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collaboration

ThingsCon comes to Amsterdam

October 24, 2014 | By | No Comments

ThingsConAMS

On November 7, our friends Iskander Smit and Monique van Dusseldorp are bringing ThingsCon to Amsterdam as a local one-day event. With support from info.nl, they planned for a full day of both hands-on workshops and inspiring talks.

The line-up is pretty sweet indeed, speakers include Alper Çugun (Hubbub), Brendan Dawes, Harald Feijth (Chamber of Commerce), Prof. Dr. Elise Giaccardi (TU Delft), Rafi Haladjian (Sen.se), Dr. Ianus Keller (For Inspiration Only), Raimo van der Klein (Legendary Studio), Rob van Kranenburg (Council Internet of Things), Martin van Rijn (TNO), Marcel Schouwenaar (The Incredible Machine), Iskander Smit (info.nl), Scott Smith (Changeist), Freek van’t Ooster (Click.nl Media), Omar Tegel (Top Vision Group), and yours truly.

If you’re there, make sure to say hi!

Learn more about the program and register for ThingsCon Amsterdam today.

11 Jun

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The magic of tribal events

June 11, 2014 | By |

This year, more than ever before, I’ve been thinking a lot about types of events. Strengths and weaknesses, formats, logistics, resources, what have you.

One notion has come up over and over again, in conversations at ThingsCon, at UIKonf, and years before at smaller events like Cognitive Cities and even atoms&bits: That there is a certain kind of event that allows, maybe for the first time, for a certain group to gather. To meet in person, put faces to Twitter handles, and to discuss ideas much more eloquently and deeply than your average web-based discussion allows.

A magical moment

When a group like this meets, it can be an almost magical moment. It can also feel very tribal in the sense that a group emerges with strong ties, that feels like finding the peers – the people who understand you – you should have met forever ago. It can trigger sentiments such as “We have never met before, but it feels like coming home to my family”, or “At last I found my people.” You will leave a different, better person.

 

A brilliant description of what makes a truly great meeting, event or conference, found in Katie Hafner’s highly recommended book Where Wizards Stay Up Late.

 

Personally, I fondly remember this from Reboot, and maybe a barcamp or two. I owe these conferences so much.

This type of event is hard to create, and they are far and few between. It’s almost impossible to predict which conference or meetup will have the special sauce that makes this effect possible.

 

Speakers dinner at ThingsCon, everyone deeply engaged in conversation.

 

I feel personally humbled by the folks who have attended one of my events and mentioned feeling anything like that. I heard a few mentions like this at ThingsCon; and even now, four years after the fact, I vividly remember words to the same effect at Cognitive Cities Conference. It’s the biggest compliment to receive, and maybe the most undeserved one, too: What makes a tribal event like that is the people attending, and that’s a group that is largely self-selecting.

Yet, it’s something to inspire to, and so it’s worth exploring how an event can be tweaked to nudge the odds of it becoming a magical event up just a notch or two.

What makes a tribal event?

I think there are a few characteristics that I believe many of these events share:

  1. They are scrappy & small(ish), yet are very ambitious and have a strangely large, maybe even global footprint.
  2. They are tribal in structure, effect and mental model: Recruiting participants from one or many strong communities.
  3. They are the event equivalent of what Bruce Sterling calls favela chic: minimum resources, but “wired to the gills and really big on Facebook”, in other words, highly networked and connected.
  4. They draw their particular creative friction from connecting the dots between interrelated, but largely unconnected communities. By mixing it up in interesting ways that spark debate and exchange, finding strong, organic connections hidden between the noise.

It’s a kind of mental model that resonates strongly with me. It’s very different than large, highly professional and sophisticated productions like NEXT Berlin or some other conferences I’ve been involved in. But at the same time, it’s something that (in hindsight, I believe) I’ve implicitly applied in events like atoms&bits, Cognitive Cities, and to some degree ThingsCon.

For now, these are just vague ideas forming in my mind, notions I’m trying to figure out and analyze further. If you have been thinking about this, please share your insights, I’d love to hear about them. There’s much to be done. Let’s get right to it.

22 Mar

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Picking clients

March 22, 2013 | By |

Phoenix, not so much

One thing I’ve always tried being aware of is: Which kind of client work to accept and which not to.

It’s been debated widely among freelancers – and all other types of companies, too – and I think it’s never an easy call.

“Money doesn’t stink,” the saying goes. But doesn’t it? It’s not quite as easy.

Say you’re a freelancer or small company. One “bad” client might well use up a significant part of your work time, and hence a) pull your company in the wrong direction and b) associate you with the “wrong” kind of project/client/ethics/etc. I’m using the quotations marks here so heavily because “bad” and “wrong” are hard to qualify.

What I mean by “bad” client isn’t necessarily that there are ethical issues (but there might be, and in that case: run!), but that it’s not the right client for you at that time. Too big, too small, too demanding, too spendy, too poor, too disorganized, too organized, too strong a focus on domestic or an international market – the list goes on. The point is, it’s a client that would either take you in the wrong direction, or would otherwise put a big, unnecessary strain on your company.

Equally, a “wrong” project could be anything that pulls you or your company too hard in one direction. Say, too big a scope for you to handle, or a focus that doesn’t help you move into the direction you’d like to evolve to.

And then there’s the downright bad/wrong ones, the ones where your gut tells you to back off. That’s where money comes in, in mostly hurtful ways. Something you can’t turn down, for whatever reasons. Or, even worse, something that at that particular point you think you couldn’t turn down, but a few weeks later the world might look different. This is the kind of project where the trust relationship doesn’t exist, or isn’t strong enough. Where you have to make compromises that don’t really work for you. Where in order to complete your end of the deal, you have to call in favors you don’t want to call in, just to end up wasting them because that part of the project gets cancelled without consulting you first, or against your advice.

There are many projects like this. I’ve been mostly very, very lucky with my clients. But anyone and any company that has been around for a bit has had a client project like that. Most luckily live to tell the tale, the one about the “client from hell”.

In many cases, what’s extra annoying about this is that while this project can be very hurtful to one company or freelancer, it might be the perfect fit for another. But while there are way to test the waters, there’s no way to be absolutely sure in advance.

That’s why it’s so important to listen to your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, leave it be. There’ll be other chances. Go with the flow instead.

01 Oct

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Fresh off the press: The Alpine Review

October 1, 2012 | By |

The Alpine Review

Today I received a box with the first copies of The Alpine Review, straight from the printer over in Spain, where managing editor LJ Darveau has been seeing to the stuff being packaged up and shipped off to both selected print outlets like Do You Read Me and to collaborators (which is how I got my copy).

So what is The Alpine Review?

The Alpine Review is a bi-annual, comprehensive publication that tracks changes in thought, systems and creations around the world in a variety of disciplines ranging from tech to agriculture, design to anthropology. Assembled by an international and multidisciplinary team and designed and printed with extreme care, The Alpine Review is a compendium of ideas for a world in transition.

It is, in other words, a magazine from our tribe, for our tribe. As vague as that sounds (and is), it’s the best way I could describe it.

And so I was very excited when quite some months back LJ and his co-conspirator Patrick invited me to contribute in some way or another. (Which led to the title of Editor-at-Large, Europe eventually, which sounds like fun, because it is.) Those of you following my work and other activities will find quite a number of familiar faces among the contributors. Among others, Michelle Thorne, Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, Georgina Voss and Martin Spindler are all contributors. It was a pleasure to also see Bruce Sterling featured via an interview, as well as many great projects, people and events.

The magazine has a city focus, to which I gladly wrote a short editorial – it’s about Berlin, of course, as all the magazine’s topics are quite well represented by the city.

Not to overly romanticize print (and you know I don’t), but it’s always quite satisfying to hold a nice piece of high-quality print magazine. I’m super happy to be allowed to contribute in some small way.

The Alpine Review officially launches in October, so you might find a copy in your trusted local print store. Until then, I posted a few photos, and you can get updates on what’s happening on Twitter by following @thealpinereview