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All Zoomed Out. How Collaboration Has Become the Kill Switch of Hotel Creativity

Category: Opinion, Posted:03 Aug 2020 | 09:20 am

There is no mistaking the sound of a flushing toilet. It’s not a sudden rainstorm, or the whoosh of a juiced up, flash mob of joggers on steroids passing by on the street. Arguably, it’s a dirty little low-pitched thunder from down under that somehow triggers the gag reflex. Remember Trainspotting?  Welcome to the world of Covid-19 creative collaboration with Zoom as the madcap captain of a voyage to nowhere.

One of the truly troubling misguided themes of the pre-pandemic trends of co-working, co-living, co-thinking, work from home but innovate in groups ethos was that collaboration was indeed the way forward for innovation including hotels. This is bullshit. Pure and simple. I’m sorry to those who say ‘you can’t say that?’ Well guess again, I just did.

I’m perplexed looking at the boutique hotel and resort space for comparables to group-led brands, but let me think back to the creative ideas that spurred an industry. From Adrian Zecha’s Amanjunkies, Andre Balazs at Standard, Ace’s Alex Calderwood or Ian Schrager in his many incarnations. Single-minded individuals who carved out great ideas.

Certainly, in most cases a bratty, ego-centric designer or two were key to the tasty cocktail that erupted into volcanic magic but this was not a kumbaya moment or group hug. Leave those to the crew at Walmart, though that’s all history with social distancing and thank God for that.

My point here is that the creative process, Eureka moment or flash in the pan is a solo endeavor that Google Teams just can’t moderate or hold court over. It has to have some edge, decisiveness, and there is no room for pats on the back to those who simply attend with meaningless feedback and a total lack of imagination. (Note to those types, Food Panda is actively hiring and if you want a pat on the back for silly ideas I suggest getting those piping hot tamales to the condo in under five minutes or less).

In a nutshell, creating genius hotels is about dogma, you don’t just walk the dog, but you go hard and fast like those speeding greyhounds trying to obliterate the speeding lure in just one vicious bite. They don’t run in packs and exchange small talk. In essence, it’s time to understand that the call to action needs to be a definitive ‘screw the group’ process.

In my hotel development advisory work some of my first words to would be developers are to be just that – BE THE DEVELOPER. Daddy up, be dogmatic, single-minded, obsessing over details. Don’t expect your hotel chain brandman in a suit and tie or worse in the boutique space, those faux-creatives who go sockless into meetings to lead you to salvation. The latter are indeed the worst, as they will only take a project down ‘Derivative Avenue’ and are best stuffed into a massive sock drawer down with the would-be hipster crowd with fresh ink tattoo’s and a six-day beard.

The past four months of my life can be summed up as a creative nightmare, as doing group meetings on Zoom, Google, Webex or any other weapons of mass destruction (remember that term – Georgie Bush and Tony Blair are still looking for them, maybe try the sock drawer fellas) are utterly failed in attempted collaboration. Be it some schmuck in Brussels or Atlanta who keeps muttering ‘can you hear me now?’, to the computer illiterate who has never figured out how  to share documents.

All this nuttiness occurs as ten other people on the call try to look interested, be polite or my personal favorite being the one who just says to hell with me, turns off the video, mutes the mike and gets stuck into nachos and a margarita. Nothing good does or can come of these virtual snooze fests we have to now endure.

Which now leads me, in a staggering sort of way to where we came in. This, of course is how our virtual creative process has led to a nearby bathroom where someone who is afraid they will miss a single word of wisdom from the collective think piece, heads off to the toilet and forgets to mute. That sums up the meeting, as any possible positive ideas from the two-hour collaboration are essentially down the toilet in one quick flush.

My advice, if you want to create a great boutique hotel, go lock yourself up in a room alone, ignore the help of others and avoid nilla, vanilla wash-out group’s prayer circles at all cost. Dogma, baby, dogma, it’s  a walk best walked alone.

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