The term think-in first originated from an initiative in 2009 by Frog Design as noted in this Big Think “Endless Innovation” blog post by Dominic Basulto. It was described by Basulto as the following:
“The Digital Think In is an incredible initiative pulled together for NPR by Frog Design. For one day only, Frog brought together over 60 thought leaders who worked on an envisioning new futures for NPR. It was an impressive list of writers, technologists and general thinkers. The event was streamed live over the web and various elements were put up on the blog.”
But since then the term hasn’t been used that much. Until now. The term is being used more to describe a gathering of people from diverse backgrounds and disciplines to discuss complex problems and issues in a Socratic-style solution method. Futurists are using the term and method more as it goes beyond the normal brainstorming practices of most businesses and instead helps lay down a blueprint of where the world is headed so businesses and government leaders can set real action plans.
The format involves one or two people with opposing viewpoints about where the world is evolving leading the discussion on a topic or topics similar to how the Ancient Greeks gathered to discuss politics. There are no speeches and everyone is a participant, not a witness. In order to transmit beyond physical participants in the session, the use of social media tools for amplification, engagement and collaboration purposes is encouraged. A hackathon comes to mind but think-ins are more centered on ideas instead of coding and development. The layout works better in a circular set-up rather than the standard speaker at the front of the room design. The layout is important in order to add a layer to the collaborative pattern and to expose that there is no hierarchical order to the organization or event.
The term is a play on the slang for “be-in” which was a 1960s countercultural term where people had to be physically at an event to show solidarity toward contemporary culture. The term “digital be-in” took root in the late 80s as cyber culture was still rooted as an underground culture.
“Think-ins” are an extension or remix of thought leadership events like TED but where the topic and solutions are more relevant than the focus on the speaker. The goal of the think-in is to create action items that can then be used for planning purposes. It’s more strategic than simply a showcasing forum. Everyone in attendance helps add to the layer of subject matter expertise via the collective discussion and there is not a focus on one individual. It is the democratization of thought leadership to compile the most rounded outlook to complex issues. It is also meant to cause debate as a way of getting people to think beyond their core set of established beliefs and to create a new shared belief.
An example of a “Think-in” in 2012 is “Futurecast” presented by Social@Ogilvy on May 17, 2012 as part of Internet Week NY where Dominic Basulto, the writer who covered the original think-in for NPR will lead a discussion around the theme of mobile’s impact on business innovation and the death of internet giants who are rooted too deep in desktop culture as a way for brands in attendance to create a map of the future on where they want their social web strategy to lead them.