There are fascinating parallels in the ways that journalism and events are evolving. Listen to the first minute of this interview of journalism maverick Jeff Jarvis by David Weinberger.
Here’s the relevant quote:
“What the internet changes is our relationship with the public we serve…What is the proper relationship for journalists to the public? We tend to think it’s manufacturing a product called content you should honor and buy…That’s a legacy of mass media; treating everybody the same because we had to…So we now see the opportunity to serve people’s individual needs. So that’s what made me think that journalism, properly conceived is a service.”
In parallel fashion, events are moving away from broadcast formats that treat everybody the same and evolving towards designs that allow individual participants to learn what they individually want and need to learn, as well as connecting with peers and peer communities that have real value for them.
Seeing your conference as a service that can provide what people want—rather than what you’ve decided they want, like the journalists of old—is key to keeping your events relevant, competitive, and successful.
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 postby 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.