The genius behind "Genius Lunches"

One innovative strategy firm incorporates biweekly meetings that feature fascinating outsiders as speakers


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Matthew Harrigan
January 17, 2012 6:00AM (UTC)
This originally appeared on Imprint.

ImprintThey come in all shapes and sizes, of course, but we all know a good idea when we see one. It strikes us like a good joke does -- familiar content, delightfully retold in a new way. As an innovation strategy firm, ideas are our lifeblood, the backbone of our DNA. Of course, for the vast majority of our time at work each day, those ideas are discussed within the context of our clients, trying to deliver them new ideas with both substantial revenue potential and a clear path toward commercialization. But once every two weeks, over a lunch set at our gigantic conference table, we intentionally widen the aperture. We call these lunches "Genius Lunches."

I’ve been with Fahrenheit 212 for going on two years now, and Genius Lunches remain one of my favorite aspects of working here. It occurred to me, though, that I never stopped to consider how the whole thing got started. So, I asked.

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“It actually started internally with us,” says Marcus Oliver, partner and innovation director at Fahrenheit 212. “We were still a young firm of curious people from myriad backgrounds -- there was tremendous value in simply sharing our backgrounds with one another in a slightly more structured fashion. Plus, we all ate lunch together anyway, so why not? We immediately saw the value in it, though, and so challenged ourselves to each bring in someone from outside who could expose us to something new and arresting going on in the world. Once people started coming in, we knew this wasn’t just an interesting way to spend our lunch hours, this was a real asset. Sure, the talks are generally a lot of fun, but invariably they have also influenced our work and generally just made us a smarter company. The ‘Genius Lunch’ name came about first as just a punchy moniker, but it quickly demonstrated itself to be quite apropos.”

And so were the humble beginnings of Genius Lunch.

At its core Genius Lunch was, and still is, an exercise in raw curiosity. From the day they step in the door, each person at Fahrenheit 212 is simply encouraged to, at some point, invite into the office the most interesting person they can think of. In the past two years we've learned about pirates, danced with robots, tried on some killer glasses, gorged on delicious chocolates and given ourselves needle-less (and thankfully painless) saline injections, among many, many other wonder-filled experiences. Sounds like a lot of fun, and that's because it has been.

A few of our favorites:

AARON KENEDI, a longtime friend of Fahrenheit, let us in on his work with the Future of Fish Project. The Future of Fish project -- a partnership between the Packard Foundation, social entrepreneurship agency Ashoka, and Central, a design strategy firm -- takes a new approach in exploring the challenges facing the seafood industry to encourage sustainable methods of fishing that respect species harvest limits, preserve the marine environment and reduce bycatch [the ensnaring of unwanted fish in nets meant to harvest other species.]

Aaron, the chief storyteller for the project at the time [and now editor in chief of Print magazine and Imprint], offered us a look at the work-in-progress. We were intrigued with the team’s problem-solving methodology: apply Design Thinking to one of the world’s oldest, least-evolved industries -- fishing.

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Though the seas of change can be rough indeed, Kenedi is encouraged by analogous shifts toward responsible practices in the coffee and diamond industries. “Now we’re out to prove that sustainable fishing can be affordable, doable and delicious.” Aaron Kenedi Genius Lunch

The genius of NICHOLAS FELTON, and his awe-inspiring, meticulous infographics, is certainly no secret, so all at the firm were particularly excited to learn more about his methods -- how he can convey so much minutiae without the madness.

For instance, the 2008 edition of his Annual Report includes seven house cleanings, clothing purchased from 11 countries of origin, 1,036 miles traveled in Grand Theft Auto IV and one Thanksgiving tequila shot.

His data comes to life in charts and graphs that are both exhaustive and exhaustlessly entertaining for those of us in the business of relentlessly interrogating our day-to-day lives.

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Felton has extended his method of self-expression into a platform, Daytum.com, to help users collect, categorize and communicate their everyday data, turning each of us into a self-statistician with the power to find meaning in the mundane. Nicholas Felton Genius Lunch

SLAMXHYPE is a New Zealand business making its mark on the world as a global authority on street culture and lifestyle, with content that straddles the line between street art and high art.

Slamxhype is a street culture blog with 10M unique visitors a month and a No. 1 ranking among influencers in its market. The blog spawned three new sites last quarter, including Slambase, a Wiki for street culture, and Anyone, Girl, a fashion blog for women. And while most of the media industry is busy switching from print into online, Slamxhype went the other way with the New Order, a quarterly fashion and art magazine conceived as a collectible, with distribution in boutiques and art galleries. Slamxhype Genius Lunch

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Recently, Fahrenheit built out a robust online presence for the Genius Lunch platform: www.geniuslunch.com to share with our clients and the innovation community at large the nuggets of brilliance our geniuses were generous enough to share with us. If you’ll visit, you’ll see we have highlighted the key points each genius made in the course of his or her talk, as well as video content of the talk itself where it is available.


Warby Parker Genius Lunch

While we can certainly identify with the proud mother who puts her family photo album on the coffee table, we put the site together because the pursuit of innovation is itself a conversation -- different people from different fields of expertise each trying to drive toward what’s new and what’s needed. Geniuslunch.com is intended to help foster that conversation.

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We hope you’ll visit and join in the dialogue.

Copyright F+W Media Inc. 2011.

Salon is proud to feature content from Imprint, the fastest-growing design community on the web. Brought to you by Print magazine, America's oldest and most trusted design voice, Imprint features some of the biggest names in the industry covering visual culture from every angle. Imprint advances and expands the design conversation, providing fresh daily content to the community (and now to salon.com!), sparking conversation, competition, criticism, and passion among its members.


Matthew Harrigan

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