What do you want to promote?

by Harold Shinsato on May 18th, 2011
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Missoula BarCamp. It’s happening in a few days. The stomach churns at times. My body rebels with a cold and demands I slow down. But something in the psyche has been crying out for me to express something.

Missoula BarCamp. It’s about Missoula. It’s about art, technology, and change.

These are words I’ve repeated many times. I’ve shared also the story about Harrison Owen and how he used his experience in the Peace Corps in African villages to solve the problem of how to make conferences less dull and boring. He spent over a year organizing a conference that the attendees said the best part were the coffee breaks. So consoling himself over two martinis he came up with the format for Open Space Technology – meet in a circle, let people post their sessions on a bulletin board and let everyone work out the logistics right there.

I’ve repeated that story many times. And right now, it’s not enough.

Missoula BarCamp 2010

Something that has helped has been reading Seth Godin’s latest book, Poke the Box. This project of mine, this conference, has been such a passion for so many years, that at times I just wish I could organize conferences. Seth writes about a friend of his in the book who he calls Jennifer who organizes conferences once given the agenda and attendee list, but she has to wait to be picked. Instead Seth recommends to be the promoter, the one who initiates the conference.

Well I guess that’s what I’ve done. I don’t have a title. No one is paying me. But I’m the conference promoter. What am I promoting? Perhaps a few small stories will help explain.

A few days ago a box came in the mail. It was a little Arduino electronic controller board. I downloaded the open source software from the internet, plugged the device in, changed some lines of code, and fetched some ancient (circa 1983) light emitting diodes from the garage, and watched them flash as I commanded them from my MacBook Pro. I first learned about Arduino before the first Missoula BarCamp as someone suggested doing a session about it back in 2008. And I was disappointed it didn’t happen. But an attendee raised the idea again this year and this time he had actually bought the board. So I’m excited like a boy getting a toy at Christmas to be playing with it with other attendees on Saturday.

Visiting Arizona last year for the Scrum Beyond Software conference – also an Open Space Technology event – I was slowly more and more amazed at the hosting space. GangPlank has done things that seem crazy, impossible. They have competitors sharing their plans openly with each other in a free public collaboration space. Several companies have been born out of their work, and they’re even spreading to Utah. And they’re not the only ones doing it, both in the idea of Co-Working, in Hacker Spaces. And a sizable group in Missoula is engaging with GangPlank to try the same thing here. And many of them are coming to Missoula BarCamp.

One of the people coming to Missoula BarCamp this year, the legendary Jim McCarthy, has been a huge inspiration to me since I went to his software development bootcamp with a number of other amazing people back in 2002. I believe the work that Jim did at Microsoft was a predecessor for many of the wonderful practices I admire in the Agile Software development movement, and that the work he and his wife Michele have done that was documented in their book Software For Your Head goes beyond what the Agile movement has done because it promises and delivers an experience of shared vision in a simple but reliable and repeatable way. I’ve experienced his “bootcamp” several times and fully attest to its effectiveness.

Another person I admire who is flying in just for the conference is Dr. Christopher Avery. He’s done some very deep work into the concept of responsibility which drew considerable attention at the Agile 2009 conference and which has impacted me powerfully since then. Dr. Avery teaches that blame, justification, guilt, and obligation are “below the line” of real power, and that the more we notice and confront these tendencies – the more we can take the lead in our lives and our work. I’ve chosen to work with Dr. Avery since I met him in 2009, and I owe him a great debt in his support of my submitting and being accepted to present at the Agile 2011 conference this August.

Perhaps you can sense the technology and the “change”, but what about art? I’ve usually not needed to “sell” the importance of art, but this blog post is personal, and what is personal about bringing the arts into Missoula BarCamp’s thematic triad? In short, improvisational acting. And Improv plays a role in the world of Agile Software Development as a recurring session topic at conferences. It comes up in the use of games to teach better software development practices. And Improv comes up big time in the concept of Open Space Technology conferences. Especially in the work of Phelim McDermott, improvisor, Broadway and London stage performer, and initiator of the Open Space conferences about theater in both London and New York – Devoted and Disgruntled. And Phelim is also a fellow board member of the Open Space Institute of the U.S.

Were there only space and time to list so many more of the inspiring and transformative conversations I’ve had as a result of attending other Open Space conferences around Agile Software, Leadership, and even Open Space itself. How we can get to a world that is more fair, more fun, and more prosperous? For me, it’s not possible to imagine that without art, change, and technology. What Missoula BarCamp has always been about has been sharing these diverse yet intertwined passions which seem to also resonate powerfully in the heart of this small and beautiful mountain city.

I hope that this promotes Missoula BarCamp to you. What do you want to promote?


Categories: Everything

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