Are we finally letting go of content overload?


November 7th, 2013

Warning: a bit ranty, but ultimately hopeful

Doesn’t really matter how you wrap it up, we’ve been content junkies – we’ll say process and design are important, we’ll acknowledge the value of relationships, we’ll nod when someone says we need more conversations – and immediately do the opposite. We’ll sit people in rows, we’ll get engaging, inspiring and interesting people (if we’re lucky) to talk at them, and pat ourselves on the back for creating such an awesome event. We know it’s awesome because people came, and they told us so. And we perpetuate this approach by colluding with it, agreeing to be be force-fed information, because it’s prettily packaged or delivered in an unusual location. We’ll complain of content overload, roll our eyes at yet another crap powerpoint presentation, and justify our support of such events because of the opportunity to meet and talk with others in the breaks and during the social events.

I say ‘we’ because I have done all of this. I have gobbled up content in the hope that it will help me forget that I’m a hypocrit, or to help me forget that I’m not contributing, or in the hope that somewhere amongst all of this content I’ll find something affirming and nourishing. I’ll gobble up all this content because I’m trapped by the Tyranny of the Explicit and the fear that I don’t know enough.

I look at all the events and conferences on offer, and wonder what’s wrong with me for not wanting to go along with everybody else who seem perfectly happy with the ‘sage on the stage’, for not wanting to be the ‘sage on the stage’.

Here’s three examples that give me hope that we have finally quenched our content thirst and are willing to step into different ways of engaging face-to-face with each other. They are still the exception. We’ll continue creating, and going to, events that are crammed full of content under the delusion that it’s value for money, and in between, we’ll find gems like these that show us there are indeed alternatives. Onward!

1. The Reading Weekend
Here’s how this works (as described to me by Rob Poynton) You get together a bunch of people, and each person brings a book they haven’t yet read (I suspect it doesn’t matter what sort of book it is, but maybe there were guidelines – I either didn’t ask the question or can’t remember that detail) for the weekend. You find some amazing person or place that can provide meals, and choose a venue where people can disperse and be alone. Between meals you read your book, at meals you have conversations. That’s it. “Read between meals, talk over meals.” So simple. You don’t have to talk about your book, but I suppose that inevitably you do. And who knows what magic is woven over that simple process of reading and conversing?

2. Deceler8 Me
This was explained to me by Dr Froth, who has just returned from such an event. It’s designed for entrepeneurs and is the opposite of the accelerator, time to slow down, no internet, located on an island with no cars, small enough that you can walk around it, and the environment itself slows you down. I imagine this would give you space to, well, reconnect, refocus and learn – just as the organisers propose.

3. Trampoline Day Unconference
I love that people have taken Open Space, mashed it up and made it their own. The premis is to bring something to share that you find amazing – you can do this any way you like. There are 30-minute slots that are filled at the beginning of each block by people standing up and pitching their topic. They are allocated a time and a place on the grid and then people go where their feet take them. The Law of Two Feet applies, and it’s a great way of networking and finding out what others are doing. Thirty minutes is long enough to get into a topic and short enough to avoid getting into trouble! For me it’s like an interactive resume: here I am, this is what I do, come interact with me. Personally, it suits me a whole lot better than the traditional networking event where there are endless status games to talk to the ‘right’ people etc.

No doubt there are many more examples – I’d love to hear about them.

2 Comments so far

  1. David Herbert on November 7, 2013 7:50 pm

    This is a great post and seems so right to me as I recover from a violent reaction to a training event. I’m involved with supporting continuing ministerial development. The default is still to “lay something on” and to be agenda rich. Your train of thought is, I hope, helping us to move on to thinking of opening spaces in which learning can take place. I do take Myers Briggs seriously and I wonder whether there are types who do like the sage on the stage and who like their teaching nicely packaged.

  2. Viv McWaters on November 7, 2013 8:54 pm

    Thanks David. I sometimes think that the sage on the stage is so popular because it’s like going to the theatre. It’s a form of consumerism, for which I’m not responsible. These other forms shift some of the responsibility onto the participants, and I can understand many people just don’t want to deal with that. Doesn’t seem to be a good enough reason to not try something different though 🙂

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