I spent two days – and two nights – in Exeter last week, at Like Minds. I had heard a lot of good things about the last event held in Exeter, and followed their Finnish summertime adventure on Twitter, so when this one came around, I took the opportunity to participate.
Like Minds fell somewhere between an unconference and a more formal affair. There were set “keynote” speakers, but there were several more freeform sessions. Some of it worked really well, some bits less so.
There were three (or four, depending on your definitions…) different components to the days. First up in the morning were immersives, in-depth discussions around various topics; then there were lunch-time sessions, debating different issues; and lastly in the afternoon were the keynote sessions, more formal conference-like elements. Between each keynote, however, was time for small-scale conversations, ostensibly to discuss the keynote but more practically to talk about anything one wanted with the people sitting nearby (or anyone else!).
This meant that there were lots of different ways to interact, to discuss and learn from each other. I loved the idea of the lunchtime sessions – gathering at local cafes and restaurants to debate a variety of fascinating topics – but the actuality of trying to take part in a fascinating discussion at the end of a long table proved frustrating. The lunch moderators were great, but it was hard to talk against the background noise of a bustling restaurant playing loud music. This meant that the debate broke up into conversation with one’s immediate neighbours.
The first lunch session I went to was on crowdsourcing and creativity (Ann Holman wrote about the discussion). The second was on making innovation happen. The discussion in each was lively – agreement and disagreement fuelling the conversation. Both dealt with intangibles to a degree – we argued about definitions of crowdsourcing, creativity and innovation; there was a fair bit of challenge.
The immersives were good, too. The first, led by Andrew Davies, focused on social media and publishing – interpreted as the legacy business of publishing. The general view was that the old business model was dead – nothing new about that – but there were diverging views about whether this mattered and what could replace it. In part, the stance taken depended on how “old media” the speaker was: those that had most to lose from the push online seemed to care most, which I doubt would surprise anyone. There was a lot of discussion about the difference between creation and curation: someone said that “curation is providing the context” – fitting creation into the narrative, perhaps. I think creation and curation overlap to a fair degree (a topic picked up by Andrew Dubber’s keynote the next day). With social media, we can all become curators: sharing links on Twitter, for instance. This has always been done to a certain extent – think of friends sharing articles from a magazine or newspaper – but social media have allowed users to do this more consciously, and to broadcast the result. Think of paper.li, for instance. (Curiously, today someone mentioned Newspaper Club to me today – a way of creating one’s own hard-copy newspaper using online tools and, I assume, materials.)
In the other immersive, Joanne Jacobs led a discussion on using social media for small, local businesses. This was full of great stories and pragmatic advice, and will get me to start using social bookmarking tools (another form of social media curation!). Alastair Walker has a rather more in depth overview!
The several keynotes were more of a mixed bag. On each day, there was one keynote I really didn’t enjoy; I won’t dwell on these, but it was only at these times that I drifted and started playing on Twitter. There were several interesting keynotes from the not-for-profit sector – I really liked Sim Stewart’s presentation on Cofacio, an online tool to engage with helping others.
I would have liked the chance to question the keynote speakers, though; for many, this happened in the bar later on, but I wanted to take Robyn Brown who discussed the work of the National Trust to task: she felt that there were relatively few members of the NT present, and she hoped next year there’d be more; but actually the NT has 3.7 millions members – say, 7% of the adult population – and perhaps 20% of the audience said they were members: over-represented, then. (Frankly, much as I respect the NT, I think it frightening that it has nearly eight times as many members as the three main political parties in England put together (476,000, according to this House of Commons paper.)
I think Steve Moore’s talk on “the Big Society” would really have benefitted from a broader discussion. Over the last year, we’ve heard a lot about the big society, but it is one of those concepts that seems to mean all things to all men – especially our politicians who seem to badge anything they can as being part of the big society. Steve has contributed to the thinking behind the big society, and is clearly knowledgeable about it, but I didn’t really have a firmer idea about what the big society actually is.
I really valued the various conversations in between the keynotes – it really was all about the conversation.
There were two stand-out keynote sessions for me, one on each day. The first of these was Benjamin Ellis on thinking in a different way in the digital age. His self-depreciating manner and knowledgeable but low key style were a panacea for the mind-weary. Benjamin described how the “We Generation” think differently from the “Me Generation”, mediated by social media and freely available data: technology has facilitated a move from tightly controlled behaviour to “barely-planned behaviour”, where small decisions can be networked to have a big impact. There are lots of issues here – especially for those of the “Me Generation” (like me…): our structures and institutions rely on hierarchy and governance, which social media and new conventions can sweep aside. Firms and organisations will be changed by this – as an example, Google means that anyone can more or less find out how to do anything: the need to know information has mutated to how to find it. This isn’t new – Benjamin quoted Johnson on explicit (what we know) and implicit knowledge (what we know how to find). Now, all explicit knowledge is on the internet – and this could be damaging for today’s knowledge workers. For Ellis, it is all about creating a narrative – curation is, once more the context.
The other stand out keynote was Andrew Dubber on curation – or, nore correctly, his stance on anti-curation. This was a fascinating talk. Andrew dumped his slides, deciding that he would just talk, sitting on the edge of the stage. He too talked about creating a narrative to make sense of knowledge – and in doing so, creating value out of making meanings. His stance is that the curation should be left to the user – the audience. Dubber works on collaborative projects with musicians (such as the Jura Project and Aftershock), and he throws everything into the mix, putting everything online. The creator curates, and so does the audience: we decide what is valuable and what isn’t.
I don’t fully subscribe to this idea – when we create something, we are deciding it has some value, and in putting those creations into social media – like me putting photographs on flickr – we are making a statement that we think the media are worth showing. But the talk was fascinating, and I have been thinking about what Andrew said a lot since. It clearly made an impact!