Conferences are like high school

Out here in the blogosphere we’re all hip innovative and linky and open and caring. But when we go to conferences we sit in uncomfortable chairs in bland auditoria and to let keynote speakers talk at us. Why?

Johnnie Moore, Rob Paterson and Chris Corrigan consider this question, and the notion of “unconferences,” in a very interesting podcast.

While I’m not a big one for talk of “silence journeys” and “questing paths” (okay, I made those up), their central premise — traditional conferences are a bore and don’t really work all that well at getting people to collaborate — is bang on.

As a special bonus you get to hear Rob’s claim that podcasting was invented at Zap Your PRAM.


Johnnie Moore's picture
Johnnie Moore on July 8, 2005 - 12:28 Permalink

Hi Peter: Thanks for the review. I enjoyed your pisstake about silence journeys and questing paths. I think I know what you’re reacting against, and thanks for being clear that you made those particular phrases up.

I myself felt a bit squeamish listening to certain parts of the podcast… and I’m guessing that’s what you’re reporting too.

And maybe experiencing this sort of discomfort is a necessary part of unconferencing. The standard model may be boring but it has the payoff of being predictable. Getting into uknown territory, fumbling for the right words, stumbling out phrases that seem naive or gauche or — god forbid — spiritual or touchy-feely… that’s probably the price we need to pay for getting out of the standard model of meeting our fellow man.

Chris Corrigan's picture
Chris Corrigan on July 8, 2005 - 20:24 Permalink

Open Space (probably the nature of its name) often gets accused of being a flakey process, but my experience is that it’s actually incredibly concrete and focussed on getting theings done with maximum investment from everyone in the room.

So OST has the reputation of being “touchyfeely” but at it’s core it’s really a better way of working. So how does one talk about this?

Once, I heard the line about Open Space that “it’s only touch-feely if you tell them it is!” :-) I think that gets it.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on July 10, 2005 - 04:09 Permalink

Chris and Johnnie, you both make good points.

My sensitivities lie more towards any feeling that I need to “join a movement” to change the way I live and work.

When I asked Rob to explain to me what Open Space was, his explanation made it sound like a perfectly sensible idea; and yet I feel wary in the same way that I do when I am approached by Scientologists on the street.

I understand the value in encapsulating an approach under a label like “Open Space” and yet I feel the urge to rebel against *any* sort of “walled behaviour garden.” To my ear, Open Space sounds like Dianetics sounds like Catholicism.

At the same time, I realize that the alternative is either the status quo or some sort of hopeful self-organizing chaos, neither of which is a particularly effective way to run things (the former for well-known and obvious reasons, the later because of the difficulty of achieving spontaneous shared hope).

That all said, I must admit to some garden variety homophobia, touch-o-phopia, fear of embarrassment, fear of honesty, fear of being Out of Control, etc. All sensibility to the contrary, the notion of true, honest, effective collaboration — where the result is unknown and possibly unexpected — is terrifying to me.

The brilliance of Johnnie’s and James’ “Open Sauce Live” workshopette at reboot 7.0 was that it stealthily achieved some measure of collaboration — and the realization of the value of collaboration — without appearing to do so. By the time anyone realized what was going on, it was too late. And nobody had to take their clothes off. At least not all the way.