A St. Louis Business That Could Revolutionize Yours: Matt Homann Of Filament
Think about the last time you had an amazing day at work: maybe your team met a goal it had been working toward for months; maybe you or a coworker had a breakthrough that immediately changed the way the whole company viewed the problem you’re attempting to solve or the extraordinary thing you’re striving to create. Picture that moment of accomplishment, of innovation or sudden disruption. Let yourself remember exactly how that felt.
Now ask yourself: did that lightbulb moment happen while you were sitting in front of a PowerPoint presentation?
Matt Homann, co-founder and CEO of Filament in St. Louis, believes not enough people ask themselves that question. And that’s why he and co-founder Bijal Desai-Ramirez decided to create something completely new: a better way to have a company meeting.
“The filament is the little wire at the center of the light bulb,” Homann says. “And it’s also the thread that ties things together. We want to be both things for our clients. We want to be the thing that sparks your light bulb moment—the space where you come up with your best idea. But we also want to help you make the connections amongst your team to actually make that idea real.”
Inspiration. Connection. Even in the most creative industries, these are not words many people associate with their weekly team meeting or an annual staff-training retreat. But Filament has higher ambitions than what happens in the average rented hotel ballroom. The company was born, in part, because Homann himself had sat through one too many boring conferences in his previous career as a lawyer. “I found myself in a lot of rooms full of people sitting shoulder to shoulder, all facing the same direction, receiving information but not really saying anything to one another,” Homann said. “Or, they’d be at a networking event, drinking together, but not really thinking together. Over time, I found myself being pulled towards helping people talk.”
His solution for igniting those conversations wasn’t creating a fantastic meeting venue, designing a brand-new method of dialogue or developing a team of facilitators to become experts at coaxing the best ideas out of a room.
Homann’s solution was to do all three.
While Filament doesn’t require that its clients utilize the company’s Downtown St. Louis office for their meetings, their space is perfectly suited to their unconventional approach. And it speaks volumes about the personality of Filament as an organization, even when they take their show on the road for an off-site meeting. Their 10,000-square-feet warehouse space is modular and quirky, designed to spark an urge to explore—from the buckets of Legos and vintage toys piled on the tables, to the chalkboard walls covered in real-time illustrations of key insights from each meeting, courtesy of Filament’s full-time staff artist, Todd Bauman.
“The games, the magnets, the toys, the Calvin and Hobbes books, the gadgets—they’re all about getting people with different learning styles to engage,” Homann says. “If you don’t find whatever it takes to make you feel excited and activated here, we’ve failed. We had an investment advisor in here the other day with her team, and she played with Play-Doh all day long. And it wasn’t a distraction. She thought better when she engaged with her hands.”
That environment of play, though, is only creating the conditions for a serious breakthrough. The deeper significance Filament offers is the innovative process that Homann and his team ask other teams to undergo—and almost every one of those experiences is totally bespoke to the client. When asked what might happen at a “typical” Filament meeting, Homann has more examples than he has time to list. He describes an exercise where clients build a board game together (“We scavenge pretty much all the old board games from Goodwill and Salvation Army to do it”) and another where teams are challenged to break apart a simple process—say, making a piece of toast—in order to rethink the fundamentals of their organization.
The results can be surprising when you get teams out of their usual habits, says Homann. “You’ll find that you’ll have people eight layers apart on an org. chart sitting at a table together, and yet the CEO is turning to a person he doesn’t know well. Because that person is suddenly driving the conversation.”
And those amazing moments aren’t limited to organizations with CEOs and complex management hierarchies. While Homann is deeply proud of his work with corporate clients—he cites a healthcare company that Filament helped fundamentally rethink their notion of care—he’s also excited by discounted and pro-bono projects with groups like the St. Louis Public Schools. “When the space is empty, it’s not doing anyone any good,” Homann says. “So we put it to use. We’re able to do a lot of things that we feel make the city better.”
And just like a CEO might learn something from subordinates, a small St. Louis nonprofit can learn something from a Fortune 500—and vice-versa. “We want to be that link,” Homann says. “And when we are, some very cool things happen. We’ve worked with nearly every industry, which gives us a very unique perspective.”
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Photography by Matt Kile