Conferences: Where ideas have sex

August 25, 2010
“It’s not important how clever individuals are; what really matters is how smart the collective brain is.”   Matt Ridley  

In the recent TedTalks video When ideas have sex Matt Ridley shows how the engine of human progress has been the meeting and mating of ideas. It’s not important how clever individuals are, he says; what really matters is how smart is the collective brain.

Given the proliferation of live and online professional development opportunities, what is the value of conferences for busy professional leaders?

Designed properly, live conferences are ideal for stimulating some cerebral rumpty dumpty through the sharing of experience and the fusion of new ideas.

A passive spectator-sport conference breaks the day into six slots and fills each with a speaker.  A bag and a pen may be the only legacy of an overdose of input. There is little output and no outcomes.

In contrast, a forum designed to be more interactive puts participants in the centre of the meeting process and builds in plenty of time for knowledge cafes and the other informal knowledge flows sparked by digital starters, short keynotes and open dialogue.

But even after a most stimulating event, post conference depression can easily set in. Many ideas are stillborn because of a lack of nourishment. Good intentions meet quotidian realities, the trivial many drive out the important few and all that is left is vague guilt about a lost opportunity.

Ed Bernacki, Canadian international speaker and founder of The Idea Factory, says: “As a speaker on innovation, I have opened several conferences recently with a simple question… ‘How many people have attended a conference like this before, made notes, and never looked at them again?’”  According to Bernacki usually two-thirds of the audience sheepishly raise their hands.

These events may have been fun, entertaining and informative. They may have rated highly on conference surveys. But were they a success? Was the investment effective?  Not unless they were a springboard for action back at the coalface- and not if participants didn’t have personalized takeaway resources plus the motivation to turn ideas into action.

For this reason he conceived the Conference Navigator Guide, a tool to help people get more from the event at the time and afterwards by helping them filter and manage the flow of new contacts, information and ideas.

The Guide helps bridge the crucial gap between inspiration and execution by challenging participants to act on the ideas surfaced and by providing the resources to help make this happen.

Ed Bernacki is an innovation facilitator at Education Leaders Forum 2010*, to be held in Rotorua 20-21 October.

The theme of this year’s forum is Cultivating Learning and articulates a living systems approach to growing education professionals based on the belief that the component parts of a system can best be understood in relationship with each other rather than in isolation. In the words of Margaret Wheatley: “To create better health in a living system, connect it to more of itself.”   

The annual forums, which started in 2007, connect islands of practice and increase the diversity and richness of the learning ecology-an open and complex adaptive system comprising elements that are dynamic and interdependent.

 The forum involves people from across the whole learning spectrum so they can be more aware of what is happening upstream and downstream from their own niche. As Etienne Wenger points out, the best insights often occur at the boundaries between learning communities.

As well as gaining fresh perspectives, education leaders in different sectors and at different levels confront similar challenges, both in terms of their own professional renewal  and in how best to engage their colleagues in professional development and in coming to grips with a new curriculum and new learning media.

At ELF 10 extra value will come from the harvesting of ideas and resources for upload to the Centre4ELF website. There will also be some distilled policy input for education ministries and other stakeholders, but the main outcome is what individuals commit to do in their own learning community.

Cognition Education is the Major Sponsor of Education Leaders Forum 2010. The Cognition logo with the green Koru symbol and the leaf unfurling refers to the unfolding of learning and fits perfectly with this year’s theme of Cultivating Learning.

ELF Supporters include Waiariki Institute of Technology, Core Education, Massey University, Learning Media, Te Kura (formerly the Correspondence School) and Lukey Resources.


#BLINKS     Matt Ridley: When ideas have sex Education Leaders Forum 2010  Education Leaders Forum 2011     Wellington,  31 Aug-1 Sept

 #Lyall Lukey  25 Aug 2010  My other blog