But, as the conversations begun and the presentations kicked off, I realized that I had found my way to a completely different type of event than I had ever been to. Part conference, part show and tell, all interesting.
As we gathered for the opening reception it was obvious that this was a unique event in the auto industry. I grabbed a scotch from the bar and began chatting with people nearby. There were writers from all sorts of sites and publications. It didn't matter if you wrote about automobiles, pets, parenting or any sort of lifestyle, there were representatives from your market. Heck, I even learned the term elderblogger (someone who writes about the aging population) within the first five minutes. I wonder what Millie Garfield thinks of that term.
The night kicked off with Ford CEO Alan Mulally introducing the night's keynote speaker who was none other than Malcolm Gladwell. I've been a long time fan of his writing and thoughts, so getting to hear him and then to shake his hand and thank him for all the damage he has done to my brain was a personal highlight. I had to hold back standing up and cheering as he talked about how people need to recognize their worth instead of letting other people dictate it. As you know this is something I talk about often.
The next day, each attendee (170 or so from what I was told) was assigned three sessions that we had previously showed interest in. I was going to be seeing sessions on emerging technologies, the global convergence of design and living green. Large buses took us to each location which made the trips nice and comfy. The other themes for the day that I did not get to see included the aging population, safety for all ages and engaging your senses. Thankfully in following the #FordTrends hashtag allowed me to virtually check out those sessions.
These all sounded like rather lofty themes to be able to dive into for 90 minutes each, but I was ready to give it a try if Ford was.
What I loved was that instead of just having Ford employees talking to us all day, they brought in thought leaders from the appropriate industries to share thoughts with us. To speak about design there was someone from Ideo, a millennial expert and a former fashion designer. Sure, they placed way to much focus on the mentality of millennials to drive their decision making, but their hearts were in the right place. My favorite take away from this was the term "slash generation" to refer to how people now have jobs AND they have passions, hobbies and side businesses that they care about.
They also showcased to us how they design cars and how much of it is done completely digital before they make a life size model. The photographer in me geeked out as they showed us how Ford designers check light reflections and shadows on their cars. In a scene straight out of The Matrix they can put a car design in any environment and drive it through at ever possible angle and magnification. I thought I was watching live video of a car when in fact it was 100% digital magic. I could have stayed and played here all day.
Next up was learning about the electrical cars and hybrids. This is something I'm very passionate about because my lifestyle is perfect for an all electric car, but I haven't made the jump yet because the technology is changing so rapidly and honestly I want to test drive one for a week to confirm that my life would work if I made the investment.
Environmental activist and actor Ed Begley Jr. shared his story of green living and then we learned about all that Ford is doing in this space. I love their partnership with Best Buy to make it easier to install and move a charger in your garage if you move. I was also psyched to get a hands on demo of the new MyFord Mobile app. It is some of the smartest use of mobile technology I've seen from a car company and it even includes sensible game mechanics instead of just making it gimmicky.
In a moment of perfect timing, we broke for lunch which had an environmental conscious focus to it. Not only did we have a speech from one of the top scientists at Ford talking about how they use sustainable materials in the cars, but our menu focused on locally grown meat and vegetables as well as some products that are used in the cars. I loved this playful, yet educational thinking. Why can't we do things like this in our schools?
The final session of the day was review for me since I already drive a Ford and it was show and tell time for everything that is awesome about Sync. But, what I hadn't seen was the ways that our cars can now interact with health care devices. Just imagine your child is diabetic and their insuline pump could notify the car that they have low blood sugar so you knew to pull over and get them something to eat. We are currently use to having our phones automatically connect with our cars, but in the future any device will have that ability. Whole lot of cool possibilities when you start noodling on it.
The night ended with being taken to the famous Fillmore Theater Detroit. While we munched on international yummies from mini coney dogs to pierogi and I was introduced to Michigan Lager there was a talk from Pandora Radio's founder Tim Westergren. I've been a big fan of their product for a number of years and his statement about "the car being a viable distribution channel for music" really struck home for me. I was disappointed by the panel that followed though because while there were two artists on it, they were barely allowed to speak and instead the focus was geared towards music industry dinosaurs and the stillborn technology of HD Radio.
But, even with the panel not being what I had hoped for, things got a million times better as The Head and the Heart took the stage. I had never heard of this band, but before they were one I had bought the album from my iPhone. They are part Mumford Sons crossed with Fleetwood Mac and a bit of Dave Mathews Band. Whatever you call them, they were amazing and I'm now a fan.
It was a jam packed twenty four hours of conversations and presentations on the future and the trends that are not only going to effect Ford and the automobile industry, but everything in our lives. I know I left pondering some directions I had not focused on before and it even gave me a few new things to add into my next book.
All this and still another day to spend on the Ford Test Track? I think I'll save those tales for a second post.
Disclosure: Ford flew all attendees out and gave us food, shelter and a blue magic eightball while in Dearborn. Ford previously was a sponsor of my Content Rules Book Tour. We were not expected or asked to write about the event, but of course I wanted to. All photos and thoughts are my own.