Living Networks Forum debrief

The Living Networks Forum in New York the other day was great fun and went extremely well. Both anecdotal and formal feedback was excellent. The official commentary on the event is here. When you’re trying something new, you never know quite how it will work until it happens, but the reality was a very good match with my original vision. The core concept was creating connections between people and ideas at the event, and that’s exactly what happened in a very rich fashion. In the end the way in which we created serendipitous connections at this event was more based on innovative facilitation processes than technology, however in future events the technology will gradually be integrated to take this “enhanced serendipity” to the next levels.

The major sectors respresented at the Forum—because of the location and the representation of both my and Business Development Institute’s core communities—were professional services, financial services, and technology. All these sectors are grappling with similar issues in the event’s core themes of developing client relationships, enhancing collaboration, and creating partnerships, so the cross-pollination was invaluable for participants. We began the session with a space-based facilitation process, in which people position themselves in a room according to their relative interests in key themes, enabling immediate connections with people with similar profiles. For each of the themes we had a brief presentation of core material, and then demonstrations, syndicate group discussions, and break-out exercises. All of the groups for both syndicate discussions and exploring potential partnerships were carefully designed around participants’ profiles. In this way the connections were not “engineered,” but facilitated. Before lunch we played a game between teams based on game theory, which was used to explore some of the dynamics of trust development over time. Much hilarity and some confusion here—it went well but perhaps a little redesign required for next time.

The overriding theme of how technology can enhance personal and organizational networks drove much of the very tangible excitement at the event. While by this time most attendees had come across the concept of social software and some of its implications, being able to see and experience the technologies helped to bring to life how these can be applied in business. Earlier in the week I’d been to the Christmas party of SDForum—the leading Silicon Valley technology networking organization—where the interest in social software was immense.

The social software space is hot, Hot, HOT! I frame what is currently happening as phase two. Phase one began with the now defunct and a couple of similar initiatives. After a lull and some nascent initiatives last year, this year has seen the space take off big time. Living Networks Forum gold sponsor Spoke Software has recently secured another $11.7 million in funding. Business is waking up to the fact that not only is this a new technology sector with strong promise—because of its ability to create value—but also that these technologies could transform how businesspeople communicate, form relationships, and develop trust. I’ll be writing a lot more about this later—this is a seriously important topic.

Perhaps not surprisingly, both Business Development Institute and myself have had numerous enquiries since the Forum about designing and running innovative events. There is an increasing recognition that it really is possible to create conferences and events that are far more valuable to participants than what we usually experience, by carefully designing for rich sharing of knowledge and ideas and forming connections in valuable ways, fully integrated with novel and useful content. We’ll probably run at least one other public Living Networks Forum somewhere in the US next year, however it seems as if more of the demand will be for creating similar events for professional associations, user groups, vendors, and inside organizations that need to create richer connections and exchanges between divisions and locations.