Last week I was fortunate to attend the Lift Conference in Geneva, as my colleague Rich was helping to illustrate some of the co-creation workshops. To be honest, I'm not a big fan of conferences; but this was very different to the usual industry conference in many ways.
Lift bills itself as "a three-day conference about current and emerging usage of digital technologies such as online communities, social media and casual games. Participants come to better understand the challenges and opportunities presented by digital technologies, and meet the people who drive these innovations."
The networking was like no other conference I've been to and felt very much like a "level playing field" based on mutual respect and curiosity. All credit to Laurent Haug who started the welcome session by asking people to be surprised by those they met. He encouraged us not to assume anything about the weird looking scientist, or the stuffy looking businessman, just to say hello.
Networking highlights for me were: enjoying a 1924 Bas-Armagnac with Robert Scoble, sharing the legendary fondue with hundreds of ‘lifters’ and finally a visit to CERN to look around the mind-blowing Large Hadron Collider.
So much stuff was covered, it's really difficult to do justice to all the sessions. But some recurring themes that appealed to me were:
1. Fail often
This is a value which underpins much of our Agile working at Yoomee, so I was particularly attuned to what was said on this front.
Jean-Claude Biver talked about innovation. He's pretty crazy in his approach but talked a lot of sense. His view is that we must learn to accept failures and learn from them. He made the point that babies try to walk on average 377 times before they succeed. In other words, to innovate, you need to take risks. So he suggested giving people a bonus of between 100 and 1,000 Swiss Francs for every mistake they make! A fabulously innovative way to bring mistakes out of everybody.
Alex Osterwalder talked about new business models. He asked us: "What can we learn from the car design industry?" and encouraged us to make rough prototypes, test and break things. At Yoomee we're familiar with this approach to software design, but not to business models. So this really got me excited about how our Agile approach could be transferred to other areas of our business. For example, he showed how using a fake "buy now" button on a website can be used to test if people are willing to pay for a service, before it's developed and rolled out.
2. The digital divide
The world changes rapidly - how do we deal with this? Geographic boundaries which were once relevant are no longer important. But the people in power don't seem to understand this, which was Ben Hammersly's point in his talk about Post-Digital Geopolitics. His conclusion: that we need to be translators. Explain, don't complain. Can you explain your job to your parents? Probably not.
I also noticed two mindsets at the conference; those speakers who focussed on the virtual world as distinct from the real world, and those speakers who recognised that the two are inextricably linked, and that the virtual world *is* the real world to many users.
Comments on Twitter followed the theme "Facebook IS reality, virtual worlds ARE reality, millions of people live in them".
The focus on people and communities was the conference headline which first grabbed my attention. There was much talk about crowd-sourcing and online communities.
David Galbraith's talk covered four key trends, one being "people vs robots". Google is attached to the algorithm as its recommendation engine, whereas Facebook takes the opposite approach and focuses on people-powered recommendations.
Brian Solis talked about online influence being measured as social capital. What you say online and who you connect with online contributes to your social capital.
Companies like PeerIndex and Klout are already tracking this, and creating the equivalent of Google's Page Rank but for people. Apparently, there's even a hotel in Las Vegas which asks for your Twitter address when you check in, and will give you a discount if your social capital is high. They suck up to you big time, knowing you'll tweet and post photos to your network.
Talks you should watch
Here’s my top tips for a few must-watch talks. (Each is only 20 minutes!)
- Kevin Slavin, Those algorithms that govern our lives.
- David Galbraith, Four trends for the digital world.
- Jennifer Magnolfi, Programming space habitat.
- Marcel Kampman, Reinventing schools - project Dream School
- Hasan Elahi, Giving away your privacy to escape the US terrorist watch list.
- Tara Shears, An update on the Large Hadron Collider project.
Take a look at our photos here.
Thank you Lift and see you in 2012!