Why Conferences That Work continually evolve

Why Conferences That Work continually evolve

Our basic ideas about design have been based on Newton, says Tim [Brown of Ideo]. Design assumes the ability to predict the future based on the present. We need to think more like Darwin: design as an evolutionary process. Design is more about emergence, never finished…
—From a blog post by David Weinberger about a talk given by Tim Brown of Ideo

The marketing pioneer John Wanamaker reportedly said that half the money spent on advertising is wasted; the trouble is we don’t know which half. Similarly, there are probably fundamental principals underlying good design of human meeting process. The trouble is, we don’t know what they are. (Beware anyone who claims they have a comprehensive list).

I believe we need to experiment like scientists and artists to discover over time what works and what doesn’t. So that’s why my attempt to share what I learned about running participant-driven events between 1992 and 2009 in my book Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love is a frozen-in-time snapshot of the “best” process I knew up to the moment the ninth manuscript draft went to the printer. Thirty months later, the supplement I started writing within a few months of publication remains an ever-changing work as I continue to experiment and learn at every event. [See the comment below for supplement information.] As a result, printed books are poor vehicles for this kind of information, so I expect to publish the supplement as a continually updated ebook of some kind—but that’s another story.

As a recovering ex-physicist, I love Tim Brown’s description of the old paradigm of design as a Newtonian knowable. Thinking of design, in my case meeting and conference design, as something that is emergent, responsive, and continually evolving is a humbling and yet wonderfully freeing lens to view my work.

Photo attribution: Flickr user raneko

How the Fisch Flip sparked an idea for conference design

FLIPTHINKING_1713383cToday’s post by Jeff Hurt on applying the Fisch Flip to your conference model got me thinking.

If you haven’t read about it already, the term Fisch Flip was coined by Daniel Pink, named after a veteran Colorado schoolteacher, Karl Fisch, who realized he could be more effective in the classroom if he flipped traditional homework and schoolwork. Instead of lecturing in the classroom and giving homework exercises for students to work on at home, he started recording his topic lectures for students to watch for homework after school, and used his lesson time to help students apply the concepts he’d covered.

Use face to face time for interactive, participative learning, and flip the broadcast listening-to-the teacher instruction to the time/location when it’s most appropriate: out of school, at the student’s convenience.

Simple…and brilliant!

When I read this my first thought was: “Whoa, the flipped classroom piece corresponds nicely to the Conferences That Work design, which generates mostly participative session formats.”

My second thought was: “But Conferences That Work aren’t focused around pre-shared content but around participants’ existing experience and expertise. So there’s not an exact correspondence.”

And then an idea: How about asking participants to share (via an online event community) before the conference interesting things they’ve done or learned, with the goal of preparing/stimulating participants for potential discussions at the event? Although the Conferences That Work design won’t guarantee in advance that a specific session will take place, much of the pre-conference sharing will be useful and illuminating, and some of it will spark comments, questions, and ideas that can be explored when participants get together.

I’ll be trying this out at future conferences.

Hmmm, interesting idea. Thanks for sparking it Jeff!

Image attribution: Daily Telegraph