Wednesday, October 29, 2014

MozFest: not the typical conference

As I'm reeling from a combination of jetlag and mental exhaustion, I've been trying to figure out what made Mozfest so special of a conference. I've been to many conferences at this point, but my experience this past weekend was different, and I think I've been able to pinpoint 5 reasons why.

1) Chaos

Mozfest was, put simply, chaos. The conference started late, and with a schedule that changed the morning of the first day. As I was trying to figure out where to facilitate my first session, Chris Lawrence walked by and said, "Hey, when is your session?" My reply: "5 minutes ago, in a location to be determined." Without breaking stride, he smiled back and said "Welcome to Mozfest." The funny thing was, despite the chaos, it worked. Mostly because everyone at the conference was there to make things work. I found some people looking for my session, and decided to just direct them to a table that some other people were working at. This was an open area, so we set up some wall partitions around the table. Someone wrote the name of our session on a piece of paper and stuck it on the wall. And there it was, we had a session. Half the people were just hanging out, and had no idea what was suppose to be going on when the session started. And most of them stayed for the session anyways. I don't ever think I've seen randomness, disorganization, and blind enthusiasm come together quite this way before.

2) Where's my notes...

At the end of the conference, I realized I had not taken any notes. This was odd, because I always take extensive notes at any conference, and it's how I report back and remember what happened at the conference. But, there just simply wasn't any time to take notes. Notes are what happens when you want to remember what was said during an interesting talk. But, there weren't any talks, I was always either networking or creating. My "notes" were called ideas, and they were written on stickies and plastered over the walls. I guess I never realized how passive most conferences were, until I went to one that had no passive elements in it at all.

3) Deep connections

Most conferences involve networking to some degree. But networking is in this weird artificial box, in 15 minute coffee breaks that get cut artificially short as everyone has to run to catch the next session. But at Mozfest, even if there was anything approaching a schedule, the organizers of the conference greatly encouraged you not to pay attention to it. The idea of cutting a conversation short to catch a session was always kind of silly- you were never totally sure where the session was and if it was on time, whereas this person was right in front of you, and you were both getting a lot from this conversation. The chaos of Mozfest, combined with the great people that attended it, created a great venue for deep, meaningful 1-on-1 or small group interactions.

4) Single tracking

My only regret at Mozfest was being a facilitator for two "tracks" in the same festival. I felt like I was not able to engage with either track as much as I would have like, and had absolutely no time to take part in any of the other tracks. It seems like the ideal (for me at least) would be to spend 75% of time diving deeply into one track (as a facilitator or a participant), and spend the other 25% sampling as many other different tracks as possible.

5) Global Hive Meetup

This was far and away my favorite part of the conference. I am a member of the NY Hive, a group of after school educators committed to creating connected learning opportunities and technology-driven education. I am aware that Hives have been popping up in cities all over the globe, and had previously met people from other Hives here and there. But having a time for us all to come together and hack education solutions together was, well, kind of magical. It's like that feeling you have when you meet up with an old friend and pick up right where you left off, as if no time had gone by. Except we had never met before, but we were able to just pick things up and start going anyway. We talked about the same things, using the same language and ideas, and were comfortable using the same kinds of open-ended design-thinking techniques to work through problems. I don't think I've ever seen such a disperse, bottom-up, locally-relevant initiative that is able to maintain such a coordinated way of thinking and acting. #hivewillbesuccessful

1 comment:

Chris said...

Glad you were disciplined and wrote up your thoughts so close to the festival! This is such a rich reflection and a lot to dive into. For me I really want to push the Mozfest team (which I am on) to leave the conventions of conferences behind completely and stop using loaded words like "session" and "schedule" as those become blockers to the kind of learning/experience you describe here. Thanks for coming and jumping in with two-feet Kevin.