I have spent a lot of time studying how to improve the creativity, collaboration and productivity of people, because I believe that we are the source of solution to the challenges we face on the planet. I can talk for days about the tools, team configurations, time management and environments that optimize human resources, but for now let’s look at one path for wasting it.
Step One: Bring together, from around the globe, 2700 of the brightest minds, most committed actors, and innovative thinkers of our time
Step Two: Sit them down in chairs.
Step Three: Put in front of them 4 moderately prepared panelists.
Step Four: Have each panelist share either some saucy tidbit from their work or a personal story that does little to further the field.
Step Five: Open it up for questions from the audience. Take one challenger who makes a compelling point that is not captured and results in no action. Take one grandstander who uses the floor for self promotion. Take one elementary question about the fundamentals the field and then have the most professorial of the panelists validate his obvious command of the material by sharing information best delivered in a webinar.
Step Six: Pass out self promotional flyers.
Step Seven: Clap and commend ourselves on the lively dialogue and engaging panel.
Step Eight: Squeeze through crowded halls and hug attractive friends from around the globe on the way to the next panel.
Congratulations! Using the very simplified calculation of $100 an hour x 2700 people, you have just wasted $270,000 of brain power.
The lecture as a teaching methodology goes back at least to the middle ages. The medieval meaning of the word lecture is to “read or read aloud”, and that is what a lecture was: a reading or dictation of selections from an authoritative text. This was a time when knowledge and truth were seen as having been passed from God to Adam and to the present in the form of ancient texts. Teaching and learning were understood to be an act of “recovery” of this transmission rather than novel “discovery” of something radically new. Consequently, the lecturer served only as a conduit for knowledge.
Since the printing press freed scholars from note taking to reproduce scarce texts, the purpose of the lecture has evolved. 800 years later, we now expect a great lecturer to synthesize disparate ideas and knowledge, animate the material with transmedia and exciting examples, and show a command of the material and an uncompromising enthusiasm for sharing it.
At its best, lecturing has the magical power of enthralling us in a story, and illuminating a new possibility. We see this in the best of the Ted talks. There is great power in the lecture to be sure and of all the modes of teaching, the lecture is well suited to taping and asynchronous broadcast.
As thrilling as it is to have a shared emotional experience, we do not need to come together for a lecture.
When people talk about the value of conferences they rarely start with the information delivered from the lectern; they talk about the networking, the collaboration, the debate, and the validation that comes from being amongst like minded peers. They talk about the value of the audience.
If collaboration, debate and validation are the primary value, why the persistence in maintaining a full schedule of lectures and their less rigorous stepchildren — panels? I believe it is due to inertia, outdated perceptions of value, and muddled intentions.
The inertia of the way things have always been done.
The lecture model has persisted for 800 years. Conference producers justify the ticket price by cultivating experts and attendees come to hear those experts transmit their knowledge. This is essentially a bait and switch: Come pay for the lecture; but really get your value during coffee breaks. We have no paradigms for paying $1200 for coffee with peers, but we get the most value from the coffee break because this is where we are creative.
Information and learning used to be scarce and valuable. Now value is in wisdom, co-creation, and evolution. These are the ways to create value. We can come together with the expressed purpose of producing results, we can convene for outcome.
There are many different models of convening for outcome being experimented with: hackathons, mapping, book sprints, and design challenges. In each of these, people know that the day is going to be an experiment. There are never any guarantees. But experience has shown that with the right container, a rapidly formed team can produce amazing results in a day. We do have to clarify our intentions: Are we here to talk about problems or are we here to create solutions?
Convening for Outcome
Future of Working brought together 100 edge thinkers and practitioners for the purpose of producing a booklet out of the work done in 12 unique sessions. The day was set up with clear expectations, prepared facilitators, and pre-selected topics. The results were an 60 page book that represents some of the best thinking and guides to approaching the changing world of work.
Our Future Ready Now events bring together 25 entrepreneurs and innovators ready to learn how to be more creative and productive in a rapidly changing landscape. Those events are designed to teach skills and ship plans. Each of our events has produced 2–3 market ready solutions and 2–3 well designed collaborations to address societal challenges.
I am not suggesting we do away with the expert, just that we will bring forth more wisdom into the room by working together with the expert than by sitting back and listening.
Some core principles of convening for outcome:
- Set the clear intention to ship product. Declare and create an outline for the outcome. Outcomes can be code, research, information synthesis, solution, or plans. When we are clear about our goals, we will design the convening to be coherent with our desired outcome.
- Clarify the agreements for the day. Start with agreements concerning commitment, intellectual property, ways of being and ways of collaborating.
- Begin with connection and create a safe container. Make it ok to share, ok to forward an idea, and ok to lead.
- Accept imperfection. Our goal is to ship, so we can test, and refine. Perfection is impossible so love the flaws and get the work out there.
- Let it be play. People avoid the creation of solutions and plans because they cannot guarantee follow through. The experience of working together and creating outcome develops deep relationships and paves the way for solution, even if those plans do not carry forth. Its fun to co-create. Let co-creation be our play and have fun!
We accept that practicing an instrument builds neural grooves that build toward skill mastery. In the same way collaboration in rapidly forming teams is a skill set that can be learned and practiced. We get better at it the more we do it. Solutions beget more solutions. I have seen several products from events brought to life by people who were not at the event and I have seen new businesses and initiatives burst out of the event on an accelerated path.
Given the realities of climate change, resource scarcity, and conflict on our planet we do not have the luxury of wasting the precious resource of our own creative productive capacity. Lets use our time wisely and allow ourself the gift of playing together. Its more fun and who knows, we might just forge a new solution.
I am a co-founder at Luman.io working with companies to forge cultures of creativity and innovation. I am also a trainer at Future-Ready-Now.io we are building an international community of leaders ready to thrive in times of complex uncertainty and rapid change.