Solving Problems Over Dinner – My Project Exponential Experience

About six months ago a friend had told me about a dinner event called Project Exponential. Each month, a woman named Michelle Welsh plans and carefully selects a group of artists, professionals and entrepreneurs to attend each dinner.  It begins with an application and ends in stories and connections. Here’s my dinner story…

We started the night at Bacaro in Chinatown with a spread of food and place cards in front of us. Leading up to the event I felt totally disconnected from the whole event. My mind was racing with unanswered questions. What was I to expect? Who was I meeting? There was no flutter of mention or buzz on Twitter. No hashtag. I wondered if this was some kind of Fight Club thing. What happens at dinner stays at dinner. I’m so used to being able to find information I need, this unknown was rather exciting. 

Project Exponential dinner

I’d come to learn that Michelle doesn’t share people’s names or titles ahead of time because she doesn’t wants these dinners to be confined to what someone does for a living but instead focus on who they are as a person. She also does heavy research on everyone ahead of time to form the perfect connections. With this in mind, when I arrived it felt like solving a puzzle with my group as to what’s the connection here.

At first, we were instructed to break into groups of the four people seated closest to you and ask each other a problem that you are facing that you would like to solve right now. The person that was supposed to sit next to me was sick and couldn’t attend. I’m still unsure if this makes a difference, but I soon realized everyone in my group used to work in finance, except for myself… Admittedly, it was a tough first round for me. I always feel uncomfortable talking about myself, I’m a much stronger listener. Plus, the problem I’m facing right now is the fact that I’m going through this adult/figuring it all out phase in my life right now. At the time it felt selfish discussing, but now as I write this and in weeks passing I’ve realized I’m not alone in this feeling. I’ve been diving into more meals and conversations with really interesting thought-provoking women and friends and now know I’m not the only one that feels this way. 

For round two, we had to match the person with the same letter we had on our card. No match. Again, I think my match was sick so I joined in on the same group I started with. We were served our next course of gnocchi, salad, and steak, and Michelle passed around sets of small envelopes with questions for discussion in them. Mine said, “What relationships have been most meaningful to you? Who are your mentors?” while the guy next to me had, “Mistakes you’ve learned from. Dare to share.” Both great conversation starters.

Project Exponential

Following this discussion we had to flip our cards over and find our match according to the symbol on the back of our cards. I finally had a match and had a really great conversation with this woman. She could relate to my problem and we shared an additional problem of connection, as we both felt that there should be better resources to connect people in NYC. I like to think I’m solving that problem in a way with Women Who Brunch, I want to connect more women in New York but feel it could grow to so much more… This short discussion with her and this dinner experience has made me really think about how we connect. I’ve always been a fan of curated and unique events and the connection between people, but how can these connections form stronger more meaningful relationships? It’s a problem I’m excited to dig deeper in.

Once dessert came we were asked to meet someone we didn’t talk to yet. I met a guy that does photography and asked him to tell me more about his personal photo projects. He told me about how he enjoys photographing hearts in odd places. He mostly shares these on his Instagram and calls it love in unexpected places. I love the thought of looking for love, almost like a scavenger hunt. He then pointed to the dessert cake where pieces of it had fallen and naturally formed a heart. It was one of the best things I heard all day.

Of course, then, another guy had chimed in with a photo project his friend told him about called 100 Happy Days. The challenge is, can you stay happy for 100 days in a row? According to the site 71% of people won’t finish the challenge because they get too busy or state they don’t have the time. I’m always up for a good challenge and have been doing it ever since the dinner. It’s honestly made me feel a million times better. I used to write everyday and do a similar project called 365 Project, where I’d take a photo once a day. It’s really made me feel more grateful about each day and I actually look forward to finding something in my life that makes me happy each day even if it’s something small.

project exponential nyc dinner

Finally, Michelle wrapped up dinner with giving us these cards that say, what is your special, as a reminder that everyone has something special about themselves.

I’d love to hear what your special is in the comments. Let’s discuss! xo

Project Exponential   


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