Technology Folks Need to Branch Out

From all accounts I’ve read in the past two days, I missed an excellent weekend of influential presentations and priceless conversations at Gnomedex.  Would have love to have been there, but such is life with two little kids.

But one conversation was somewhat encapsulated online by Britt Raybould and Chris Brogan.  In their posts, Britt and Chris touch upon the struggles that the technology community has in breaking free of the echo chamber it often finds itself in.  As a result, the impact technology has on business and other apsects of society suffers.

I’ve been thinking more and more about this tech echo chamber in recent weeks. Ever since Annie Heckenberger and I had an exchange on Twitter that started with her wondering

Have social media unconferences/events become the new Dead Tour?

While Annie pleasantly triggered a flashback to college summers that I spent traveling from one town to another to see a concert, she also got me thinking hard about the similarities.  And if you look close enough, those similarities exist.

Following the Grateful Dead from town to town meant you were also going to see the same folks in their VW buses every night of the week.  And while the Dead’s set list was never exactly the same list twice, “Sugar Magnolia” and “Truckin” were often on that set list.  Like the great jam band they were, the songs would evolve from performance to performance, but there was still a lot similarities to that last time you head them perform “China Cat Sunflower.”

Similarly, there’s a social media conference seemingly every calendar week of the year.  In San Francisco, there’s a tweetup or mixer practically every night.  If you go to all of them, you’ll see a lot of the same people.  The agenda and topics of conversation are very similar, but there is definitely a slight element of emergence within them.

But as Britt wisely notes:

Technology, and every other industry, doesn’t have the luxury of operating in a silo, focusing only inward on the cool toys

Do we really need to be talking about technology issues with each other over and over and over?  Wouldn’t we best serve others by getting off the beaten path and spreading our knowledge elsewhere?  We need to ensure that we are looking outside our silos.  Here’s how:

Skip the next tech or social media conference

When you’re in the signup process for your next event, hit cancel.  Then go find a conference in a completely different industry and register for that.  The more removed from tech, the better.  Go to a trade show for landscape architects.  Or a conference for child daycare providers.  This will accomplish a couple of things.  Most importantly, you’ll have a chance to learn a lot about another industry by immersing yourself in it for a few days.  Secondly, you’ll have the opportunity to listen and figure out how social media and technology in general might be able to help a different industry solve  challenges or facilitate achieving their goals.  Look hard enough and you’ll probably find an audience interested in hearing more about what you know.

This doesn’t have to be scary.  Bring a buddy or two along.  If there are more tech-minded minds infiltrating a new industry, you can brainstorm new possibilities together.

Not into landscape architecture?  No problem.  Feel free to pick an industry conference that you can get excited about.  The food industry has its own conferences.  So does the travel industry.  Even the beer industry has the Craft Brewers Conference every year.  And I’m fairly certain you like beer.

It’s up to us

We all love technology.  No question about it.  Only we can ensure that every industry out there loves tech as much as we do.  But to do so, we need to break free of our existing silos and make new friends.

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  1. Posted August 28, 2008 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    OMG – after we spoke about that on twitter, I was sitting on the beach trying to explain it to my friends who are all former deadheads. The thing they couldn’t grasp is how social media applied because they aren’t part of this echochamber, but yes, you GET it. You got it. Same people, new show. No growth. Fail.

  2. Posted November 16, 2008 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    Interesting to only find this a couple days after being at the OSL08 unconference with JJ, but that's serendipity :-)

    Totally agree on "branching out". When I'm stuck in a waiting room, I always look for a magazine about a topic I neither know nor care about, and at least skim it cover to cover. Pretty much always, something triggers an "aha!" moment.
    Often, the cheapie ads in the very back of the magazine are the most illuminating because they offer a glimpse of small businesses innovating within that space.

    At the very least, my next look at my own business will have a slightly fresher perspective.

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