Meddle 'ideas hackathon' aims to work out how we find time to create our passions

For three days next week, 20 top creative talents from disciplines as different as typography and comedy are coming together in a country house in the Cotswolds to work on the problem of ‘passion projects’ – and you can join in with them.

Rather than merely being an interesting-but-meandering discussion, the participants at Meddle have a defined task. They are to work out how successful creative people who spend so much time working on projects for clients – and whose success is often the cause of such hard work – find space in their lives to work on projects for themselves.

Taking part are designers, entrepreneurs, hackers, writers and Gene from Bob’s Burgers (aka comedian Eugene Mirman). Best known to Digital Arts readers are the charmingly winsome/frighteningly smart lettering illustrator Jessica Hische and interactive agency You Know Who founder and forthright speaker Sarah Parmenter. The discussions will also be chronicled on Twitter – so you can listen in to the creative process and contribute your own thoughts and opinions.

The event has much in common with the current trend for creative and coders to get together for hackathons: events over a series of days where groups of developers meet and build tech projects to solve specific challenges. Sometimes they collaborate to work on societal issues such as {London data sharing}, others involve competing to produce a project for a brand.

The difference with Meddle is that the outcome should be concepts, processes and models of behaviour that come to bear on the personal and professional lives of creative people – rather than products, program and societal systems. Though considering the talents of who’s involved, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the latter also appear.

This is the first in a series of problem-solving events under the banner of Meddle – which has been set up by Ted Pearlman, professional matchmaker within the creative and tech industries. Also behind the project is creative director Jenny Theolin, organizer and curator of the recent LOLcats exhibition.

I sat down with Ted to discover what inspired him to set up Meddle – and what he hopes to achieve with the first event.

NB: Why did you set up Meddle?

TP: “First, I’ve always loved matchmaking. I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember. There’s nothing more gratifying than seeding a relationship and then watching it take root. It doesn’t matter if it’s a business relationship, friendship, or love affair. I also quite enjoy curating the experience of that first get-together: the place, the food, the circumstances.

“For about a year, I’ve been sending interesting, influential people out on dates. Almost immediately, I wished I could eavesdrop on the great conversations that happen between these folks. I wanted to be in the room. But, the people I match get a tad uncomfortable when they see me across the restaurant wearing headphones and pointing one of those long-distance, Plexiglas-salad-bowl microphones at them.

“Second, I love using matchmaking to solve problems. It’s the way I make my living. A person comes to me with a problem and, for a flat fee, I put them together with the person who can solve it. But I’ve been thinking for a long time about trying to use matchmaking to wider problems. The value of doing so was crystallised for me, a few months back.

“In November, I sent Seth Godin [author of must-read tech/business innovation books including Purple Cow], out on a date with someone I thought he’d love meeting. Seth’s been an advocate for education reform for a long time and I was convinced he’d hit it off with one of the great polemicists on the topic, Alfie Kohn. He thought Alfie was wonderful – but Seth told me he doesn’t like professional blind dates that don’t have a specific agenda or goal attached. He meets plenty of new, interesting people at conferences, talks, and dinner parties. If he’s going to carve out time to meet someone specific, he wants there to be a problem attached – something he can help the other person solve. God love him for that.

“It got me thinking. What would happen if I sent a bunch of influential, interesting people – all of whom want to solve the same problem – on an extended, group blind date? And what if I made the date long enough that they could go beyond talking about it and actually solve the problem together?

“Thus, the Meddle was born. A solid excuse for me to eavesdrop on great conversations – and a way to solve wider problems with matchmaking.”

NB: Could you give us a bit more detail about what you mean by 'personal passion projects'? For example, that could be interpreted to mean non-commercial projects or purely ones for the betterment of others – but I'm guessing you have a broader definition.

TP: “In my mind, [it’s] what people would most like to be doing. One of my favorite questions to ask people is: “What might I find you doing, say, on a Thursday afternoon at 2:30, if you had so much money, you didn’t need to earn a living?”

“The answer to that question is almost always a description of the person’s passion project – what they’d most like to be doing. People who are doing what they most love to be doing are really, really fun to be around. And [nothing is more gratifying than] helping people who are not doing that thing to actually do that thing.

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