So, here's the deal. You're given the chance to lead a discussion with some of the smartest, most creative, future thinking and influential people anywhere, drawn from the leaders of digital marketing agencies, hot start-ups and their clients from around the world. Cool, huh? Not enough? Ok, let's make the setting a beautiful beachside resort on the Turkish Riviera. It's nothing too fancy, mind, but warm sunshine, the peaceful waters of the Mediterranean lapping at the shore, an open, unhurried timetable and plenty of shady corners to gather.
What's the topic? Anything you like.
What do you have to do to be chosen to pick the brains of these luminaries? Just think of something they might be interested in and scrawl it on a whiteboard by the pool.
Who will come along? Well, whoever fancies it, really.
And the outcome? Now, that's the interesting part. Something unexpected, perhaps even something amazing. In every example I saw, I was completely blown away by the depth of experience and insight on offer, the lack of pretension and genuine desire to share and be helpful.
It's a system based on total serendipity; an (un)conference called Stream, put on by WPP Digital and friends, that figures if the real value in conferences happens around the margins, why not make them the whole point? No agenda, minimal structure and just one overarching rule: get involved!
An Ideal Education
So get involved I did. With my 4-year-old boy having just started school, I picked a topic that's pretty dear to my heart these days: education. I scribbled a quick intro "What is an ideal education for our future world?" and crossed my fingers that someone might actually turn up. As it turns out the topic is almost ideal for Stream - from the personal question of one slightly bewildered parent, the topic seemed to transform into an impromptu self-help group for fellow Streamers.
Looking around the 15 or so people in our group, including mums and dads from across the globe, what was clear was our desire to be involved in the daily education of our children. Many of the people who spoke struggled with simply handing over their kids to "be educated" by the State. As entrepreneurs and self-motivated business people we are looking to be more in control of the quality and content of our children's education. From pre-schoolers to college kids, our discussion touched on schooling from around the world and offered a fascinating insight into how we would like to steer the development of the next generation.
Our participants were putting their kids through mass state education, home schooling, private schooling, and international schools as expats and had equally varied educations of their own.
With full respect for the importance of raising the bar on education globally, we all wanted to know - what could we aspire to? Is it just a question of money? Can we really buy what we need here?
A South African dad spoke candidly of his decision to remove his son from an expensive private school to go back into the state system. His view: he can remedy any variance in academic expectation as a parent, but a socially insulated monoculture based on privilege could scar his child for life.
One father, facing the twin dilemmas of a bright-but-bored older son and a daughter struggling with dyslexia decided to remove his two children from school altogether and home-school them in order to address their very different interests and needs. Interestingly, the role of tutor mostly fell to the non-working mother in the family as he was running a business. "But, don't they miss out socially?" we all asked. His answer: a packed schedule of after-school activities, clubs and sports.
We heard from someone involved in public policy development in the UK, reminding of the importance to put future mental health and happiness foremost in our thinking. Correcting for everything else, the number one predictor of a child's educational achievement is the mother's own educational attainment. Future mental health, however, is more a question of social integration in early years. Perhaps we should be much more attentive to social dynamics than academic achievement?
Interestingly our closing point chimed with Sir Martin Sorrell's ethos of Horizontality - bringing different agencies and disciplines together in a single focus. Education today is largely focused on individual subjects taught in their own little bubble. This approach seems stuck in the past, working to suit teachers, not kids.
We were all excited by the potential of allowing kids to explore topics by drawing together many disciplines around a single event or phenomenon. The sinking of the Titanic is a great example offered by one of the group - bringing together a story of human drama, physiology, material science and countless other subjects in a way that captures the imagination and focuses the mind. Could we do this more as parents through out of school activities?
A lesson in streaming
I'm back in London now, and neck deep in the day job. Apart from some rather wild-eyed ranting at colleagues over the last couple of days, the freewheeling spirit of Stream will no doubt fade into the background.
Some things will remain, however. Unlike most conferences I've attended, an event like this holds genuine potential for inspiration. Without a "teacher" in charge of the agenda, we "students" have to step up ourselves.
And that's when interesting things happen.