Conference: small stages

Good conferences create a range of stages for members of the cohort to try things out on. Workshops, seminars and meetings happening alongside the keynote and plenary sessions create value for presenters (a chance to meet interested people and try out material) and for the cohort (a testbed for discovering new ideas, finding new contributors and new speakers and leaders).

If you’re organising a conference, it’s worth being deliberate about making an on-ramp of smaller opportunities and chances for attendees to contribute.*

*The focus needs to be on contribution – opportunities for members of the cohort to share something valuable with peers, rather than to get on their own private soapbox or achieve five minutes of fame.

Conference

What does a conference do?

Conferences are a way of aggregating – of bringing together – several different valuable things.

Conferences aggregate people…

A conference brings together a group of people who are focused on a shared interest. If the people at your conference are similar to each other but not interested in similar things, you’re wasting your time. The more their interests align with the focus of the conference and the greater their interest, the greater the value of the conference.

… which enables the organisers to aggregate better speakers and content…

An audience with a high level of shared interest is a more attractive audience, which attracts better presenters and content.

… which creates a better cohort…

The more interesting the speakers, the more people will attend, creating a larger and better cohort.

… which creates a network with more possibilities…

With more attendees, the number of possible connections and partnerships multiplies rapidly (see Network Opportunities), so a larger cohort creates increasing (possible) returns in terms of connections and partnerships between people.

… which is more attractive to more people…

And so the virtuous cycle continues.

Attention hours

We often focus on the attention economy as it relates to life online, but it’s a helpful lens for thinking about the rest of our lives too.

Attention hours are a useful thing to count when thinking about how valuable an activity is, and how much time you might be wasting if you do it badly.

Ten hours of your attention preparing an hour’s presentation seems like a lot, but even if you only have twenty people in the room – twenty of the right people – and you do what you set out to do, you’ve just doubled your investment.

Attention hours also help us to see the value that we risk wasting with bad presentations. Even if your audience haven’t paid money to see you, they’re paying attention.

Some questions:

  • What could you achieve with twenty hours of your audience’s work? How about a hundred hours?
  • What could they – could you – buy with one hundred times their average hourly wage?
  • What will you do to make the most of this valuable opportunity? What will make it worth it for them, which will also make it worth it for you?

Recommendation: Joe Marchese on the attention economy

This is an interesting piece from REDEF on what happens next in the competition for our ears, eyeballs and thoughts, with a link to a reading list at the bottom.

Recommend.

Organic food became a multibillion-dollar industry as people took a greater interest in what they put in their bodies. The markets will be even bigger that are shaped as people begin to pay greater attention to, and regain control over, what they put in their brains.  The government may even play a role here, but will not need to be as heavy-handed as has been suggested. The solutions that come next will represent a new age of media companies: quantified-self applications for your media habits to help you optimize your “attention diet.” New Operating Systems for recommending entertainment (aka new “TV Guide”). Technology that better values people’s attention and data. Technologies that help people better connect IRL (In Real Life).

Joe MarcheseThe Attention Economy Crisis: The Future of Content, Commerce and Culture

Resource: How to delay Googledrive / Backup and Sync on Windows startup

Googledrive/Backup and Sync has been eating a lot of resources on startup and slowing everything down…

This fantastic howto from maketecheasier is the quickest crib-sheet for scheduling things so that Drive still starts – in my case 10 minutes after startup so that I can get on with my immediate task without things grinding to a halt.

Peter Drucker on performance appraisals

Effective executives usually work out their own unique form of performance appraisal. It starts out with a statement of the major contributions expected from a person in his past and present positions and a record of their performance against these goals. Then it asks four questions:

1) What has he or she done well?

2) What, therefore, is he or she likely to be able to do well?

3) What does he or she have to learn or acquire to be able to get the full benefit from their strengths?

4) If I had a son or daughter, would I be willing to have him or her work under this person?
a) If yes, why?
b) If no, why?

This appraisal actually takes a much more critical look at a person than the usual procedure does. But it focuses on strengths. Weaknesses are seen as limitations to the full use of strengths and to one’s own achievement, effectiveness, and accomplishment.

The last question (4b) is the only one that is not primarily concerned with strengths. Subordinates, especially bright, young, and ambitious ones, tend to mold themselves after a forceful boss. There is, therefore, nothing more corrupting and more destructive in an organisation than a forceful but basically corrupt executive. Here, therefore, is the one area where weakness is a disqualification by itself rather than a limitation on performance capacity and strength.

Peter Drucker – The Effective Executive (from in The Daily Drucker)

Hard conversations

…aren’t supposed to be easy.

The person you need to have the conversation with might be a peer, a friend, a long-term colleague.

The conversations are uncomfortable in the planning, in the preparation and in the aftermath – often because they highlight your own weaknesses or lay you open to charges of hypocrisy or favouritism, however hard you’ve tried.

But avoiding the conversation will put an even bigger strain on you, your team and your organisation – and possibly beyond. Your reputation, your work and your impact will suffer.

In short: this is your job, and you have to have the conversation.

Have it as close as possible to when you discovered the problem. Prepare, speak clearly and directly, and don’t run away from the uncomfortable feeling of calling someone out or confronting something that’s wrong. Instead hold onto that feeling as a sign that you’re doing you job.

Do your job.

Joseph Conrad on art, writing and reaching your audience

All art, therefore, appeals primarily to the senses, and the artistic aim when expressing itself in written words must also make its appeal through the senses, if its highest desire is to reach the secret spring of responsive emotions. It must strenuously aspire to the plasticity of sculpture, to the colour of painting, and to the magic suggestiveness of music—which is the art of arts. And it is only through complete, unswerving devotion to the perfect blending of form and substance; it is only through an unremitting never-discouraged care for the shape and ring of sentences that an approach can be made to plasticity, to colour, and that the light of magic suggestiveness may be brought to play for an evanescent instant over the commonplace surface of words: of the old, old words, worn thin, defaced by ages of careless usage.

My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel—it is, before all, to make you see. That—and no more, and it is everything. If I succeed, you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm—all you demand—and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.

Joseph Conrad – Preface to “The Narcissus

How, in your everyday work, in your next report or meeting, can you…

  • Appeal to the senses (to reach the secret spring of responsive emotions)?
  • Shape what you do so that the ‘light of magic suggestiveness’ may be bought to play over the commonplace surface of old, thin words – or actions and routines?
  • Enable with your audience (partners! friends!) to find there a glimpse of truth for which they have forgotten to ask?
  • Perhaps, better still – can you find that glimpse of truth together?

The switch (2)

“What am I hoping to get?”

Once we’ve admitted to ourselves that we’re doing our work (at least partly) for ourselves, we can think more clearly about our motives by asking “What am I hoping to get from doing this?”

And we’re probably hoping to get several things: the knowledge that we’ve helped someone, the satisfaction of a job well done, that we’ve contributed to solving a problem, or made things a bit better. We might also be hoping to get paid, to be liked and appreciated or admired, to do something we enjoy, or be in a particular place, or spend time with people we want to be with.

Once we’ve uncovered these sources of motivation, we can think more clearly about how we feel about our work and people’s response to it.

“I want to make a contribution”

… is a fine motivation. The next questions are “Who is it for?” and “What do I want to give?” (coming soon).

“I want to be appreciated and admired”

… are motivations that we’re less proud of, but it does us good to notice and admit them, because they’re usually there.

It can be helpful to think about the causal relationship (if any) between these motivations and our contribution. We want to be admired on the basis of our contribution, be it through our professional work, or our kindness as a neighbour. I’m reminded of Adam Smith’s saying:

Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be lovely; or to be that thing which is the natural and proper object of love.”

Adam Smith – Theory of Moral Sentiments

This is to say that we want genuine and deserved affection from the people we serve or work with, not wrongly-placed affection (which makes us feel like a fraud because we don’t deserve it).

Recognising this lets us focus again on the people we seek to serve, and on contribution. We start thinking “If I contribute my skill / care / art / humanity in a way that helps people, I’ll be appreciated. If I don’t, I don’t want to be.”

Thinking clearly about this is a step towards freeing ourselves from feeling hard done by or under appreciated – we’re no-longer doing our work for praise or affirmation (Seth Godin points out that there’ll never be enough of this), but because we want to make a contribution, with appreciation as a byproduct.

And we can go a step further: if we only wanted to be appreciated for our contribution, and we feel that we’ve made a contribution but aren’t appreciated or recognised… does it matter?

“I want to get paid… and maybe enjoy the buffet.”

Can go either way. Do you want to get paid through the nose for doing little work? Then you’re not working with contribution in mind, and you’re right to feel uncomfortable.

Do you want to get paid enough that you can keep doing this? This may be a lot or it may be a little depending on your circumstances. You may need to charge quite a lot – it might feel like a lot when you factor in fair wages, health insurance and pensions for your team… But you’ve made the switch from focusing on money to focusing on contribution, and on keeping on contributing.

It’s possible, of course, that there won’t be a buffet, and that people won’t pay you as much as you need or hope for. For one reason or other, your contribution isn’t worth as much to them as you think it is. You may need to change what you do, or change the story, or change your audience, or change who’s paying… and if you still can’t find a way, remember that you’re focusing on contribution, so the question becomes: “How are you going to find a way to do it anyway?”

Your business model might be “I will work a day job and do this for almost nothing,” because you’re doing it to make a contribution. Which is hard, but possible. There isn’t a necessary connection between the work you want to do, and getting paid ‘enough’ – but by looking at things the right way you might just find one.

The switch (1)

“Who is this for?”

Your work is always for you.

This is true whether we’re working for pay or we’re parenting, whether we’re working on something that’s very obviously for ourselves or giving up time, energy and money to serve others.

Even at our best (most generous, most sacrificial) – perhaps especially at our best – we’re working for ourselves. We give up immediate and obvious rewards or pleasures (for ourselves) for the deeper reward (still for ourselves) of doing something for other people.

And this is fine, and by being honest about it we immediately remove a layer of anxiety about our motivations by answering the question “Am I actually just doing this for myself?” with a straight answer: “Yes.”

This leads us to a far more useful set of questions: “What am I hoping to get?”; “Who else is this for?”; “What am I hoping to give?” and “Where am I focusing my attention?”