40 Reasons Why “UnConferences” Disappoint

After attending many formally and informally structured events framed as “design thinking” sessions branded as conferences, workshops, meetings and unconferences we have observed several dialogue patterns that are relatively consistent.

Many informal design thinking unconference-like events seem to reflect the fact that much of the newly forming “design thinking community” is relatively new to cross-disciplinary cocreation and thus assumptions from old ways of working are being imported into a new era. The emphasis seen often is on event brand building rather than event substance. The focus seems to on creatively selling old skills under a new banner rather than actually changing or admitting that new skills might be needed for a new way of working.

At such events the often conflicting universes of Design 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0 can be seen in action. When I say “design thinking” which design are you referring to? At such events one can see that some present want “design thinking” to simply be a reflection of old Design 1.0 skills relying primarily on intuitive process now being creatively reframed as “emergence”. Alot of coffee-time chit chat occurs while often the goals and challenges pre-identified are not insignificant. This misalignment between meeting goals and the process in use is one of 40 dynamics seen at such events as described below.

40 Reasons Why “UnConferences” Disappoint

1.    Vastly different, unarticulated, unaligned expectations among participants.

2.    Lack of awareness that many types of dialogue exist.

3.    Lack of acknowledgement regarding what the default dialogue mode is.

4.    Disconnect between (serious significant) expected outcomes and (tea party-like) processes.

5.    Lack of acknowledgement that the scale of challenges facing us has changed.

6.    Lack of acknowledgement that few adults in the mix presently have been educated at high levels in cross-disciplinary work skills.

7.    Lack of awareness that content knowledge is not process knowledge.

8.    Deeply engrained academic value system based on argument dialogue dynamics.

9.    Lack of appropriate content knowledge among participants.

10. Lack of adaptable process knowledge among participants.

11. Lack of adaptable process mastery among session organizers and leaders.

12. Lack of common change making language.

13. Acting out of bad behaviors learned in previous eras.

14. Dialogue filled with tribal acronyms.

15. Habitual reliance and overemphasis on judgment/convergent thinking.

16. Lack of ownership of challenges among participants.

17. Lack of trust among participants.

18. Competitive marketplace forces (includes schools).

19. Assumptions that participants are all using the same cognitive processes.

20. Over-reliance on words, no visual sensemaking present.

21. Fear of looking dumb among participant colleagues.

22. Over emphasis on portfolio presentation of preconceived solutions.

23. Little upstream navigation awareness present.

24. Lack of awareness that sustainability is a type of challenge (content) not an innovation (problem solving) process.

25. Lack of awareness regarding the messiness of human cognition.

26. Inattention to the cognitive aspects of the psychical work-space.

27. Blank slate phenomenon, no acceleration research materials present.

28. Assumption that technology equals innovation.

29. Assumption that with technology present no process or process skills are needed.

30. Importation of conflict oriented online interaction dynamics.

31. Assumption that observing (lurking) is constructive participation.

32. Over reliance on feel-good ego-based (emergent) chat dialogue rather than on outcomes.

33. Resistance to learning by adult participants.

34. Lack of acknowledgement that new learning is needed.

35. Lets wait until they fail and then return to the default mode approach.

36. Lack of appropriately scaled and designed integrative thinking tools.

37. Challenge overload and fatigue among participants.

38. Constant churn, session activity overload.

39. Assumption that simply putting diverse minds in proximity to each other creates innovation.

40. Assumption that broadcast mode equals cocreation mode.

Humans are amazingly adapatable creatures. Even in these kinds of conditions event organizers can often be seen expecting participants to magically produce meaningful outcomes. While coffee-time chit chat is an important form of dialogue, assuming that it will lead to complexity navigation, opportunity finding, problem solving and or meaningful solutions is a giant leap of logic that does not reflect what is already known. Not knowing and or agreeing to what is already known remains a stable of the hotly competitive “design thinking” marketplace. There are alot of repeating starting point initiatives going on out there. For the most part “design thinking unconference” events remain far behind best practice cocreation. Are you looking forward to the era of beyond unconferences as much as we are?