BarCampSydney2, unconditional participation, heterarchies, intrapreneurs, digital aboriginals and those who have Got Game

On October 3, 2007 by Christy

At the beginning of their book, Digital Aboriginal: Radical Business Strategies for a World Without Rules, Mikela and Philip Tarlow set forth their manifesto:

We are witnessing the birth of a new generation, described not so much by their age, as by their actions in the world. They are using the freedoms of the new economy to develop a set of behavioral strategies: Digital Aboriginal.

This new generation is driven, yet they rarely plan. They function equally well in the accelerated Net time of the high-tech world and in the empty spaces that tend to provoke synchronicities. Although brilliant strategists, they often chart their courses based on pure instinct. They are highly individualized, yet depend on deeply tribal ways of birthing ideas. In the guise of looking for killer applications and the next technical edge, they are leading a revolution. They are operating from clear and coherent models of success and leadership, which are at the heart of this book.

They are forging new business scenarios based on their insatiable creative spirit. They are driving new values in the workplace from their relentless commitment to reshape the future with greater meaning. (2002, ix)

This year I had the priviledge of being an unorganiser for both the BarCampSydneys. The second one we held on Saturday 25th August and once again I walked away so excited, keen and inspired!! Last time I posted about how the event was a conference for initiates, and one observation about BarCamp I made then was:

Rather than have a small group of programming-committee-appointed experts to deliver to a large audience, a small of group self-appointed experts share with each other. Because anyone can present or talk or workshop in any manner they desire and anytime, BarCamp attracts more experts. Events that say they will provide the experts attract more people who are not experts. Events that encourage anyone to come and emphasis that everyone is important, attract more experts…

This time I’d like to explore this further, under the governing logic of: the power of unconditional participation. The ‘unconditional’ nature of BarCamps is a rockin’ key trait. Unlike most events:

  • Anyone can attend: no-one has to pay or be accepted after an application;
  • Anyone can present: no-one has to be selected or peer-reviewed;
  • Everyone is treated equally: no-one is paid or given VIP treatment.

These may seem like simple characteristics but they have a far-reaching impact. In the two BarCampSydney events I’ve unorganised & participated in, I always walk away feeling so motivated, so excited, so full of excitement about my future and I feel fulfilled and regenerated. This feeling is not specific to the unorganiser experience: many people I’ve spoken to have walked away feeling this way.

Now, although I walk away with valuable information and key insights, it is not, I believe, the knowledge I walk away with that affects me the most. Instead, it is the BarCamp spirit. It is the spirit of unconditional participation: where all are given to without vetting, without the requirement for having to earned or paid for it. How can you walk away from that feeling anything but worthy and valuable yourself? You don’t have to prove anything, just be present. It is those sort of psychological designs, paradigmatic approaches to knowledge production, that will affect the workplace, indeed society in general, to a greater degree and quicker than any furniture or forum construction. 

The events are unconditional in the sense that industry leaders provided top-notch advice to everyone, to every question, without hesitation, for free. No question was considered stupid. Everyone had equal access to advice. Now this is VERY different to industry conferences, labs and residentials. I’ll speak about entertainment events because that is my area. As an organiser, mentor, MC, moderator, keynoter, panelist, presenter and attendee of many entertainment events I have to say that the quality, relevancy and diversity of information passed on in the single day at BarCampSydney surpassed all of those I have been present and watched from afar. The only event which comes close (in my admittedly limited opinion) is TED. OK, perhaps not exactly. But that is what it FELT like. As Nick Hodge said in the Tangler discussion:

The VC/Startup stuff was the shiznit this year. Like getting $100,000 of free consulting. 

Here are the industry leaders that put on their best tribal elder hat for the day:

And ‘Mark’ I think it was (someone tell me!) who started a session on the non-tech aspect of a start-up: how to get a business going if you’re not a techie. I loved that he did this because although I’m tech-friendly, I’m not a code expert. I come up with ideas all the time but do not have the skill to implement them. It was great to hear about how someone was addressing this. This, for me, is a really important aspect of the BCS experience: that pretty much every stage and personal angle of creating a business is covered. That happens because people feel, no matter what stage they’re at or how much they know, they get up there and start a conversation.

Another approach I found interesting is the notion of intrapreneurs. Yep, you read that right. Intrapeneurs are those rockin people inside a company created by an entrepreneur that keep the inventions coming. Coined by Gifford Pinchot, intrapreneurs create within the company instead of creating another company.  It would of been great to hear Elias Bizianne’s talk on this subject but I missed it. Here is a music video that explains some of the ideas:

Another book that comes to mind (though I have not read it yet) is Got Game: How the Gamer Generation is Reshaping Business Forever:

Think video games are kids’ stuff? Think again. Provocative new data show that video games have created a new generation of employees and executives–bigger than the baby boom–that will dramatically transform the workplace. And according to strategists John C. Beck and Mitchell Wade, managers who understand and harness this generation’s distinct attributes can leap far ahead of their competition. Got Game shows how growing up immersed in video games has profoundly shaped the attitudes and abilities of this new generation. Though little-noticed, these 90 million rising professionals, through sheer numbers, will inevitably dominate business–and are already changing the rules. Although many of these changes are positive–such as more open communication and creative problem solving–they have caused a generation gap that frustrates gamers and the boomers who manage them. Got Game identifies the distinct values and traits that define the gamer generation–from an increased appetite for risk to unexpected leadership skills–and reveals management techniques today’s leaders can use to bridge the generation gap and unleash gamers’ hidden potential.

But beyond the benefits for those working in industry, it is exactly these sort of approaches to sharing information, encouraging self-motivated creation and heterarchical environments that are yearned for by academics. For many years I’ve been saying that I want to be an independent researcher like Marie-Laure Ryan. It is only now that I’m at the final stages of my PhD and have to think about what to do next that the reality of that is hitting home. But I’m not the only one. After pervasive game designer and researcher Jane McGonigal finished her PhD, she went to the Institute for the Future — a place where she can balance both design and research with a cycling range of clients. And now, Danah Boyd has said that she will not go straight into an academic post. I’m the same. I want freedom…freedom that most academic institutions and corporations cannot offer. Which makes complete sense actually. Freedom isn’t given.