The Next Stage

If disruption is seen as a boon to innovation, why has no one disrupted public speaking?

This is the premise for The Next Stage : a series of honest, face to face conversations—not with pundits or proselytizers, but with real people.

No TED talks. No heroes or headsets. No best practices or posturing. No gimmicks.

And no stage.

This is not design thinking. This is independent thinking, a critical and endangered part of contemporary civilization that begins with listening: not to the biggest person with the loudest voice, the slickest presentation, or the strongest opinion, but to ourselves and to each other.

We believe that a level playing field changes everything. It narrows the gap between the authentic and the aspirational. It builds community by building upon a culture of mutual respect and shared intentions. (It reminds us that leadership begins when we leave our egos at the door.) These are the kinds of conditions—supportive, speculative, and deeply humane— that lead to true innovation.

This isn’t thought leadership: it’s thought partnership. The moment we recognize that conversation is a fundamentally reciprocal act, we begin to shift the coordinates framing what was—and what can be.

Welcome to The Next Stage.


Workshops allow for the pursuit of innovation through personal inquiry, which only happens when the people in the room both contribute to—and are catalysts in—a conversation and its aftermath. Without hierarchy, the interaction shifts from bifurcation to collaboration, from us and them to us together.

Workshops are gatherings with 30-75 people where we issue a prompt and curate the guest list to invite the broadest perspectives.

A partial list of past gatherings follows.

School of Visual Arts (Participant review.)
Scholastic, Inc.
MIT School of Architecture


Our studio near Yale University’s campus allows us to bring in consultants from allied disciplines—ranging from architecture and medicine to forestry and public health—adding both objectivity and specificity to disciplines with which we may be less familiar. As ever, design and language are the fulcrum upon which our conversations are guided: we are there to facilitate, visualize, provoke, and help you process your agenda. Our mutual objective is to support you to be in a position to manage subsequent phases upon completion of the workshop. Ongoing consulting may be arranged as needed,


For institutions rethinking everything from mission to methodology, we have found that offsite meetings allow for an objective look at new opportunities for strategy and growth. The Next Stage offers both the space and the stewardship for this purpose. One to three-day programs include transportation, lodging and meals plus tailored workshops for up to 10 people.


December 2018: Edited by Jessica Helfand and Michael Bierut, Culture is Not Always Popular: Fifteen Years of Design Observer will be out in early December from MIT Press. Buy the book here. See the video here.

November 2018: The Design of Business | The Business of Design conference will be held on November 2 and 3 at Yale School of Management.

September 2018: Face Value, Cooper Hewitt’s entry into the 2018 London Design Biennale, is named one of the four medalists.

July 2018: Jessica Helfand and Allison Arieff host a Next Stage event at Google on the ethics of design.

June 2018: Jessica Helfand is one of three artists chosen to participate in Face Value, the US entry into the London Design Biennale for 2018.

May 2018: Jessica Helfand hosts The Next Stage at The Mercantile Library in Cincinnati and The American Film Institute in Los Angeles.

May 2018: Jessica Helfand debuts The Next Stage at Continuum in Boston.

March 2018: Jessica Helfand is keynote speaker for the In Pursuit of Luxury Conference, Cape Town, South Africa.