorite. He said he liked the Brazil blended with the West Java - a sort of Reserve blend mash-up. I was confused. I even had the ridiculous concern that somehow he was breaking a Starbucks code. But, Starbucks built its business on customer service, consistent quality, and the ability for a customer to have a coffee drink created just for her/him. (non-fat-double-shot-no-whip-iced Frappuccino, anyone?) 

He told me he has customers who come in for his “custom” Reserve blends, and offered to make me one. Whether he knew it or not, he’d upgraded the level of service at the Starbucks shop where he works, simply by offering a new kind of custom.

Coffee purists may never leave Intelligentsia for Starbucks Reserve but the charming, creative barista at the midtown NY location reminded me that with a little ingenuity, innovation can happen subtly, on the smallest scale. 

Surprise.

On location: Fort Mason, San Francisco

This past November, we programmed the Lean Startup Conference in San Francisco. It was held at Fort Mason, a historic former military compound on the San Francisco bay. The audience reached max capacity of around 1,800. 

One of our missions is to create an entirely unique experience. The setting of Fort Mason surprised and delighted a few, while others would have preferred a less "rustic" setting. Either way, the location offered exactly the right amount of fresh air, water views, and daily vistas to inspire our guests.