Practice but not (I suspect) perfect

During the course of the last few weeks, I have attended a few conferences and seminars, both as delegate and presenter. They have been interesting and thought provoking events. At each, I have been invited to share and consider best practice. To offer stories about how things have been done well and to consider stories of those well done by others.

This is pretty familiar territory for all of us who have spent time in and around a conference floor. An agenda is crafted by the event producers, concentrating on gathering a group of successful people together who are, hopefully, good at sharing the narrative of their success. I do not think it is uncharitable to call this “constructive showing off”. Delegates congregate around the subject in the interest of picking up some interesting and useful ideas and techniques. Meeting the people with the ideas is always a genuine motivation and has not yet been effectively digitised (virtualised?) in my experience. Headhunting is often part of the event dynamics too, both seeking employees and employment. This is also harder to do when not in the same room.

So far, so good as a sketch of many good days out for many of us conference floor citizens. I think, though, there is room for improvement in the sharing of best practice. It lies in the prizing apart of the best part. What does best really mean? Practice is still a good descriptor though. I am uncertain that we really know what best means in the digital arena. Effective, helpful, interesting, better, rewarding. These are authentic. Best I am now suspicious of.

Part of the point of Digital these days is refining and improving by increments. Better? Yes. Best, however, implies we know something more final. That it has been figured out and resolved.

By way of illustration, I attended and presented at an event dealing in digital innovation and the strategies best employed to manage it. Plenty of grist for the mill here. For those of us mainly dealing in learning matters, it was a refreshing event. Plenty of cross industry histories and reusable ideas. Very little “my sector is special” thinking which seems to dog the learning world. Tales from charities, health services, finance, insurance and communications were shared by good and very good presenters. These were proper best practice case studies as you would expect them. I doubt even the most confident of the speakers thought that they had cracked a replicable code but experience was polished to a high shine nevertheless.

I felt a growing itch which I have yet to scratch, to interrogate the stories a little a find out where the polish had faded, where the surface was scratched and cracked. I really wanted and want to know what did not work. What went wrong and how that changed the original narrative to the one recounted on the stage. Where were the spanners in the works inserted (and by whom). Maybe these are the war stories as told by the foot soldiers rather than the historians on the victors side.

I doubt this is a new insight but there is considerable scope for conferences to evolve as learning events. It is the mistakes and the responses to them that are the meat of the experience. I realise that most brand owners would shy away from plastering their errors for public display but a wise brand might share how it has grown and how its experience, the rough and the smooth of it, has generated real wisdom. I reckon there is a market for these stories, presented as lessons of rounded experience and shared in an open and uncritical atmosphere.

Maybe there is a conference out there entitled…

Digital: Well, that didn’t work…But this seems to…

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