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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.

03 Jun

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Wrap-up: San Francisco, Tokyo, Berlin

June 3, 2014 | By |

 

What a trip it is that’s coming to an end for me today as I’m sitting at Narita Airport, bound for Berlin via Istanbul. Once I reach Tegel Airport, I’ll have rounded the globe, by way of Amsterdam, San Francisco, Honolulu, Tokyo and Istanbul.

San Francisco

After a couple of pretty intense months running several conferences back-to-back, the plan was to head to San Francisco for just a week as a speaker at O’Reilly’s new hardware/software/IoT conference, O’Reilly Solid. And that happened, and it was great. My talk went over pretty well. Drones were flown. Many great conversations with friends new and old. Many ideas to follow up on. Only when the week was up, I didn’t go straight back to Berlin.

Night scene at Shibuya Station

Tokyo

An email came in, asking if I could join a delegation from Berlin to Tokyo, to talk about Berlin’s tech, startup and IoT scene, and about the potential of exchange and collaboration between both cities. While sitting at SolidCon, I started rebooking my travel plans. Within a couple of days, I was headed to Tokyo via Honolulu, writing presentations for two Japanese audiences: For a more corporate setting, for Recruit Technologies (concretely, their Advanced Technologies Lab) who invited us via their Berlin partner Bistream for the Berlin Innovation Meetup. And for the startup teams at Samurai Startup Island.

As part of a group of Berlin’s finest including Zoe of Xyo, Sophie of Headwave, Leah of The Wye and Makoto of Bistream, I would be representing the city to these Japanese stakeholders who wanted to learn more about Berlin & Germany & the tech scene there.

Stomping for more exchange

So I went stomping for more formal and informal exchange both between disciplines as well as regions – both topics that have always been high on my personal priority list: It’s the reason all the conferences I’m involved in have a strong international focus and they tend to be massively transdisciplinary. You can find both (similar) presentations in my blog posts (Recruit presentation, Samurai presentation).

In between these talks, I had some time to catch up on work, and to meet more folks. My old university friends Ryo and Shota kindly took the time to meet up a few times, so we got to catch up and they showed me around in a way I wouldn’t have been able to navigate the city.

A glimpse into the Japanese tech scene

H├ęctor, part of the excellent team of Digital Garage, kindly gave me a tour of the DG headquarters.

 

We also got a tour and a series of high level meetings at KOIL, the Kashiwa no ha Open Innovation Lab, too. An impressive space indeed.

The new coworking area at KOIL

 

With Samurai, Digital Garage and KOIL I feel I got a good glimpse into the Japanese tech scene – and one that’s worth expanding even further. I truly hope to get the chance to do that sooner rather than later.

Berlin Innovation Meetup at Recruit

 

I cannot stress enough how important I think these kinds of exchanges are. As global as our world has become thanks to the internet, there’s a surprising lack of knowledge and deeper mutual understanding between Japan in Germany concretely, and Asia and Europe/America more generally. Whereas the exchange between US and Europe in particular has been going strong for decades, eased along by shared language and history, the same doesn’t hold true quite as much between Asia and the Western World.

These Udon noodles don’t have anything to do with the story. They just were really yummy.

Building bridges for understanding and collaboration

Building bridges, and thus increasing our mutual understanding, takes time. Face-to-face time, too. We all have tremendous amounts to gain from fostering this exchange: Together, strengthened by diversity and mutual understanding, we will build a richer culture, better products, and – I expect and hope – lots of interesting, unexpected new things.

What’s next?

In a couple of weeks I’m headed back to San Francisco to continue some of the conversations started over the last few months. As for the Tokyo-Berlin exchange, I’m looking forward to continue working with Makoto and Takeshi (Bistream and Recruit respectively) and the Berlin crew and contribute whatever I can to take the next steps there. What form or shape this will take eventually is hard to tell just yet. Then of course there’s the question if we can bring ThingsCon to Japan as well. We’ve been having a number of very interesting conversations about localized events around the globe, and we’ll see where these lead eventually. Personally, I’d be quite interested in setting up more of these formal or informal exchanges and collaborations.

Post-event dinner with the Berlin crew

 

As someone said during one of our Tokyo meetings:

Several people sitting at a table, having a conversation. This is it. This is how new things start.

I couldn’t agree more.

02 Jun

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Berlin Night @ Tokyo (slides)

June 2, 2014 | By |

As part of a Berlin delegation of technologists, startups and connectors, Bistream kindly invited me to Tokyo to speak at a number of events and meet the local tech, startup, hardware, IoT and innovation scene.

Part of this was a presentation at Samurai Startup Island (event link, Japanese), one of Japan’s top startup incubators. I spoke about hardware startups and the Internet of Things, commonalities and potential of an exchange of ideas/skills/talent between Tokyo and Berlin, and about ThingsCon.

 

Slides below. Enjoy!

 

30 May

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Berlin Innovation Meetup Tokyo

May 30, 2014 | By |

My slides from Berlin Innovation Meetup at Recruit’s Tokyo HQ.