All I Needed to Know I Learned from Clooney, Pitt, and Damon: Using Ocean’s Eleven to Start an Identity Community
Recently, on a flight over some distant ocean (it matters not where), I had the opportunity to re-watch Ocean’s Eleven for approximately the 1,623rd time. It’s the classic heist movie: a small group of people with a plan — and a killer soundtrack — craft something extraordinary. As the high-oxygen environment deepened my insight, I realized that it was also the blueprint for something no less ambitious: starting your own identity-focused meetup.
In the summer of 2018, Mike Trachta, David Lee, and I started just such a gathering in the Austin area. What follows is a pairing of our experience and Hollywood-produced cinematic excellence. While our experience may not be universal, the hope is that it would inspire you to create your own local identity community. (Note: it may help to visualize us as looking like Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and George Clooney for the duration of this article. We’re onboard with that.)
Obviously, for this approach to be intelligible, you have to have seen Ocean’s Eleven at least once. Given the box office statistics, most of humanity has by now — but if you’re one of those that somehow missed it, go fire up your streaming service of choice and watch it.
No, really. We’ve got nothing but time here.
All done? Great. Let’s get started.
First, we’re going to need that soundtrack I mentioned before. Find it, and before you read any further, fire up the first track, “Boobytrappin.” Feel the groove and let it be your guide to identity success. The rest of the songs from the movie will lead us through a five-step process. As you read each step, play the associated song for inspiration and a deeper understanding of the concepts in play.
Get a Core Together
“Ten oughta do it, don’t you think? You think we need one more? You think we one more. Alright, we’ll get one more.” Aside from being the best line from the movie (fight me), George Clooney highlights the key first step: pulling together a core group of people.
Building a community can be a difficult task, and it becomes much easier with a small group to share the load. In July of 2018, Mike, David and I got together several times for drinks and dinner with the common goal of starting up a group associated with IDPro. This gave us time to understand our individual strengths and to figure out what we wanted the group to look like. After a few meetings, we figured out that we wanted to have solid identity content with good networking potential — and that we wanted it to reflect Austin culture as much as possible. That meant a relaxed agenda and attitude; we also recognized that our original ideas would evolve over time, which freed us up from feeling like we had to determine everything up front.
Our advice would be to get a core of at least three people together who want to see a group become reality. Over the course of the past year, it’s been helpful to have more people available to help host — especially as conferences or other travel pulls us away from Austin. Adding others along the way who are interested in helping out can spread the burden further and bring new energy and ideas. This happened for us with the delightful addition of Catherine Schulten in May of 2019.
While we wanted to prevent being locked-in to any set ideas, we also realized that a coherent plan would be helpful, which is what we built over the course of a rye old-fashioned (or two) and bar food.
Develop Your Plan
Three Casinos. The best security and safes in the world. A difficult target, but with a plan, anything is possible. Creating a new identity meetup is a challenging prospect that becomes more manageable with a concrete strategy.
As we laid out our proposal for the Austin Identity Professionals Meetup, we wanted to keep it simple and achievable. We settled on meeting once a month, with a rotating location (using WalMart’s Technology center in downtown, and out by the lake at SailPoint’s main offices.) This sponsorship gave us a jump start on the process — rather than having to crowdsource our funding, we were able to demonstrate the potential value to our employers.
As far as the content, we knew that there were enough identity-minded people and technology companies to support a quasi-regular guest speaker. We’ve had a talk about MFA from (Yubico), a discussion about usability from Wendy Nather (Duo), along with a few other guests. Education and growth were the primary goals rather than, say, hawking a product or a singular approach to a problem.
Planning the actual meetup is not rocket science; having a time, place, and topic or speakers lined up are table stakes for getting a meetup off the ground. It also helps to have something to make the time spent together more enjoyable, like lovely beverages and food — it worked well in our original planning sessions, and so we incorporated it into the group meetings also.
Eat, Drink, and Be Brad Pitt
Mr. Pitt eats in almost every role he’s been in, and Ocean’s Eleven is no exception. In fact, in one particular scene he consumed forty two shrimp during filming. His voracious method acting is a reminder that free food and drink attracts people like a pristine overlook attracts “influencers.”
Content and networking were components of what we wanted to create, but community was first and foremost. Free foodstuffs meant that people would come earlier and leave later, that they would have more time to be known within the group. The community would grow more rapidly when properly fed. It is a universal truth that people cannot live on identity alone.
In short, be like Brad. Food and drinks are not optional in our opinion, and constant eating may launch you into an international career in film. (That last part might only apply to Mr. Pitt.)
Market All the Things
This song can be summarized in a single word: infectious. It will be in your brain for a few days, and you’re welcome for that. That kind of memorability is your goal for your group — publicity and marketing is your friend when attempting to create a new identity community.
In Austin, we’ve tried different publicity routes with mixed results. We have our own meetup site, which helps with coordination and discussion for people interested in coming. We’ve promoted it on Twitter, LinkedIn, and various other social media sites as well. Ironically, I’ve found that the best route to adding people to the community is through personal connection and invitation; you know more people than you think, and inviting them one by one is a good route to building up a group rapidly. By and large, we have decent attendance — we average about twelve to fifteen people per meeting, with high water marks of around thirty at particular times of the year.
People can’t join your gathering unless they hear about It, and they won’t hear about it unless you put the effort into publicizing it. That publicity opens the group up to growth and change.
Be Open to Change
Ocean’s Eleven, despite being a remake, was a hit. So, what did they do? They did what anyone would do in their position. They made sequels. And then they made a sequel of sorts with an all-female cast: Ocean’s 8. All of these were successful, with some claiming that Ocean’s 8 was the best of the group.
These variations in plotline, theme, and casting choices illustrate that change is not something to be feared, but rather to be expected. Your original plan will likely need modification at some point. Set a period of time – say a half year, or a year — to reevaluate what is working and what’s not. We’ve had to do this a few times over the past year, delaying meetings, changing format depending on speaker availability; we’ve felt our way along, and we’ve enjoyed our times together because we haven’t been chained to a format set in stone.
That flexibility leads to the final step in creating an identity community, independence.
Don’t Follow My Advice (Completely)
Ok, I . . . misled . . . you in the opening. There are actually six steps to success. This last one is counter-intuitive, since I just wrote a thousand words on how to build an identity meetup.
Our experience is helpful but not necessarily proscriptive. There is no one set way to start up any group hangout. Starting an identity community is like having a baby — they are all unique. Our meetup looks different than those across the country — and each one should be customized for their local environment.
Take lessons from what we (and others) have created, and then go and build your own without trying to crowbar your reality into a preset mold. Your identity meetup is not defined by form or function, but rather by the group of people that comprise it. Do what works for your group, at your time, and in your location.
Let the melody of this track wash over you and consider the end of Ocean’s Eleven. After all of the lines are spoken, all of the food is consumed, and the music slowly dies away, the members of the group wander away one by one into the “real world,” enriched by their experience together. May your identity gathering do the same for your community.
Global Strategist & Evangelist
Office of the CTO
 The author does not hold this position, as he regards the first remake of Ocean’s Eleven to be the high-water mark of these films.
2It must be noted, however, that some babies are, indeed, ugly. But not your baby, of course. Never yours.