Rethinking BrainJams and the focus of the event

Seems like it always happens like this, but after talking with several different people and thinking about it some more, I have a new idea for what we can do on Saturday 3Dec2005. I think this one will stick too. Before I get into it in detail though, first let me say thanks to David Gutelius, Michael Arrington, Alicia Preston, Tara Hunt, Andy Kaufman, Enric, Chris Messina, Noah Kagan, Nial Kennedy, Nivi, Chris Pirillo, Brian Shields, Christopher Allen, Brian Sullivan, Kaliya and of course the wonderful, blogging addicted Kristie Wells. Talking with all of these people and so many more has really helped me clarify the format quite a bit and reading David’s post form last week really cemented it in my mind.

To be honest, I never was in love with the idea behind “Anger is a better emotion than worry…” but I did love that phrase and do believe that people are more easily motivated to find a solution about something that angers them. Personally, I just don’t like that emotion all to much (who does?) and strive more towards peace and happiness.

A lesson here is that when you are thinking in the open commons, you are bound to say or feel something that you will later want to revise. The good news is that the type of event we are doing with BrainJams allows for this sort of major overhaul that would not be possible with a traditional conference. As Christopher Allen pointed out to me at Web2.1, the idea I have for BrainJams is really based on an “Open Space” principle – an idea that has been used by the knowledge management community for years (though I honestly was not aware of it when thinking about this idea). This means we can change the “organizing principle” of the event several more times before the event, even up to the day it happens (though I really don’t want to do that).

While we talked about the Web 2.0/Social Media/Open Web issues being central to the success of the Web2.1 event, I really wanted the events to be more than that – I want them to be catalysts for socioeconomic change by crossing traditional boundaries and smashing long standing silos by sharing knowledge and forming new relationships. As Alicia points out the technology is at the core of what we do and what we talk about most, and indeed was going to be the focus of the events we do locally. So perhaps it is best to just accept that as the focus and stop trying to make it more complicated than that as I occasionally do. (side note: despite what Mike was saying to me the other night at the Laughing Squid party, this is a capitalist idea with potential social, intellectual AND financial gains for participants)

The fact that I wanted it to be more than technology was a key aspect of why I was originally thinking about the day in 2 parts, talking about problems in the morning and then talking about solutions in the afternoon. To a certain extent this can still be a part of our gathering, but need not be the sole focus. The space is big enough to do the problem/solution track and to embrace this new idea and even perhaps setup for a mini HyperCamp styled blogging station. In the end though, it will all be up to the participants, so please blog about your feelings on this and let us know.

So in the end, what this means is that the day is about people first, and how they use technology second. If we really want to make this shift happen – we need to stop thinking about users and start talking about people, even if the distinction adds some complexity to how we create things.

More on the proposed agenda in a moment…

  1. #1 by Enric - November 15th, 2005 at 01:56

    I may be mistaken, but there seems to be an underlying assumption that a change needs to occur or result achieved in people’s thinking from the BrainJam event. If that is so, it may be insufficient since the changes happening in the web being tagged as “Web 2.0” and such are in flux. The eventually outcome may not be what we expect looking forward from now.
    Events like Tagcamp are loosely coupled where people can go to concurrent presentations and the end is variable with unstructured results seems congruent to the flux condition. My 2 cents 😉

  2. #2 by Chris Heuer - November 15th, 2005 at 08:03


    I think I have maintained that I have no illusion of control over what happens at the events which is why we point to the open space principle. Still, my belief is that when someone meets someone new with a different background, perspective and industry an INTERNAL change may happen where that someone will see people who are different from them in a new light.

    For instance, developers who distrust ‘suits’ and average people who don’t get ‘technologists’. When they are able to meet and see each other as people instead of their projected labels, a whole sea of change may occur. This is separate of the fast pace of technological change happening with the “Web 2.0” technology.

    Ultimately the only change that I hope we facilitate from people via the BrainJams event is for them to have an expanded perspective of other people and a better understanding of the technology. This is achieved simply by bringing people together in a loosely structured space with the seeds of intention towards that goal. We can not force change on anyone, and I don’t intend to – we can merely create an environment where people can discover and choose for themselves. In the end, I just hope to facilitate free thinking and encourage people to understand the world around them in greater depth, which may lead to change but is not the required outcome.

  3. #3 by Andy Kaufman - November 17th, 2005 at 16:09

    Hey Chris,

    It looks like I might be able to make it after all. I asked my friends who are coming out to the Bay Area to visit whether they’d like to come and one has already agreed.

    I really like the idea of gathering people from all sorts of different circles. It will be very interesting to gauge his reaction to the ideas that he’ll be exposed to.

    In order for these new technologies to really take hold, we need to spread the word beyond the small “bubble” of people who are using them. We need sneezers.

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