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Wayne’s Way, The Flaming Lips: Community Experts

November 30, 2011

Last night my wife, Tia, and I went to a Flaming Lips concert. Tia had wanted to see them for awhile, so we mustered just enough energy from the scant repository left after dealing with our one-year-old’s sleep training to have a great time. I’m a fan of their music, but the thing that made the show most exciting for me was the community-building.

Flaming Lips is a 20+ year-old psychedelic rock band that puts on one of the most bizarre and entertaining shows out there. (Catch a short clip here.) Described by Chicago Now as “a twisted, acid-soaked circus,” the concerts draw a crowd ranging from families to individuals adorned in fuzzy animal costumes, all in search of the rare moment to express their most imaginative selves. In fact, that probably best describes the purpose of this community: a love of imagination.

Here are the rituals that take place at every single Flaming Lips concert:
The lead singer, Wayne Coyne, opens the show by walking across the audience inside an enormous transparent balloon, engaging people in a very real and physical way, and proving his trust in them in the process.

Then he goes back onstage and celebrates that interaction – with balloons and confetti and their favorite music.

The third step is inviting people onstage who are not band members. Ecstatic dancing fans dressed in giant catfish and alien costumes emerge from the side of the stage, chosen by request through the band’s website.

Finally, he invites you to share the music with him, delivering a song you know all the words to so you can sing along.

After these first crazy 20 minutes, it isn’t really about the band anymore; it’s about interacting with the people around you. And there are tools to facilitate that interaction as well – balloons, dancing, crazy technicolor light shows, songs you can sing with the person sitting next to you because you both know the words. These rituals are strong enough to carry the whole rest of the concert, maintain a thriving relationship with the band and, perhaps most profoundly, develop a trust among fellow audience members so strong that they’re willing to present their most creative, uninhibited, catfish-costumed selves.

Props to the band: they really have to put themselves out there to accomplish this feat. Every night, Wayne steps into that audience hoping that they will continue to hold him up.

Now, you and I probably can’t open a conference by crowd-surfing in a giant bubble. (Though I would love to see somebody try it.) But we can think about ways to immediately interact with the audience, demonstrating trust and commitment. We can look for ways to celebrate their trust. We can endeavor to invite participation, not just in a one-to-one exchange, but in a constant, porous relationship that engages the whole community. And we can consider bonding rituals that the community will want to conduct on its own.

The example is fantastical, but it’s worth asking yourself: what kind of concert would you design? What are your rituals? And how do they reward the purpose of your community?

image source:The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

Wayne’s Way, The Flaming Lips: Community Experts

Charlie Brown

CEO & Founder

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