Unconference: the democratic art of peer sharing

17 March 2016
Ray Kane
Frink_Cognifide_2016_HeaderImages_0117

Unconference post itsWe live in an age where sharing has taken on a whole new meaning.  We share our thoughts, our photos, our jokes, our highs and our lows in a constant barrage of social chat.  Technology has broken down barriers and given us limitless channels that enable constant participation in a crowd-sourced, social whirl.

It’s not all welcome though - pointless memes or supposedly cute cat videos can be an irritating side show constantly fighting for share of mouse.

Translate this to the business context where we are inundated with information on a minute-by-minute basis and the distraction factor stacks up to what can become unsustainable.

So what if we could create an environment for sharing in business that filters out the unwanted chat and allows you to focus on the best ideas from some of your brightest and most interesting industry peers.

Stream

The good news is that Cognifide parent company, WPP has managed to create that environment in a truly innovative ‘unconference’ gathering that they call Stream.  Unconference is an awkward word, it doesn’t really give any clues as to what it entails or how one would go about participating.  The reality of an unconference event however, is inclusive, collaborative, democratic and, in our experience, nothing less than totally inspiring and invigorating.

It’s all about peer learning and sharing in a relaxed, informal, dress-down setting where barriers are broken down and Chatham House rules apply.  As one Stream attendee put it, ‘think hackathon meets Burning Man’.

“Spending time with peers at an event like Stream feels incredibly liberating. You’re thrown together with some amazing minds to think about things that you’d never normally think about. You’ll go from a session on cartoons as an art form, to a gathering about tech players promoting equality and diversity, to a brainstorm on using drones in humanitarian situations. One thing’s for sure, you go home thinking differently about some of the everyday challenges.”

Miro Walker

From a tech perspective, peer sharing is a common enough concept.  At a development level, we’ve always shared our thinking and been big supporters of the open source, collaborative spirit.  So why not apply that at an executive level and in consideration of some of the big issues that we’re facing in the technology sector. 

The best thing about the unconference format is that there’s no agenda.  The discussion is user-generated and topics are crowd-sourced with complete interaction and 100% participation.  So if the audience is in unison on a particular issue, it automatically gets airtime.   Anarchy some would say, but anarchy with purpose.

Which brings me neatly back to my starting point.  So much of the background noise in our lives has no real purpose and yet we struggle to take the time to turn it all off in order to think, create, challenge and make a difference.  Unconference gives us that rarity of shared time without the imposition of structure and background noise.  It breaks the rules, battles conventions, challenges and liberates.  And in an industry that’s all about innovation, it’s a must!