What would happen if trade shows devoted half a day to 'projects'? Put multi-disciplinary teams of ten people together and give them three hours to create something of value. The esprit de corps created by a bunch of strangers under time pressure in a public competition would last for decades. The community is worth more than the project.
Can we finally, finally, put this idea into practice? Some groups, like the Color Marketing Group, already are, and have been for years. They get together to put together the color palette of the next year, through a process of intense back and forth in small teams. I loved writing about the Color Marketing Group's conference, because of the incredible enthusiasm people had for the event. And not just the event organizers, but the participants. Especially the participants.
As Seth suggests (yes, we're close personal friends so I don't have to call him Mr. Godin--yeah, right), "Working side by side doing something that matters under adverse conditions... that's what we need." What can your group create at your meeting that will have meaning long after the meeting's end (unlike, say, aexercise where you make bikes for kids' charities. Which is very nice, but not necessarily relevant to your organization's mission, or the business goals of your participants)?
Think about it, then please do it! And invite me to your meeting. I need to experience one of these. And wouldn't it be hard to say meetings are irrelevant/boondoggles/wastes of time if everyone walks away with something that will guide that particular business segment for the next 12 months? Mm, yeah, I think that might help us lose some of the AIG/other TARP company-inspired media raspberries the meetings industry has gotten lately.