BILding for the Future Unconference

I’ve covered what was good about BIL. I’ve covered what was bad about BIL. Now that BIL has announced that they are indeed planning a conference for 2009 to run parallel with TED down in Long Beach, I think that some things should be addressed to make it successful in the future.

1) There needs to be a leader
While the whole spontaneous organization concept seems great, it’s ultimately going to topple as more people get involved. Plus, there just needs to be a go-to person when things come up. By default, the guys who just tossed this whole thing together became that, but they really need to take a firmer hand or all the wannabe Alpha Geeks are going to try to bash and claw their way in to running it.

2) Respect the Speakers
The biggest issue was that during talks, there was a constant stream of people getting up and down, going in and out, and just not sitting still. These talks are 15 god damned minutes. If you can’t sit still for that long, then just don’t come. As a general rule, people should observe the fact that if they’re in there when a talk starts, they need to remain seated.

3) Filter the Speakers
Again, it’s a great idea to have an open forum for people to talk about whatever, but some of these talks were just bizarrely out of place like the motivational talk by Lexi Bright and Jonathan Sheffi. Equally out of place was what was basically a sales pitch for this digital pen thing. This could still be decided by the public though as each speaker could “pitch” their talk up on the website, then the public could vote on the ones to go up. But, going back to point one, there would be leaders that could override public opinion if they feel something gets in or out unfairly.

4) Dump the Conceptual “Art” Bits
Sure, they always seem like a good idea when you talk about them, but the reason conceptual art never works is that it can only exist in the realm of the concept. Acting on a conceptual art idea ends up with lame results as Yoko Ono and all her disciples have proved over the years. That damned pictionary game forced a lot of people out of the room because they kept claiming, “participation is mandatory!” and in the end it netted little but some laughs and delaying the schedule nearly a half hour. Keep this kind of thing at Burning Man. Keep the ideas at BIL.

5) Rework the Schedule
Having four talks an hour that are 15 minutes long isn’t realistic. I mean, it is in theory, but in reality, the schedule just runs in to itself too much. Having three 15 minute talks per hour with a five minute break in between gives enough fluff time so that if someone is just a few minutes over, they can be and if people need to come in or out of the hall, they can, or lastly, people can have some setup time without having to get in the way of the other person on stage. This may mean cutting down the amount of speakers, but then again, it also could mean a more focused conference which takes in to account points 2 and 3.

6) Get some solid drink and food sponsors
Bottled water is all profit and marketing. You can find any number of makers who would gladly donate a pile of it to the event. Just the same, food can be found as well. I don’t know where the food and drink came from, but it was definitely cool that it appeared. I just think that that burden could be taken off of multiple people and put on corporate backs.

7) Charge an Attendance Fee
Yeah, I know, it’s not a popular idea as everyone wants it to be free, but as Marla Singer said in Fight Club in regards to why she went to group help meetings, “It’s cheaper than a movie and there’s free coffee.” I think that a fee would get rid of a lot of the people “being” at the conference. It makes it more structured (which again, I know is not a really popular idea) and more professional. Additionally, it adds in to the coffers to help put on the event, even if it’s just $20 per person which I’m sure all of us could afford who were there as opposed to the $6,000 for TED.

And that’s about it for me. There are all kinds of other things like having wifi ready to chairs to power to bathrooms to anything else, but these are all simple logistical things that are easy to work out. There are some core, structural items for BIL that need to be addressed if it’s to be successful and give TED a little shake to show that it’s not the only game in town.
BILding for the Future Unconference

2 Replies to “BILding for the Future Unconference”

  1. A couple of these suggestions seem to miss the essence of why BIL exists. BIL is anarchic and emergent. Nobody is in charge, but as in nature, some nobodys do more than other nobodys.

    There does not “need to be a leader.” Emergence transforms top-down leaders into bottom-up servants. Besides, there is already leadership in place by nature of the BIL website (served by the founders) and its wiki. No need for further hierarchy – the model is working just fine, and any further top-heaviness would make it into something it was never intended to be. Don’t muck with the experiment unless the experiment is failing.

    “Alpha Geeks bashing the party”? Good point. That’s why founders need to set self-organizing systems in motion with strong ideals. It’s sort of like a constitution – the original rules of the land. Emergent systems organize spontaneously, but are constrained by rough initial boundaries.

    BIL will be only as successful as its founders’ original vision and ideals. This is where the focus needs to be now – creating the broad ideals that will allow BIL to continue to grow and self-organize with just enough anarchy to let creativity blossom, but not so much that it “overshoots” and goes unstable.

    I’ll be at TED2009, but my heart is with BIL.

    1. Well, ideals are great, but in real life, they don’t play out. This was my main point in this post in that some of these ideas need to be shelved if BIL is to work. We’re not amoebas, we’re Americans and when that’s he case, it’s always the loudest and most obnoxious who will often take charge in a situation like this. That’s how the organics play out and it kills many a good conference. I was just at another one in San Francisco this last week where a very loud, obnoxious guy decimated the whole thing by hogging up a whole hour of the scarce conference time. It doesn’t work. You need solid leadership.

      I think on some level you realize it doesn’t work if you’re going to TED. If you really believed in BIL, then you’d be there instead. Your closing sentence comes across a lot like saying, “Oh, I really believe in this volunteer work in Africa.” but then continuing to pull in six figures at a law firm.

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