Conferences waste too much of my time

Linda Maepa
Feb 29, 2016 · 3 min read
Flickr/Rick Harris “Airport Traveler”

The Question

Sunday, media maven @mikebutcher asked women to weigh in on what they are looking for in a conference. Without meaning to impugn Mr. Butcher’s sincerity, this question does get asked from time to time. As simple as it is to give in to the urge, it is deserving of more than the usual snarky and/or ranty responses. I am frankly bored, and so many women I know are bored, by the plague of conferences which waste our valuable time.

Disruption? What disruption?

I’m in tech. In fact, I’m in that rarefied realm of tech innovation which is focused on big, expensive hardware: battery systems. I don’t even bother to attend most industry conferences anymore because it will be the same people doing the same thing: discussing the consensus narrative about where the industry is going.

I am incredulous that in an industry so new that most hardware deployments are demonstrations and/or delivered wrapped in money, that there is room for any sort of consensus. If it were possible for there to be consensus in my industry (and in tech in general), then we would be selling commodities rather than highly specialized products and services.

Tech is about disruption and disruption does not breed consensus.

What I need

When I go to a conference, I expect to learn something new, be challenged in my thinking, and give a hard time (or a helping hand) to the folks who are still dreaming rather than building something customers will purchase. Instead, I get consensus. Consensus makes it difficult to have meaningful dialogue about the act of disruptively innovating.

Now, I know it is possible to develop consensus around market opportunities and use cases. But, far more often, the “consensus” expands to include how one exploits those opportunities. What the hardware, software, or system should look like. A litmus test that says “this is the solution” or not. That isn’t consensus, that is dogma and dogma breeds stagnation. In other words, boring, waste of time conferences.

Contrarians: They’re actually necessary

Conference organizers can easily identify the people willing to be contrarian and challenge the consensus builders in industry. They are often women, even more so traditionally marginalized women such as women of color and/or LGBT women; their ideas are usually shut down dismissively or talked over by other questioners or panelists; and they often sound like they are speaking about issues which seem tangential but end up being critical to successful paths forward. I, and the women I know, are incredibly busy. We don’t waste time so if we are speaking, it is because we see an opportunity to add value. Please, Conferences of the World, we need conferences worthy of our investment of time.

I am looking forward to better conferences.

Finally, to any conference organizers reading this: Yes, I would love to speak at your conference. So long as the topic is one or more of: energy storage project finance, renewable energy private equity, battery system design, cyber-physical security, energy security, or national grid modernization policy & implementation. Fair warning, you’ll be in for a bit of a ride. (email talk -a t-

Thanks for listening.

Linda Maepa

Written by

Scientist, entrepreneur, mother, inventor, farmer, early adopter, geek, activist, crafter, maker and much more

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