Why Spaces, Places, Matter – and Questions #SOBCon #risk #strategy

I’ve just emerged from SOBCon in its hometown, Chicago, with gratitude to @LizStrauss for the invitation and her colleague Terry @Starbucker St Marie.

Some quick thoughts after a remarkable weekend as the long tail of posts, tweets, texts, continues to flow. More thoughts may follow.

SOBCon is a conference like no other – in which infinite effort has been spent on process as well as content; a fulfillment, at one level, of the generally frustrated vision of unconferences to draw on everyone and avoid the fallacies of schooling; a pudding rich but never quite over-egged; a place, a space, a gathering of people decidedly in community. As I just shared with a new friend, I’m not sure if I spent the weekend being remade or beaten up. OK, you get the picture.

Here just one comment, about SOBCon as a space. The lush, deeply engaging, very personal presentations I leave for the moment to others to discuss, though they make sense only inn the context of the space. (Check the #SOBCon hashtag to get a whiff.)

But this. SOBCon is a place. A space. With rich features evident to newbies as they walk in. The air has been specially treated. The food infused with secret sauce. A magical kingdom, in which the quality of relationships new and old, and – because this is always how it flows in our human community – the character and depth of the communication, are heightened.

To those for whom conferencing is all in a week’s work, including some of the finer efforts, it is always striking when a space is created in which persons and ideas can actually engage; strangers can be open with each other; bonds can spring up almost as fast as cards are exchanged. Well, this weekend in Chicago that was true to a high degree. What’s especially interesting with SOBCon is that this is not the result of its being carried on in secret. I am no great enthusiast for the “Chatham House Rule” that is sometimes used to encourage candor and honesty – which basically renders an event and its participants off the record. SOBCon was streamed. I know because I got message from people saying they could see me in the crowd. The on/off the record approach has value in enabling officials to be interesting and remain employed. It has little impact on the quality of the engagement. Conversely, there can be engagement of a special quality without its illusions.

That’s why in our work at C-PET we have placed much effort and emphasis on the quality of the community we bring together to address the great questions of tomorrow and today. These are not communities of old friends, though they are enriched by such relationships scattered through them. They include many who are strangers. And what is said in public is not private. But the cultivated space means that trust, even between strangers, is set high. So in conversations public and private there is candor. And, as well we know, when one person is candid, shares personally, confesses challenges and discusses defeats, the resonance is potent and the character of the conversation infectious.

At SOBCon this goal of, shall we say, a cultivated public/private inter-personal space for ideas – was achieved to a high degree, spurred by the fact many participants had been SOBConners before, and the social setting over several days – which went all the way to karaoke (some pics from that are in the tweetstream!).

Our business and policy worlds are full of answers. What we need most are spaces in which we can pose questions. Questions can only be properly posed when the space is right. And while this has always been true, as Moore’s Law drives exponential technological change and human events move at a pace faster than we have ever known the questions become more important, and the need for a space within which we can gather to consider them more pressing.

So huzzah to Liz and Terry, and the SOBCon community. As I  move back and forth between the worlds of policy and business I know there is nothing we need more.



Chicago 2012 Program | SOBCon.

1 thought on “Why Spaces, Places, Matter – and Questions #SOBCon #risk #strategy

  1. Nigel – it sounds like you are praising both the spirit of the place and community and the literal appeal to the senses. The latter certainly boosts the former (or not) so storyboarding a place and an event helps multiple the meaningful moments participants can have. Here are some suggestions as to why and how to storyboard
    ~ a long time ran of your blog

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