I attended the Future of Work Conference at the Melbourne Convention Centre recently. It was a gathering of a diverse array of organisational psychologists, researchers, co-working enthusiasts, tech junkies, futurists, employers of choice, entrepreneurs, educators and students.
There were about 200 people in attendance and took advantage of all the mod cons of events. Several keynote speakers were present, not via satellite but via Cisco’s teleconferencing technology. They were sponsors and as a result were able to see and hear Guy Kawasaki, Lynda Gratton, and Dave Evans the Futurist from the USA and UK.
The hashtag for the conference, #FOW2014 was prominently displayed and tweets posted on screens outside the plenary room. These days it’s normal for people to be at a talk and be paying attention to a glowing screen in their lap rather than the speaker. Tweeting quotes from the presentation, posting pictures of slides, even asking questions and having dialogue with other participants. This was new for me and I got right into it, more on that shortly, but first, my learnings.
Some of the things I learned:
1) With advances in nano technology and medicine we’ll likely start to live even longer. Organs are already being generated using donor tissue and 3D printers. WEIRD!
What does this mean for human relationships? Perhaps we’ll start to question the validity and modern relevance of monogamy even more, brining my relationship coaching for opening up to multiple relationships even more in demand. How exciting, sort of!
Note to self: Let go of the last shreds of shame and caginess associated with incorporating this skill into my professional repertoire.
2) Even when there are forward thinking ideas that go beyond divisiveness, once a discussion on collective intelligence gets oriented around the lack of diversity and inequality, discussion can easily get bogged down in the wrongness aspect of right and wrong.
Note to Organisers: Be clear about the desired outcomes of a session so that session facilitators are empowered and enabled to steer the conversation towards productive discussion before it goes down the rabbit hole. And participants can balance spontaneously generated responses without taking it on a track that goes way off topic and brings down the whole room.
3) Twitter is a great way to have conversations during plenary sessions. I am generally not a big tweeter but have found events to be the place I seem to engage most and this conference took my tweeting to a whole new level. Initially tweeting quotes or concepts from a talk, then reflections and questions.
I especially enjoyed watching the person in front of me retweeting me from their iPad mini! The questions and reflections of other participants were fascinating and particularly questions from @JWatersLynch. The dialogue generated from that was rich and provocative. Another pleasant surprise, when I managed to start including the twitter handle of the speakers, I found I got responses and gratitude for my tweets, it sure makes the world feel smaller and more connected when you can engage at that level!
Note to Organisers: Include speakers twitter handle and hashtags in presentation/session title slides.
4) Emailing people you met with a personal note about your interaction is an important follow up action. In one interaction I learned that Google Plus is the social media of business, and a place to put a bit more attention to. Sadly I’ve been unable to incorporate it into Hootsuite. Another interaction I mentioned a company doing similar work to the person so I sent him the name of the company and offered to introduce him to my contact there. I love being a connector. Feels good to bring people together and be completely unattached to the outcome!
5) When presenter doesn’t purport to have all the answers and asks the audience, it beautifully generates interaction and cultivates wisdom from the group. I loved having the opportunity to contribute when the question of how to make it safe for a group to talk about difficult issues. I just finished teaching a course where the unanimous feedback about our ability to create safety in the group was affirming and heartwarming.
I piped up with ‘creating a group agreement’ and ‘modeling vulnerability’ to give the group permission to be vulnerable. For example to ensure we stick to the timeline and intention I might cut off a conversation, that’s hard to do, and is a courageous and vulnerable act that has potential risk for the group and my credibility as a facilitator.
It’s something I don’t take lightly. In the past I’ve done it quite delicately yet it was not well received. Since then I’ve had that in the back of my mind when I step in to end a discussion. Thankfully it doesn’t stop me but I’m present to the risk and feel vulnerable doing it. In response to the presenter asking the audience, I talked a bit about powerful vulnerability and how it creates space for transformative moments in groups. This is something I’m quite passionate about. I loved the speakers response, wanting to quote what I just said for the book she’s writing! Can you say ‘ego boost’?!?!
At the end of the conference I was approached by someone looking for a facilitator. We had a conversation that felt like a strong lead. I am delighted and will be following that one up on Monday. Update: I have a meeting next week to find out about the scope to form a proposal. Thrilled with this outcome!
Last thing of note. Women are caught in a fashion trap. Two of the presenters, one keynote, another in a break out session, appeared to be dressing for the perceived opinions of others. It really felt like they wore what they thought would be acceptable or expected rather than something that expressed their style and personality. This was disappointing on a number of levels. I felt sad for them and wondered what they’d wear if they felt more free to be themselves. I found the attire distracting, noting ill fitting pants or what appeared to be an intentionally let down hem line that was trimmed with lace, antithetical to the stark lines of the styling.
Why? Why do women who are clearly in positions of power, being asked to speak at a leading conference, why do they still think they have to please someone else?
I was also disappointed in the feeling that I didn’t have more allies in my recent decision to let go of other expectations and wear what feels right to me. I want more women to express themselves for their own sake, for what has them feeling great, rather than stuff themselves into some preconceived notion of what they should look like. Really, if that’s not the future, I don’t want to go there. Let’s create a future of acceptance, of personal leadership, of pushing the boundaries, respectfully while expressing who we are. It’s our own uniqueness that is a critical part of what we have to offer the world. Let’s step into that fully. If that’s not powerful vulnerability, I don’t know what is!! I admire the people who can wear clothes that augment their individuality and remain stylish. I want more of that in the workplace!
In essence what I learned is that the future is coming at us, and fast! And that its up to us to create our future, both in terms of how we as a society, relate to technology or integrate it in a way that advances our social development and in terms of getting clear about what we want to do with ourselves and finding ways to make that work. My own entrepreneurial journey has been a profound learning journey and I continue to try new things and learn from them and come up against my own perceived limits and clash against my beliefs about being able to earn a living doing what I love. But ultimately the conference affirmed for me that as the future hurtles toward us, it’s up to me to find my way, and make my way into the world of work, doing what I love and loving what I do.