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Equally, I’ve had many conversations in physical and virtual environments about change. Those conversations, to my very great benefit, have been with smart, motivated, interesting people – friends, peers and those I look up to.
Just yesterday, I was able to get deeply buried in several conversations about change at BarCamp Canberra 2010. This third Canberra BarCamp was far and away the best yet. Very balanced in its participant-generated program, issues of technology, the web, education, public sector reform and social innovation were openly and actively discussed. There’s no right or wrong, just great ideas (many available now on SlideShare).
One thing that emerged strongly from the sessions I was involved in – largely those on reform and social innovation – was raised in the first session of the day, Matt Moore’s deliberative democracydiscussion on wicked problems. That problem is what I’m choosing to call next steps.
We all know it’s incredibly easy to discuss wicked problems. Equally, it’s near trivial (on a grand scale) to come up with solutions to them. We can define people, ideas, resources, finance and economics, social reforms and any number of other matters that will require resolution to solve these problems. It’s the next thing that’s the hard one, as I said in this tweet to Havas Media Lab director (and HBR blogger), Umair Haque.
It’s the next step, the tangible action, that’s wicked about all of these problems. And it’s next steps that we lack in solving all of the big problems we face. And it’s incumbent on all of us, in the sense of the Builder described in Haque’s The Builders’ Manifesto, to take next steps rather than simply engaging in conversation.
BarCamps, expos, conferences, summits. They’re all excellent places to begin solving the wicked problems. But we must take next steps.
For me, the biggest take away from BarCamp Canberra 2010 was DO. We must not just talk, we must be prepared to DO.
This post started as a comment on my pal, Linda Johannessen’s blog post about TED and conference organisers. Then it got long, so I figured I’d bring it over here. Not least because I want to discuss conference models this weekend at BarCamp Canberra 2010.
I’ll start with a story.
Attending something like TED is about as far from watching the videos (which are inspiring enough) as you can get. Spending a week in the company of a group of people for whom “impossible” is not an option and there is always a viable answer to any problem if the right people and resources can be applied to it is the most inspiring thing.
For a person like me (I’d almost call myself a card-carrying atheist, only I don’t think there’s an actual card), TED is the closest thing I’ve had to a religious experience. That week, of long, long days, inspiring talks and even more inspiring face-to-face interaction with other attendees is singularly amazing. So much so that attending has changed the way I think and act about many things in life and work.
As a living example, we all attend conferences, meet interesting people and say we’ll stay in touch. It never happens (or rarely at best). Of the many, many people I met at TED in 2009, I think I’ve had at least one conversation with almost every one of them in the year since. For some, it’s been many conversations and for those in Australia and NZ, more than one coffee meeting or meal. The community of TEDizens, is incredibly close-knit.
That’s the experience I want from the conferences I speak at and attend. Amazing inspiring events with great speakers. Outstanding organisation and production. Organisers who care passionately about the event. Meeting other attendees who I can relate to, share a meal and a story with and want to maintain a connection to after the even (and then actually do so).
One thing many folk aren’t aware of is that the big price tag to attend TED is actually used to fund the good work done by the Sapling Foundation that runs it. It’s not a profit-making business. Depending on which event you attend from 30-50 per cent of the price tag is a donation to the foundation. That’s pretty amazing considering the production values present at TED itself, which is far and away the highest quality conference production you’ll see anywhere. No other conference I’ve been to comes close (and I’ve been to many).
Now, that all sounds like a bit of a TED fanboy blast. Not so. Yes, TED is inspiring. Yes it’s amazingly well-organised. But it’s not perfect. And yes, it’s very expensive. But TED does in many ways demonstrate the counterpoint to what’s wrong with many conferences and their organisers.
The current conference model everywhere I’ve seen is fundamentally broken – (supposedly) professional event companies organising events for which they have little or no passion, charging attendees high fees to attend what turn out to be average events, boring, bland catering, not paying speakers who spend many, many hours to prepare the best work they can (on average, a conference talk takes me an hour of preparation for every minute of presentation time).
It all strikes me as driven by profit (which is fine by me, businesses have to make money) but at the expense of producing amazing events that really strive to give attendees value. How many truly amazing events are there?
Of course, there are some exceptions to this. From my own experience or that of friends, Web Directions in Sydney, Webstock in Wellington (which I’ve not been to, but plan to for 2011), UX Australia, many of the BarCamp-based (there are lots of variants now, for almost any sector) events, TED itself. And anecdotally, a number of the “big thinking” events like The EG and Defrag. I’m sure examples exist for industries and interests I have no idea about.
But the fact remains, many conferences are underwhelming, low in attendee cost-benefit and not well organised. It could be so much better. Here are a few ideas:
conferences should be organised (or at least advised) by people passionate about the subject matter (like the UX Australia team)
conferences should seek to add value to the attendee experience beyond simply showing up and listening in
conferences should be costed in such a way as to make adequate profit for the organisers (if profit is a motive) without knifing attendees, rather than being crazilyoverpriced
conferences should pay speakers where appropriate, especially if they are taking time out from their businesses to attend and speak
If you’ve never been to a BarCamp before, I highly recommend it. Make some time in your schedule. For those that have been before, I needn’t remind you how great BarCamp is. Take a look at my tag list below to see just how much of your life this might touch.
Hopefully, I’ll see you there. I’m not sure how my timetable is yet.
I think I speak for all of the Unorganisers when I say that BarCamp Canberra #1 was an unqualified success! We couldn’t be happier with the turnout, the quality of the talks, the feedback we’ve received and the enthusiasm to hold another BarCamp here in 2009.
Here are a few stats from the day:
in excess of 60 attendees (that’s an amazing turnout for somewhere as small as Canberra)
30+ t-shirts handed out (if you were in the first 40 registrations, you were entitled to a t-shirt on the day, and if you were in the 41-55 bracket, there’s a t-shirt coming for you – make sure you let me know if you missed out)
a bunch of people introduced to the power of Twitter
just two pieces of lost property – an Asus Eee PC power brick and a Nokia N95 belt pouch (if you own either of these, email me)
Personally, it was an incredibly fulfilling experience and I’m looking forward to being involved next time. As Canberra’s a small town, we’re probably a one BarCamp a year place. In the meantime, I’ll definitely be at any Australian BarCamp I can get to and might even try for the odd nearby international one…
Just a reminder that if you plan to come to Canberra on 19 April for BarCamp Canberra #1, you reallyreallyreallyreallyreallyreallyetc need to sign up today on the registration page at barcamp.org so we can order a custom t-shirt for you.
If you don’t sign up, not only can we not guarantee you your choice, we can’t guarantee you a shirt of any sort!
We will be ordering a small number of extras, but they will be generic and you might not get your size.
I have to do some work using Adobe Illustrator (eek!) for the BarCamp I’m helping to organise. I have some graphical elements in a drawing that I want to join/blend so they don’t look yuck. I have not the faintest idea of how to achieve the desired result.
I’m involved in organising BarCamp Canberra on 3-4 March 2007. If you’re a local, or can make it along, we’d love to have you involved. Post a comment here and we’ll make sure to keep you up to date. If you’re a Canberra or Australian business who’d like to sponsor or provide a giveaway or two, PLEASE, send me an email – trib AT acidlabs DOT org.
BarCamp is a great idea – low key, lightweight unconferences with a focus on new apps and open source tech. If you’re still confused, see the Wikipedia article.