CampFire™ Connects the Unconnected to Innovate the Future
It’s 7:00 PM and one of the staff members from DuPuis Group places the last name card on the dining table. We had spent hours discussing the seating chart; it was critical and required more than social etiquette to get it right. Steven DuPuis, Founder of DuPuis Group, and Arthur Zards, curator for TEDxNaperville, were reviewing the agenda and discussing the key points for the upcoming evening. Bravo TV’s Top Chef, Dale Levitski, was busy in the kitchen preparing the 35-person meal; it needed to be innovative and thought provoking, and Dale was the perfect choice to stimulate everyone’s palette. Nothing was left to chance— even though everything was about chance. Tonight Steven and Arthur were hosting CampFire™: a salon-style dinner, at our office in Chicago.
CampFire™ is one of the ways we stretch thinking by allowing unconnected thoughts and ideas to find purpose and meaning. All too often business challenges are approached through expected, linear processes. CampFire™ seeks to unlock everyone’s potential for discovering new, groundbreaking ideas. It’s an unconventional forum that invites a diverse range of individuals from varied backgrounds to come together informally over dinner. Steven shares, “Our inspiration came from the French Salons of the early 1900s where a collective of intellectuals, artists, writers, scientists, entrepreneurs and inventors openly shared and discussed the future.” That’s what CampFire™ is: an open, inspiring, energy-charged evening of exciting dialogues–a pump primer for idea discovery.
This particular evening was no exception. As guests arrived the room immediately felt charged with energy. It was exciting to watch as unexpected connections happened between divergent talents. Guests included Ian Maksin, world-renowned cellist, Othar Lawrence, a B.A.S.E. jumper and champion paraglider pilot, Mark Miller, a local Chicago architect, and Sandra Kumorowski, a professor at Columbia from the Czech Republic. The “star-studded” guest list continued to include CEOs, entrepreneurs, designers, scientists and educators.
Everyone had taken their assigned seats and then Steven and Arthur announced how the evening would play out. “It’s not about where you work but what you know,” Arthur exclaimed. Steven added, “So this is not meant to be a networking event but rather an exchange of ideas— a place where we can dream the future.”
CampFire™ is a tool that can be tailored to fit every business challenge. Through the planning and the careful selection of guests, food choices, and environment, we establish the optimal setting for abstract thinking, and creative ideas to flourish. CampFire™ is more than a planned dinner— each event has goals, objectives and actionable outcomes. While passionate conversations spark, there is a defined structure to each CampFire™ event. It starts when the attendee accepts their invitation and they are promptly sent a list of directional questions to contemplate. Their answers along with their backgrounds are then shared with the larger group a few days before the event. This sets the focus of dialogue while allowing the group to think broadly once together.
For us, CampFire™ is part of our process for generating breakthrough innovation. It has led us to develop different events, such as BondFire™ where the guests are a mix of consumers and marketers. This creates open, authentic dialogue about products and services. Another is called WildFire™ in which influencers, experts, and those marketing to your consumer through other product categories connect to share knowledge. This leads to deep insights and untapped opportunities that are unattainable through conventional innovation or research processes.
With the constant commoditization of markets and the proliferation of parity products and services, it stands to reason that companies find it difficult to grow their businesses. Every need state has been identified and largely met. It’s now about finding desire states. To remain competitive and one step ahead of your competition requires paradigm shifts in approach and process. We push to create fresh ways to unlock innovation modalities that can discover new meaning and generate winning, commercial propositions. CampFire™, while structured and very intentional, is naturally abstract and driven by chance. It is one methodology that channels and embraces new ideas.
“CampFire™ allows people to share and think openly for those brief hours as they embrace living outside the lines,” Steven says. “Following a CampFire™ event, we conduct rigorous analysis to distill and expand upon key ideas. Innovation in our world is the monetization of the right ideas and that requires both divergent and convergent thinking.” This process demands a very diverse staff, and we have former VPs, marketers, designers, artists, engineers, writers, researchers, and entrepreneurs— a collective needed to synthesize rich, new thought.
Innovating products and services for organizations is shrouded in secrecy and confidentiality is held in the highest regard. It can be years before innovation agencies can openly talk about work they have done for clients. Many of our clients are among the top Fortune 100 companies and our track record of success has kept us a thriving business for over 25 years. Parallel to generating growth for our clients, we have maintained our own controlled growth since the beginning. “To be an effective partner with our clients requires that we stay lean, creative, and entrepreneurial; too much or to rapid a growth can be detrimental… we have purposefully kept our staff size fairly small,” says Steven. Even through we have a little over 30 people shared across two offices, we pride ourselves on maintaining a small agency feel. Our open culture and approachable attitude led us to being selected as a World Blu Most Democratic Workplace in 2010; we shared this honor with Honest T, Zappos, and Seventh Generation.
CampFire™: Innovation is one of four, non-client specific gatherings we will have this year. We organize these broader events to reach out to the community, connect to unique talents and contemplate visionary solutions and opportunities.
To learn more about CampFire™ as part of our unique innovation process, check out the video above and contact us to continue the conversation.