Norn is a format, which brings people together and initiates in-depth conversations. An interview with its initiator Travis Hollingsworth
In one of the most beautiful apartments in Berlin, Travis Hollingsworth decided to bring his recent project “Norn” to our city. An enriching addition to the diversity of ideas, where strangers get to gather in a small circle, exchanging thoughts during the so called “salons” while members of the worldwide network get to stay between one and three months as permanent residents. Being new in a vibrant environment does not have to mean that you are detached from a valuable group of smart minds. We are excited to speak with the brain behind it all:
How did you end up creating Norn?
I was a management consultant for seven years, living in countries from Turkey, Brazil, India, Saudi Arabia, to France. Moving every three to six months taught me a lot about myself and the world. Over this time I lost interest in hotels and found that I really connected with cities when I was in real homes with local people eating home cooked meals and telling great stories.
What were your first steps?
At Stanford University in California I discovered that you can design places for people to connect more deeply. I stumbled upon a class called “Touchy Feely” where students practice expressing their emotions every week in groups of 15 people with facilitators. This class is one of the most popular, but it’s also the place where I saw people truly connecting with each other as they shared the emotional content of their lives with each other. So I decided to open homes in Berlin and Barcelona and test “how do people connect with each other in real life?”
1 / 7
What is the current status now?
Our prototypes revealed that we need a space for asking questions – ways of connecting with each other over the personal stories from our own lives but also the chance to listen to others in an inquisitive culture. We now have homes in Berlin, Barcelona, London, and San Francisco.
What was your favorite moment so far?
We hosted a salon in Berlin asking “What is the Good Life”. There were 15 people sitting around a circle with candelabras and artwork, sharing their views on what kind of life they were living. It felt like one of those conversations that is important but happens all to rarely in our adult lives.
Adult life doesn’t leave much room for questioning. We’re all too busy being busy, caught up in the current of our own days and ambitions to ask where we’re headed or how we can learn from those around us. And here were 15 people articulating their perspectives and getting 14 other versions – in real life not online. This type of experience has often been reserved for religious groups or families, but sometimes you can share very differently with supposed ‘strangers’. And you can meet people in a new way, offline.
1 / 3
How would you describe the people you would love to see in the Norn circle?
Start with curiosity. What kind of questions do you ask? Do you want to know about new people, places, and ideas? This is the beginning of a great conversation. Secondly, our members are excited by life and they end up making real contributions by leading salons, hosting thought-provoking exhibitions, or making home-cooked dinners that spark a whole new set of questions for people and spark deeper, more meaningful connections.
How do you come up with the topics for your salons?
We take philosophical topics that touch us all, and then ask questions around those topics that unearth the substance and stories of our lives. We love open ended questions that allow people to compare and examine ways of life and view of the world. For example, we host salons on “Mythology and Society”, “Borders”, or “Friendship and Consciousness”.
Where do you want the project to be in 5 years?
I care less about the spaces and much more about the conversations that are happening in those spaces. I am overwhelmed by the people that tell me “they have been searching for a way to have more meaningful conversations.” We are always testing new formats, from online content to pop up salon discussions. Our success will be measured on how many and how deep we inspire conversations over the next five years.
Julia co-founded one of the first fashion blogs in Germany in 2007 and became a freelance consultant for digital strategies after publishing her first book in 2010. After an eventful four years with Condé Nast working mainly in the digital department of Vogue Germany, she decided to launch her own online magazine with her dream partner, Veronika Heilbrunner. She is based in Berlin and loves to read books.
Updates about her next professional steps can be found at https://www.linkedin.com/in/juliaknolle/.