Douglas Campbell and the Art of Social Hacking

Mara Abrams
May 10, 2011
Douglas "Dougie Fresh" Campbell of Mindshare and ProjectFresh

Do guilty pleasures like partying, gaming, and vacationing need be fraught with guilt at all? Most people wouldn’t associate such hedonism with humanitarianism, but for Douglas Campbell, the pursuit of one’s own happiness and that of others are inextricably tied — there is no need to sacrifice one for the other.

A young serial entrepreneur who has built a successful business planning events that are equal parts mindlessly fun and mindfully philanthropic, Campbell, affectionately known as “Dougie Fresh” among audience members and friends, is out to prove that doing good and having a good time can reap rewards from the same hard-wired center in the brain.  

That’s the concept behind the “social hack,” which, as Doug would describe, is a benevolent term “to describe how to hack our primate brains to make us better, more effective, compassionate humans.”

As his 8,000-person mailing list and consistently sold-out events in Los Angeles proves, Doug is onto something.

Mindshare, of which he is a co-founder, curator, and host, is a monthly event series described as “enlightened debauchery,” where experts on all types of quirky-yet-intellectual, science-meets-art topics deliver three 20-minute talks, sandwiched between music, drinking, and social interaction. As an alternative to the bar scene for the hyper-curious, Mindshare is as much a social filter as it is fodder for a demographic of geekily inclined Angelenos longing for intellectual stimulation in a vanity-obsessed city.  

His latest endeavor, ProjectFresh, is an offshoot that’s more focused  (Mindshare is its “ADHD cousin”) and geared toward social action, while maintaining a similarly laid-back atmosphere and spirit of merriment. With each of these events, participants are left with an action item to better the community.  

As important to his success as his community-building formula, Doug himself has a magnetic quality that can draw in a crowd. This spark — a contagious joie de vivre, well-articulated wisdom, and bit of wackiness — has engaged audiences and individuals from all walks of life to seek their own happiness and that of others.

What has inspired your movement toward more action-oriented events?
"I hit 30 and started realizing that the foundation pieces I've been working on are now built. The last few years of Mindshare I've been so surrounded with great ideas and interesting, smart people. But at a certain point — inside me and through others' feedback — there came to me a bubbling undercurrent of a necessity for action.

"A lot of people were feeling it's great to get together every month and pat each other on the backs and say, "that's great, see you next month." Whether it's a sign of me or a sign of the times in which we live, or a combination, people want to see the results of their action. There's always a place for Mindshare, but there's a real place for ProjectFresh's ability to get people to use their energy in a way that creates something more than they would in isolation."

What drives your creative endeavors? Is it something innate, or a product of your environment?
"It's a gentle balance of nature and nurture. I definitely have an energy — a resilience and tenacity — that was not learned. I’ve also had some very interesting childhood experiences. I moved around and got to see a lot of different cultures and different types of people like artists and scholars. So I see a great value in all types of people and that's integral to what I do.

"I'm an introvert trapped in an extrovert's body. I have this introspective, quiet side but also this compulsion to save the world that requires social engagement. And it doesn't have to be one or another. I like to live in between these contrasts, whether between charity and adventure; lectures and parties; hedonism and mindful meditation; scientists and artists; or solitude and social interaction. It's these types of dynamisms that make me tick."

What is the biggest obstacle in turning ideas into action?
"Perhaps what is most challenging is not how to inspire action but how to sustain it. You can get people excited around an event or cause, but, rather quickly, that excitement dissipates.

"The problem with a lot of events is that the speaker is the leader. They bring people to this point and then drop them and say, "now you do it!" and people don't know how to do it. You can create leaders out of the spectators and participants, and that's the kicker.

"I'm starting to get increasingly creative with how you call them to action. That is a really interesting arena because there are so many things happening now around the idea of gamification — how to affect people viscerally, emotionally, and in a way that keeps them coming back for more.

"You need to give people the ownership, leadership, tools, and framework for that person or group of people to lead the change. And then, for both the leaders and the followers, if you can show immediate, quantified success it starts to really validate their efforts. If you have a good structure that loops that validation back into the action — when people see that there are really results to their actions — you trigger a compulsive loop that makes people want to see more. That's the loop I refer to as a social hack."

What would you tell young people who are struggling to find their place in the world in work and in life?  
"The most important thing is that you’re happy in this life. If you’re not happy you’re not going to very effectively spread happiness. You have to align your core mission, which is internal, with external creations and what you do with your life. We can have jobs that, at the same time, are fun, make us happy and are also profitable. When your work becomes your life mission you can live every day refining your effect on the world and enjoying life. There’s no need to separate the ideas of work and play.

"Check yourself and make sure that your mind, body, and soul are nurtured because they’re the foundation of everything you create. If you’re not happy doing whatever it is you do, you’re not on the right path. Finally, be curious about the world around you. Try to learn new things and get inspiration from all angles. Break your routine as much as possible!"

How can people living outside Los Angeles bring the spirit of ProjectFresh to their own communities?
"Get people together and then give them a call to action. If you really want to make a change find a group of people who are doing it or create your own group with recurring meetings, events, or dinner parties, and give them recurring action items. That familiarity is what starts to galvanize a community. It could even be as simple as bringing people together to watch a weird movie you normally wouldn’t watch — there are lots of ways you can find that inspiration and surround yourself with interesting people and ideas."

What makes you happy?
"My ultimate happiness really does come from the happiness I create in others. It makes me feel my life has a purpose and that I'm doing a good job as a human. From small things like saying hi to a nice old lady to creating deep changes in people's lives, when someone comes back to you and says "my life has changed for the better because of you," it makes all the hard times I've gone through in getting these projects going seem worth it."

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