Of Divas and Unconferences

imagePatti Anklam has posted some nice ideas on what an unconference on KM might look like, and notes the conections to Open Space Technology (the agenda emerges from the participants).

A week later Dave Snowden issued a spoiler by suggesting that unconference enthusiasts (uncharacteristically not naming names) might be failed diva wannabes from the mainstream conference circuit. He doesn’t link to Patti, so it might just be a coincidence.

But it’s interesting that he picks up on the personality cult angle – and there’s a hint in his post that if you wannabe a diva admit it, don’t hide behind the mantle of guru-facilitator orchestrating the emergent knowledge of a crowd.

Dave is probably right, at least to a degree – his observations are often uncomfortably astute, and it does take a diva to sniff other divas out. But his focus on closet-divas distracts from the other merits of unconferencing and similar participatory approaches. I’ve argued elsewhere that the mainstream commercial conference “listen to me, I’m a diva” approach is more suited to less mature audiences, and that as KM professionals mature in their practice, they look for more participatory mechanisms for learning and sharing.

This suggests to me that such conferences have more defence mechanisms than the serried rows of a keynote audience against diva-behaviours, even closet ones – they give permission to walk away and join another discussion. And more mature audiences do just that.

For more on conferences and unconferences in Green Chameleon click here.

4 Comments so far

Dave Snowden

Come on Patrick, you are becoming a conspiracy theory nut.  By post was inspired by the conference bike and it had no relationship to Patti whatsowever.  My post also argued strongly for a both/and approach not an either/or. I also think that you are using perjorative language (Divas) without much justification.  The fact remains that one of the things that gets conferences going is someone with original views, practical experience or whatever who can also communicate those ideas.  The discussions are richer as a result.  Too many speakers in a large conference cannot do that

My own view is that a combination would be good - a few major keynote types with more interaction than is normal and then lots of interactivity.  That would be good for everyone.

And yes, the failed Diva argument stands.  I know a lot of people who have done their level best to establish themselves as keynotes on the circuit, and when they have failed (it is a harsh arena and you have to be good, or have a coporation prepared to sponsor the conference to get you the place) they argue against the whole idea.  Patti is not one of those, my targets were elsewhere.

Posted on May 22, 2007 at 06:03 PM | Comment permalink

Patrick Lambe

Now Dave, you can’t complain about alleged pejorative language and then use it yourself ... unless… wink

Posted on May 22, 2007 at 06:09 PM | Comment permalink

Dave Snowden

Nice try, but labels (Divas) work in a different way from direct criticism.  If I say that some people attack conferences because they cannot “make it” that is different from applying a seriotypical label to all speakers.  You were also a bit naughty in partial quotation.  Presenting me as attacking un-conferencing when my blog explicitly states that there should be more of it.

Posted on May 22, 2007 at 06:38 PM | Comment permalink

Patrick Lambe

I said you had issued a “spoiler” to the enthusiasm around unconferences - which I think is still true, and not in itself a bad thing necessarily, except that I think your swipe does distract from the real issue around unconferences and participation… the “diva” label was inspired by your line “pander to the ego of facilitation”. Yes, a hint of naughtiness, but the naughtiness is not all mine smile

I personally didn’t interpret your post as an attack on unconferencing per se, or on interactivity in conferences, because I have seen you in action lots of times and know you’d be just as comfortable in that setting as anywhere else - but I thought your focus on ego-pandering misplaced, and could too easily be construed as an attack on unconferencing by the uninitiated. You weren’t specific on how widespread the “failed diva” phenomenon was. That’s why I described it as a “spoiler”.

My comment on your right to complain was actually aimed at your adoption of the term “failed diva argument” in your comment above - immediately after you had criticised my use of the term in the same comment.

Posted on May 22, 2007 at 06:57 PM | Comment permalink

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