The summer of 2006 was notable because Paul McCartney finally turned 64, a little known company launched its new idea called Twitter and Pluto was demoted from the Nine Planet Club. It was also the summer of the DaVinci Code. Dan Brown’s riveting mystery-detective novel was everywhere (since then it has surpassed 40 million sales.) And the Tom Hanks film was number one at the box office. DaVinci fever was palpable and even the museums saw an uptick in admissions and memberships.
That summer I negotiated with Microsoft’s MSN to run a team builder for their New York office in Central Park. As the day approached, it became clear that the Friday in July we picked would be ravaged by thunderstorms. I had 48 hours to move it inside or lose the job. I realized quickly that the Metropolitan Museum of Art was close to our planned start at the park so it was only a hop, skip and a Cryptex away to create an event around the popular story. The folks at MSN bought it sight unseen. That is a key to the highly competitive team building world: give them a sound bite they can bring to the boss. And the DaVinci Adventure was born.
“Part orienteering, part team builder and part art appreciation, your group must interact with the artwork to collect their answers, including painting, sculpture, modern art and even multi-media. To find and open the Cryptex, your team must use strategy, communication and time management – all while in the presence of Picasso, Matisse, Giotto, and Rembrandt.”
Since that summer day in 2006 the DaVinci Adventure found “legs”. It has become my most requested program and I have led the country’s leaders in over 25 of the top art museums including The Getty in LA, Chicago’s Art Institute, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the National Gallery of Art in D.C., Philadelphia Museum of Art, Saint Louis Art Museum, San Diego Museum of Art, LACMA and NY’s Museum of Modern Art, among many others. Smaller museums like Tampa, Phoenix and Sacramento’s Crocker work but I love the grand halls of the Met and the many buildings of the Getty for folks to get lost in.
But why so popular? First, the days of the grand, multi-day meeting are over and that all changed in 2008 with AIG’s scandalous retreat at the Ritz-Carlton in Laguna. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, including $75K for a team building bike build. Anything remotely looking ostentatious was taboo. Second, besides money, many companies just don’t have the time. Less people doing more work spells less fun time. Third, rah-rah team building has peaked. Most of any executive staff have been exposed to experiential group learning since middle school. Heck, most of the Johnny-Come-Lately team building companies have been started by renegade executives thinking “thars gold in them hills.” Finally, many are attracted to the allure of sound bite that explains in one sentence how the activity works. It also helps that their team can meet at the office in the morning, and after lunch, head over to their city’s art museum for a 3 hour infusion of inspiration. A no brainer.
Many groups take me up on my offer of a debrief and it is here where the magic happens. Here is where my clients have an eye-opening experience. When we connect the dots back to the workplace they often understand the lessons of strategy, communication and time management under pressure they just experienced could be transferred back to the office.
Museums are tough sometimes to find a place to hash out ideas without interference. Sculpture gardens, cafes and sometimes, the lobby, work. Here is a group outside on the steps of Saint Louis’ Art Museum (a gem of an institution and free admission!)
So, if your town has a museum, we have probably been there. If not, we will create a new one. Also working well are science museums, modern art museums, botanical gardens and quirky history museums (a la The Henry Ford in Dearborn.)
Throughout the last nine years, something palpable has happened. I’ve become an art lover. Without noticing I realized that I could not wait to return to Minnesota’s Institute of the Arts to be with one of my favorite pieces, “Veiled Lady” which takes my breath away. Each museum has something that makes me yearn to return.