These days our present is often referred to as the new normal. Since the pandemic we’ve had hybrid meetings arrive alongside face-to-face meetings like a new cousin from the country – in a best-case scenario making online meetings a bit more fun, if the production is professional enough. And while the technology itself has been around for years, the pandemic suddenly and effectively kicked us a bit further into the future. Ready or not.

Now, we face a world where old rules no longer apply, and where we obviously need to look at things in new ways. One such way, of trying to help perhaps increasingly lost or disoriented meeting participants, is to learn what lateral thinking is. Lateral thinking means to use an untraditional approach to an issue that may provide unexpected or straightforward solutions to complex problems. The concept was introduced by Edward de Bono in his book The Use of Lateral Thinking as early as 1967.

In contrast with traditional problem solving, where you directly address the problem at hand, lateral thinking requires you to instead spend time thinking about different ways of viewing the problem. Only after that do you get into the actual work of finding solutions. Non-linear problem solving is often referred to as obliquity, the concept of reaching a goal without aiming directly for it.

There’s a latin saying – Speramus meliora, Resurget cineribus – which translates to: ‘We hope for better things, It will rise from the ashes.’ By walking through smouldering ruins we may discover puzzle pieces allowing us to create something new.

But have we really gone through such a significant change that we can claim to be rising from the ashes? That is certainly debatable. Financially, there is little doubt that we have, as the business events industry has indeed been hit hard. But can the congress part of the industry really stay significantly reduced over several years’ time? Do we simply not have to have personal meetings between researchers and thinkers to keep up the pace of development and innovation?

All forms of scientific and cultural research at universities deals with in-depth studies and the deepening of knowledge. Specialists keep digging deeper and deeper. But the outside world’s knowledge and understanding is not increasing at the same rate as the specialists’. We are not only in need of people who are digging deeper. We are also very much in need of people who are connecting all the deep excavators by building horisontal tunnels. And that is just what’s happening when people meet at congresses and events. We need to meet each other in person, form personal connections, and to sustain a lasting exchange of knowledge and ideas.

The title of this column is taken from a famous line in the film The Wizard of Oz, which according to researchers at the University of Turin, Italy is the world’s most referenced film. In a black and white rural Kansas, a tornado sweeps farm girl Dorothy (played by Judy Garland) and her dog Toto away from the life they know, bringing them to the magical land of Oz. At the moment they step onto unfamiliar ground, the 1939 film (the first mainstream release in colour) changes from black and white to bursting Technicolor, underlining the chasmic shift in surroundings. A bewildered Dorothy cautiously takes this strange landscape in, then says to her campanion: “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Every time the playing field radically changes, in everything from music and culture to politics and business, people keep referring to this pivotal scene of movie magic. And I think it’s safe to say that pretty much everyone in the global business events industry would have to agree that we are defnitely not in Kansas anymore.