Last Friday, 620 amazing people came out to brave the less-than-amazing morning weather here in Portland to help me and my friend Will do something we’ve always dreamed of: Set a Guinness World Record. What record was it? The longest floating human chain.
It took us almost a year to plan and execute this, and while it’s a pretty fun and silly record to set, it took a tremendous amount of work to put together.
Here’s a short video our media team created to show off the successful record attempt to WDS this past weekend. Many more photos and videos are in the works:
There were many risks involved with this project; we didn’t pick the easiest record to break! Things could have (and did!) go wrong on the way to making it a reality. The plan had to change many times. But, with a little strategy and a lot of determination, we pulled it out. Hooray!
Now that the dust has settled, I wanted to take a second to go over some of the things that made this unlikely event a success. These are a few universal rules and observations you’ll want to account for as you put together your own big feats.
The two parties involved couldn’t have done it without each other.
In many ways, this was the perfect partnership. I had a lot of knowledge and experience building a movement around an idea, and Will had all the experience channeling that energy into one specific task—getting people safely into and out of the river in a 1/2 mile long line of inner tubes.
WDS brought many of the participants, and HAP brought basically all the on-water logistics, of which there were many!
Neither of us could have done this very well on our own, but together, we did something incredible. The hardest records to break are the ones that require careful coordination between many parties. I don’t think anyone will be breaking our record again any time soon.
The right partners are critical for success.
It’s not enough to have a talented team with the skills you need to get something big done. The magic ingredient is chemistry. The people running the show need to be able to be open, honest, and have difficult conversations with each other while still maintaining respect for each other and sharing a common goal.
Will and I just happened to have this kind of relationship. Along the way, we endured some drama, but we were both completely committed to seeing this record attempt through to the end. That commitment allowed us to work past any differences we had, find common ground, and get back to planning a world record.
Your plan will have to change many times.
If you’re going to do something big that requires participation from a lot of people, you’re going to change your plan many times. This is a simple reality.
To make this world record happen, we needed to manage relationships with The City of Portland, The Portland Development Commission, Parks and Rec, The Coast Guard, The Fire Dept., and many private companies.
Each stakeholder had their own set of goals and demands. Getting through this gauntlet was one of the most trying times I’ve endured. Every major piece of our plan had to change several times. And a few things were still being sorted out the morning of.
But again, the team’s dedication to coming away with a success story drove the process forward. Where we weren’t sure what the rules were, we opted to drive ahead, asking for forgiveness and not permission. This made all the difference.
You’ll spend more time planning logistics than you think you need to.
Getting people to show up is, of course, the biggest challenge. But, after that, making sure they have a great experience is also important.
We had to ask ourselves, “How do you put 600+ people in a river for several hours holding hands and make sure they still have a good time?”
It’s a question that took us months to answer. In the end, we recruited a team of almost 100 more people (!) to make sure the process went smoothly and everyone had a good time.
In the end, what good is a world record if no one had fun setting it?
At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is getting people to show up.
One year of planning is a lot of work. But it’s not lost on me that it all would have been for nothing if we hadn’t achieved the most important task: getting people to actually show up!
This was no simple feat. We recruited over 750 people to come help us set our world record. In the end, 620 of them showed up.
It took a long time to get everyone on board, and we also had to contend with the weather. There were a lot of things that were working against us:
- People who signed up months ago were less likely to remember or want to show up.
- Poor weather the morning of made people second guess whether they wanted to get in the water.
- Groups of people signing up together meant groups of people potentially not coming.
- The water appeared deceptively cold when, in fact, it was quite warm.
All of these factors were working against us, so we developed a simple system to make sure that the people who said they were coming would actually show up. It consisted of many emails leading up to the event pointing out that “You’re the hero, and we need you here to succeed. Please don’t let down your 700+ teammates!”
A bit of a guilt trip? You bet! And it worked. We heard from a number of people who said, “I wasn’t going to come, but then I felt awful thinking you might miss the record because of me.”
Of course, they were right. If they hadn’t come, we would have missed the record.
A contingency plan is mandatory.
With many events, it doesn’t matter much if a few people don’t show up; it just means a few empty chairs. But when you’re trying to set a world record, you’re counting on every single person to be there.
In our case, we planned for a hefty “no show” rate and sold more tickets than we had inner tubes. We knew some folks wouldn’t show up no matter how much we laid on the guilt.
And, as a last resort, there were a few “back-up records” we could have attempted if we simply didn’t meet the numbers we needed. We didn’t mention these to anyone, and we certainly didn’t want to have to resort to them, but they were comforting to have around.
With a big production like this, it’s important to be able to pull a success story from it regardless of what happens. The back-up records would have allowed us to do that.
You’ll be tired, but you won’t regret it.
I’m still reeling a bit from the weekend, and last night was my first full night of sleep in about two weeks. I’m tired. I’m worn down. I’m behind on most of my work. But I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.
If you were there last weekend to help us set the record, thanks so much for coming out. To everyone else, thanks for being there in spirit.
Here’s to you and your quest to set your own records. We are here to do big things. Never let a little hard work stand in your way.
Images by Armosa Studios