August 15, 2023

The Business of Meetings – Episode 179 – Design for Human Connectivity with Peter Mandeno, PhD

Join us today as we embark on an enthralling journey and step into the world of boundless human connectivity with Peter Mandeno!

A seasoned expert in the meetings and event industry and having recently completed a Ph.D. in designing human connectivity, his career has been nothing short of extraordinary!

We have the distinct pleasure of delving deep into the vast realm of Peter’s experiences and insights, exploring the bridges he built between academia and industry in today’s engaging conversation!

Prepare yourself for an intellectual adventure as we uncover the wonders of human connection with the brilliant mind of Peter Mandeno!


Peter Mandeno, Ph.D., is an expert in creating the optimal conditions for human connection. He has spent 15 years in industry and more recently in academia, developing new knowledge and frameworks that support organizations in improving human connectivity outcomes by design, rather than by chance.

It is well-understood that better-connected organizations perform better. Peter’s work builds on decades of social science and management research that reveal human connections are critical for well-being, creativity, and productivity at work. Through his unique combination of research and design, Peter has helped improve the performance of all manner of businesses and contexts from financial institutions and business schools, to global medical networks and multi-disciplinary corporate events.

With a background in marketing and psychology, Peter has always been fascinated by human behavior. His passion for human connection was ignited by a social experiment he launched in New York in 2010; Wok+Wine. Traveling the world for several years with a giant wok, Peter connected thousands of curious strangers through more than 150 events in 12 countries. The concept was featured in Harvard Business Review in an article making the business case for serendipity or, as Peter describes it, “finding the people you didn’t know you were looking for.” Seeking to understand what made Wok+Wine so universally and consistently effective led Peter to complete his Ph.D. in Design Engineering (Behavioral Design) in 2022.

Having identified and articulated the factors that influence and explain human connectivity outcomes, Peter is on a mission to create a better-connected world, starting with organizations. He’s often to be found on stage delivering keynotes to share his research with audiences ranging from senior leadership teams and community builders to designers and conference organizers. Otherwise, you’ll find him developing new people-centered approaches that help make organizations more innovative, productive, resilient, and overall better places to work.

A native of New Zealand, Peter’s career spans the travel industry, graphic design, digital technology, entertainment, strategy, innovation, experience design, and animation in New Zealand, the United States, Denmark, The Netherlands, and the UK, where he’s currently based. He is most comfortable at the crossroads of industry and culture where, as he puts it, “the most interesting things happen.”

Peter’s story

Peter grew up in the scenic landscapes of New Zealand. He earned degrees in business and science, focusing on psychology. Afterward, the allure of overseas experience called him to Minneapolis for an internship at a marketing travel company. He embarked on a journey across Europe and was exposed to the communication design industry in London, which led him to a whirlwind of experiences, traveling the world and perfecting presentation graphics for high-profile executives. His journey eventually led him to Amsterdam, where he joined the events world, working backstage to understand the inner workings of grand corporate spectacles. Then his curiosity led him to New York, where he pioneered Wok+Wine, a concept that laid the groundwork for his ultimate quest—designing human connectivity. Through Wok and Wine, he connected people and discovered the power of universal effectiveness in fostering meaningful encounters. That revelation led to his collaboration with academics and his decision to embark on a five-year Ph.D. journey to explore the principles of effective human connectivity.

Transition to New York and the Role of Connections

It was challenging for Peter to move to New York and establish Wok+Wine. Having connections in the United States made the transition smoother and his track record in the creative agency and events world allowed him to build a case for obtaining a visa. But even so, the bureaucratic process of moving from place to place was frustrating and time-consuming. Peter emphasizes the significant role connections play in his journey, enabling him to access opportunities and foster various serendipitous encounters that shape his path.

The Power of Serendipity and Unlikely Connections

Peter believes in the power of serendipity and the need for connection. He understands the magic that happens when diverse minds come together to share experiences in unconventional settings. His concept of Wok+Wine brought together open-minded individuals and created the perfect conditions for serendipitous encounters. He met many people and experienced life-changing opportunities, forming friendships and even starting companies through chance meetings at his Wok+Wine events.

The Evolution and Global Expansion of Wok+Wine

Wok +Wine evolved organically from a small event in New York, gradually expanding to different countries and cultures. Initially, there was no intention for the concept to become a business. It was a personal experiment to explore the effects of bringing diverse people together. As the word spread and participants encouraged the continuation of the events, Wok+Wine gained momentum and international recognition. The growing network of participants led to unique encounters, often with strangers, which Peter found to be the most magical and transformative experiences!

Unleashing Human Potential and Creating Connection Spaces

Peter observed how diverse groups of people, who might feel socially awkward or uncomfortable in conventional networking settings, thrived in the intimate and informal environment of the Wok+Wine events. The power of connection spaces like Wok+Wine allows individuals to shed their apprehension and anxieties about connecting with others. Those environments also let people unleash their potential, converse with unexpected counterparts, and foster meaningful connections. The unique format of the Wok+Wine events, coupled with their locations and the willingness of participants to embrace the unconventional, contributed to its remarkable success in bringing interesting individuals together.

Obstacles to Wok+Wine Events

Two main obstacles got in the way of the Wok+Wine events. The first challenge was Peter starting a Ph.D. program, which consumed much of his time and creative energy. The second obstacle was the emergence of COVID-19, which posed a problem for Wok+Wine events since they involved close social interactions, which was not allowed during the pandemic.

Resuming Wok+Wine Events

Having completed his Ph.D., Peter is considering restarting the Wok+Wine events because people seem less apprehensive now about close social interactions.

Addressing Dietary Preferences and Cultural Considerations

There is a concern that the growing popularity of dietary preferences and cultural considerations (such as vegan, non-gluten, Kosher, etc.) could make it challenging to cater to different needs. Peter is familiar with that issue and understands that providing diverse options is essential when organizing events for larger groups and organizations.

Peter’s Transition to Academia and Ph.D.

Peter’s curiosity and fascination with human connectivity led him to academia. He did a PhD to gain a deeper understanding of the power of connections and learn how to design experiences that foster authentic and meaningful human interactions.

Breaking the process of human connectivity down into phases 

Peter emphasizes the importance of dividing human connectivity into phases like finding, forming, maintaining, leveraging, and disconnecting.

An informed and intentional approach to design experiences

There is a need for more informed and intentional approaches to design experiences that promote human connections. Peter would like to apply his research to organizations and products or services that enhance human connectivity to positively impact well-being, creativity, and productivity in individuals. He looks forward to collaborating with others to achieve his goal!

Connect with Eric

On LinkedIn

On Facebook

On Instagram

On Website

Connect with Peter Mandeno

On Website

On LinkedIn

The HBR article Peter mentioned

A very early article Peter published on Medium (well pre-Ph.D.) – The Curse of the Canapé

About the author 

Eric Rozenberg

For two decades, Eric Rozenberg has consulted with Fortune 500 companies and produced conferences in more than 50 countries across diverse industries. His focus is creating meetings that are not only breathtakingly memorable but which bring corporate strategies to life and amplify team motivation/performance.

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