Commanding Chaos for Coworking, Open Source and Creative Communities

Interesting Brits and Aussies (and Floridians, Michiganders)

Fri, 02/01/2008 - 21:48 -- rprice

I've certainly noticed the work of Russell Davies before, but somehow I thought he just blogged about food, because he's written a book about 50 great cafés around the UK called Egg, Bacon, Chips & Beans with an accompanying café blog, as well as one called a good place for a cup of tea and a think.

Then I was talking to Chris Wojda (woidah) from Jacksonville Likemind today about Pecha Kucha Night (more on that later, I promise), and we talked a bit about Florida Creatives and Likemind and a few other fun things. Then I told him I was going out of town, and it came out that I am going to England tomorrow. He absolutely insisted that I email Russell and go have a chat with him while I'm in London, so I started looking into it a bit.

Looks like Russell is an advertising guy, and my friend Chris knew him/ learned about him via Portland, OR. Now Russell writes about all kinds of stuff and has a consultancy with offices in 4 different parts of the world, Sydney, Amsterdam, London and New York. Wow.

Why did Chris think I needed to talk to Russell? Because we have similar goals? Social change? bringing people together? building communities? exploring technology and the future? Yeah, I guess so, but Russell also organizes this event called Interesting. Here's a great idea. It's simple. It scratches an itch.

The TED conference has just finished in Monterery. Sounds like a fantastic lot of speakers. I was lucky enough to go last year and I'd put aside the money to go again this year. But, a while ago, it occurred to me that I could take that money and we could maybe organise a conference of our own here in the UK, which might be even more interesting. Or at least easier to get to.

So this is the plan:

We've booked the Conway Hall for the 16th of June. Which is a Saturday. It'll be about £20 to get in. I want to make it something almost anyone can afford.

The plan is to have all sorts of speakers speak about all sorts of stuff. Not brands, advertising, blogging and twitter but interesting, unexpected, original things. I'm hoping to find fascinating people and to just ask them to speak about something they care about. I want to replicate the experience of clicking from one really good blog to another, ranging across sciences, arts, musics, jokes and whatever. There will be 20 minute slots and 3 minute slots. Some people will play music or sing. And some people who can't be there will be asked to send three minute videos. Perhaps. I reckon we can squeeze a lot of interestingness into a day. And then have a party afterwards.

But it'll all be down to the goodwill and enthusiasm of the speakers anyway, because I won't be able to pay any of them.

There's been the problem with most of my ideas to date, or the execution of group ideas: too much thinking, too many discussions, too much of everything. This event gets down to the core. No sponsors, nothing frivolous. Just interesting people talking.

Maybe that's why Florida Creatives works so well. I used to go to these great events in Detroit, but the whole lecture and the product demos and the committee meetings and the agendas were so complex, people would sit at most of the events and then go home right after, but they were missing more than half of the experience by not socializing at the bar across the street.

At my first SEMAFX event, I was begged to come hang out at the bar, but I hadn't made plans to, and to be honest, the talk was not that interesting. We all tried to get people interested about going to a conference we had all just returned from, but the next event was a year away. I met some cool people and I wanted to network and hang out, but they were asking me to go somewhere else with a group of strangers where I was an outsider, and I didn't get it.

The next month I went to both parts - the lecture and the socializing at the bar - what a huge difference! There was time for talkback with the presenters, meeting the important people who ran the organization, drinking beer, eating exotic foods, it was great!

In Orlando, the local SIGGRAPH chapter holds 3-4 events a year. At least one of them involves people who work at huge public companies like Pixar, LucasFilm, Electronic Arts or NASA. Before the events they have an hour of socializing, but it feels more like a minature expo, because companies buy tables and there are soft drinks for a dollar and a nice college student smiles and reaches into the ice to grab you a Sprite or a Diet Coke, and people wear nametags and give powerpoint slideshows or bring demonstration hardware for their video compressor/decompressor. Then when the lecture is over, everyone drives home, a bit more educated, but none the more stimulated.

In late 2006 when I was talking to John about doing an important cultural event in Orlando, we soon realized that we had neither the time, the influence or the healthy community to pull off such a grand event, so I tried thinking smaller. What got me motivated about the events at SEMAFX and the local SIGGRAPH? Why had I joined 2 community service organizations at school? I wanted to socialize, I needed a safe haven to be surrounded by likeminded people and think things out, and I'm sure loads of other people had the same desire.

So Florida Creatives became an event where we didn't care about whether you were a hacker or a filmmaker or a blogger or a photographer or an improviser or a poet or an advertiser or a designer or whether you didn't professionally, or if you were just getting started, or... anything. Come as you are. Don't wear a nametag. Join the gang. Feel the embrace of the community. Cory writes about it a lot, and I really appreciate that outspokenness.

Chris (remember, from Jacksonville) started talking about doing a Florida Creatives up there, so it's been on my brain. I've spoken to a few other people about doing an event where they are, but I think in order to be qualified, you need to be missing the community you once had in another town or at another school, or even at a bigger company. Maybe that's the only qualification: to have an empty place that only your peers, superiors and protégés can fill.

I've been noticing particularly this week that a good idea must get harder and stronger and bigger simply by sharing it with people: the idea of having to sell someone on a thought you had in a dream and the subsequent brainstorm becomes difficult if they are critical, or if they play Devil's Advocate. I've always known Florida Creatives should go to other places, but I guess I haven't had to sell too many people on starting their own, and particularly people that fill the only qualification.

Russell, Chris, John, Cory, Alex, Jake, Scott, Randy, Brad, Jason, Charlie and oh so many others, thanks for getting me here.

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