Why do you go to conferences?

Why do you go to conferences? A break from work? The chance to meet new people? Want to learn something? Got a project you’re working on that you need help with? A trip on the company dime? Looking for a job? Just want to have fun?

Now, think about what the conference is designed for. What is the purpose of the conference? Organizers have different reasons for putting on conferences, and those reasons may or may not line up with your own. Great conferences have a very clear reason for being, and organizers of great conferences will be transparent about the purpose of the conference and help you determine if the conference is a good fit for you.

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Not perfectly informed

I like being informed but not perfectly informed.

These days it’s very easy to get nearly perfect information. Google Maps is comprehensive and up-to-the-minute. TripAdvisor covers the planet, as does AirBnb and Uber. If you’re just about anywhere you can buy a local SIM card, turn on cellular roaming, and never get lost or have a bad meal.

It’s no accident that some of my best travel experiences have been guided by crappy, out of date maps. I do read guidebooks and use all the online services, but I also like to leave something out. Read up, and then leave the data at home. Ask around. See what you can figure out from something in another language. Turn left three times. Have fun!

Who owns that conference?

Conferences, right? I know, super exciting. But I bet you’ve been to a lot of ’em, and only a few have been really great.

It’s a bit of a paradox that there is a conference for everything (I’ve been the a conference about, yes, conferences), and yet most people hear “conference” and roll their eyes. Conferences are boring, conferences kinda suck, conferences are just ok – but I just heard about this cool new conference about…

Why are some conferences great, and some not so great? One thing that makes a huge difference is who owns the conference. Most people don’t think much about it, but conferences are owned and produced in various ways, each of which has some pros and cons.

If you’ve never considered it before, ask yourself: how is the conference organizer making money? 

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It’s not “content”

Words wear out. Linguists know this, but we lose track.

Some words are just junk to begin with, empty euphemisms that we hide behind. Would a writer ever refer to anything she was proud of having written as “content”. Seriously? No way. I wrote it, it’s writing, it’s a story, it’s an essay, it’s – at least – a post. “Content” is what you fill a box with, when you don’t care what it’s filled with. So, no, I don’t create content. If you want content, get some sawdust.

Turn Left Three Times

One of my personal maxims is Turn Left Three Times.

Tom Stoppard wrote eloquently about this in his play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead:

“A man breaking his journey between one place and another at a third place of no name, character, population or significance, sees a unicorn cross his path and disappear. That in itself is startling, but there are precedents for mystical encounters of various kinds, or to be less extreme, a choice of persuasions to put it down to fancy; until — “My God,” says a second man, “I must be dreaming, I thought I saw a unicorn.” At which point, a dimension is added that makes the experience as alarming as it will ever be. A third witness, you understand, adds no further dimension but only spreads it thinner, and a fourth thinner still, and the more witnesses there are the thinner it gets and the more reasonable it becomes until it is as thin as reality, the name we give to the common experience… “Look, look!” recites the crowd. “A horse with an arrow in its forehead! It must have been mistaken for a deer.”

While I could just be guilty of avoiding the hedonic treadmill, or having a novelty bias, I think it’s true that too many people observing something extraordinary makes it ordinary. If a place is popular, unfortunately it’s probably also over-run and commercialized. And I don’t really like crowds.

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Zoned into it

I met someone at random the other night at The Interval (an awesome place, by the way!) and he told me about a project that a certain Very Large web company is getting underway down at Moffett Field. He was starting to explain how the project was organized and funded within the company and I said that it sounded like they had been “zoned into it”, meaning of course that the company had agreed to do X in exchange for the city allowing them to do Y, as related to how the land was zoned from a planning and developing point of view. So, they didn’t volunteer to do it, they got zoned into it.