24 Comments

Inspiring! Remind me to buy you a drink at a conference sometime soon, around the bend.

"boundaries are the mother of intention." moved a very large, very deep gear somewhere in my mind. Thanks for that especially!

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Thanks, and would love to. See you at one of the conferences in SF in June?

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Apr 16Liked by Benn Stancil

I assume this is coming off of the heels of Data Council although I'm sure you probably have many more in mind. The entire experience reminded me of a Bill Gates "reading vacation" where he takes a week off to only read books with the intent of cross pollinating ideas. I find that good conferences do that too: one talk on its own is interesting but when you overwhelm yourself with talks you get a lot of cross pollination and I like to think gives you a better glimpse of the possible futures.

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Yeah, someone else suggested that conferences are best seen seen as this kind of open-ended exploration of topics you wouldn't normally pay any attention to. Which I could sort of see working? I think it's hard not to have your eyes glaze over with that pretty quickly, but if you can pull it off, it seems useful?

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Apr 16Liked by Benn Stancil

I think that's just because as we get older (err more experienced) we map to things we already know so it loses some of the potency/originality. And I suspect this shortcut works 80% of the time but then some of the nuance gets lost and we end up assuming we get it all and don't appreciate the novelty or even bother digging deeper.

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Fair. There's probably a lot of "how does confirm what I already believe" and a lot less "how does this make me think something new."

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Apr 3Liked by Benn Stancil

There really is a performative playbook when it comes to these things; I've had all of these thoughts swirling in my head for years, as I continue to dutifully attend the conferences if not for a break from the day-to-day of convincing people the data is not wrong. (or is it?) That said, the optimistic turn at the end is definitely something to noodle on - behind the veneer of all the glorious swag we'll send to the landfill at some point or another and the open bar at the <insert data company #200 here> booth, there is something to be said for considering all of the different paths and intersections of the 1000s of faces we encounter. Great read this week.

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Thanks! And yeah, I struggle with not being too much of a cynic about it (or about anything, obviously). I'm not sure anyone really *intends* for conferences to be like this, but it's a nice side effect. And it actually might sort of help that people have some cynicism about conferences too, because people seem a little more willing to give you a peek of how they actually feel about the station they made it to in life. It's easy to "want to be" someone from a distance; up close, it's much easier to see what it really is like.

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Love this - conferences are indeed good for perspective, people watching, and deciding who you want to be and who you don't want to be.

I also think very few people go into conferences with intentionality of 1) who they want to meet 2) what they want to learn 3) what they want to bring home and actually do

I get it thats kind of lame... and I have only done it right maybe once. But the one conference I did right I got so much more out of it than any others I have been to... I picked an entire tech stack for a major project after the conference and also met some people I keep up with 8+ years later.

I also think its worth going to conferences for industries you know nothing about vs just staying in the tech conference bubble.

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Ooh, that first idea is pretty interesting. I do wonder if you could really accelerate some hard decision or something if you went to a conference with the sole intention of making that decision. It has always seemed weird to me that we don't learn more from conferences, where there are tons of experts telling you all of their life lessons. But maybe that's the problem - it's too undirected to be useful. If you had something specific to learn, maybe that's the cheat.

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And we typically go to conferences in our area of expertise. I’m sure if I went to a conference on fly fishing for example I would learn a lot - as I know nothing about fly fishing.

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True (and that would probably be pretty fun)

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Apr 2Liked by Benn Stancil

Great read! I will be thinking of this when I attend my next conference. Truly love your writing. Thank you!

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Thanks - I really appreciate that, and glad you like it!

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Apr 2Liked by Benn Stancil

I'm not that big on conferences, or at least not the ones that come with a heavy fee, nor do we have that many where I am at. So the ones I do attend usually don't have the invite-dinners or afterparties, but more of a "here's a sandwich and have a beer with sales guy who had to be here" vibe (which, admittedly, can actually be a great closing moment too).

However, the idea stays the same so this article was very, very, very relatable.

At first I was so enthused by "all the things I'll learn that day" only to be left with 25 minute product demo and 15 minute customer testimonial of "how it really changed the way they work" thanking the organiser extensively for their creative solutions, passionate employees, and probably a nice discount in return for showing up at that presentation.

But we push through. After all, these events are so important, so they have to be inspiring, right? You're an important person just by being there, right?

Despite those delusions and despite the networking event being more "huddle up at small standing table for lunch and find someone who isn't too shy to talk to you", I still aimed for (and usually succeeded in) finding at least one takeaway somewhere that I could apply to my own environment.

After a couple of events, my conclusion was that it usually wasn't the content of the event itself that inspired me, but the fact that just being away from my day to day tasks and dozens of notifications per hour freed up space in my mind to just think about the bigger picture of what I was working on and where we should go. Being surrounded by just one single topic made that just a little spark from the content or a well-placed hint of an idea often led to a train of thought being written down to hopefully execute it later.

In my situation at the time, that was the value those kind of events carried and it might be different for other people of course. Nowadays I'm much more selective as to which events I spend (half) a day on, but I do reserve time in my agenda to just sit there and think or read up on things happening in or around the data world, which often has the same effect.

TL;DR:

I enjoy your weekly write ups, especially ones like this one, and sometimes they spark a whole series of ideas. Other times they're just an enjoyable part of my Monday. Thanks for that!

At least this article has given me another aspect to think about when attending a next event.

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First, thanks for the note, and glad you like the posts! You never know with these things (especially the kinda weird ones like this), so it's always nice to know they aren't totally crazy.

It is funny to me how eery conference has the same sort of smell to it. They're like dentist's offices - no matter the industry, where it is, the types of people who go, there's some sort of inescapable atmosphere to all of them. Which isn't bad; in some ways, the familiar feel can be comforting, where you never really have to adjust to something new. But it does get...stale?

And yeah, I still do the same thing, where I'll look at conference agendas and think, "oh ok, this one has some good stuff, lots of things to see" and then by the end, I barely remember most of what I saw. I agree that you always seem to catch a few pieces of memorable driftwood - some story, some quippy bit of advice, some talk that was particularly entertaining - but it's definitely haphazard. Maybe that's the joy of it though; it's more like walking through a museum and seeing what serendipitously discover, than it is going to a class to learn something specific.

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Apr 1Liked by Benn Stancil

Such a great read! As a conference cynic, this makes me think entirely differently about their hidden value. Thanks for the effort you put into these posts, Benn. Always love reading them!

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Thanks! I appreciate that, and glad you enjoy the posts!

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Mar 30Liked by Benn Stancil

Conferences, like everything, should be enjoyed in moderation. I am trying to stick to 3-4 a year and at that rate I still learn something at each one, and am glad to meet new people and see old colleagues.

When I used to to attend every data conference, it was exactly as you described it, and there was little joy in it.

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Yeah, I still think these things can be fun, in their particular way, which usually means they become a kind of reunion. I can't decide if that's good or bad though. On one hand, reunions with friends are nice; on the other hand, it feels sort of insular and cliquey, and makes it easy to not really take in the whole conference (which, should you? I don't know).

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Hi Benn,

fascinating article that made me think back on when I would attend mining conferences when I was in college, something I haven't done for a few years now. What I can remember is the amazing food at the dinners, my first time having coffee with dinner: thick and pure black in porcelain white coffee cups on a white saucer. I loved the feeling of "being somebody" and (as you said), being on the right path in my career.

These days, I don't attend conferences, my only real connection to any type of business world is through LinkedIn, I post on there a bit but never get much traction but it always calls me back. It also helps shape what I do now: practice python, learn AI, practice Machine Learning problems and challenges. I have mostly moved away from mining, I'd like to potentially work as a Data Analyst or Scientist, but every once in awhile a course or something similar will pop up on LinkedIn, and even though it's related to mining (my first and life long love, a lover scorned at this point) I think "I should take that".

Although I won't be attending any conferences soon, just wanted to say 'Thank You' for this post which reminded me of so many things I'm still trying to process it all.

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Thanks, and glad you liked it. And yeah, there can be a lot of good things from conferences, especially when you're younger. I remember going to a couple academic conferences in college and having the same reaction. Which maybe that should be the goal - try to figure out how to maintain the wonder.

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Mar 29Liked by Benn Stancil

Brilliant as always. This one is timely for me. Thank you for all that you have written here.

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Thanks Kerry, I really appreciate that. And good luck with what's next!

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