Lessons from The Instigator Experience – Interview with Srinivas Rao

I have known Srini for a number of years and he never ceases to amaze me with his interviews (The Unmistakable Creative series)  and the projects that he pursues such as The Instigator Experience events.

Being a co-host of a few Cerebrate events in the past, I am fascinated with the concept of The Instigator Experience. I asked Srini a few questions about the lessons learned from creating and hosting the last event. Here is that interview:


RS: Srini, what is the Instigator Experience and more importantly what led you to create this event series?

SR: It’s a 2 day bushiness event for people want to create or change something meaningful in the world (i.e. start a movement). It was actually born out of my frustration with many of the events that I went to.

First I thought nearly every conference I went to was too big. I walked with away with stacks of business cards but no real connections. I realized by creating an intimate environment it would result in a deeper more lasting connection between people. That’s why we decided on application only, 60 person event.

Second, the format of the events I went to drove me crazy. They were held in typical venues like hotels and convention centers. People spend all day sitting in chairs and listening to speakers give powerpoint presentations. When I spoke with a graffiti artist named Erik Wahl he said “live music has engaged participants, keynote speaking has passive consumers. There’s room to be explore in how you bridge that gap.” I thought it would make sense to approach an entire event that way. When we were recently speaking with a venue manager, I said “well if TED met Cirque De Soleil, you’d have The Instigator Experience.”

In many ways you could say that I created the conference I wanted to go to.

RS: What were two big challenges in organizing the event and how did you overcome them?

SR: The first one is always staying within budget. The costs of putting on an event add up really fast. So you have to watch every line item closely. The way to overcome this one is to hire a great event manager and of course have a strong understanding of what it costs to put on the event you want to create.

The second is content. Most people throw a bunch of speakers in a room. Then they try to make order out of anarchy. But we work really hard to make sure there’s a logical flow and thought process behind every speaker we select. We start with the outcome we want for our attendees and then build our speaker selection and event flow around that.

RS: What were the key takeaways for attendees from the last Instigator Experience?

SR: Of course, this actually differs from person to person. But perhaps the most important takeaways of all were that

1. Our temporary circumstances don’t have to become our permanent reality and

2. We live in a made up world. Everything around us was nothing but a thought in someones’s head.

I have to give credit where credit is due for that. My mentor Greg Hartle has taught me that. And in terms of specifics many of our attendees from last year have quit their jobs, grown their businesses, written books and much more.

RS: What were the surprises, if any

SR: Perhaps the biggest surprise was just how impactful the event was on the lives of people who attended. Last year, we were playing with a completely unproven idea that nobody had ever done before. So I guess you could say that it worked as well as it did was really amazing.

RS: What should one do next if they want to attend one?

SR: Glad you asked. The next Instigator Experience event is happening on April 23-25, 2015. As you can imagine, this is a highly curated event both for speakers and attendees. We have finalized a stellar set of speakers. One can submit an application to attend at http://www.theinstigatorexperience.com