Last Saturday marked the end of the Stoos Stampede. The Stoos Stampede was one of the most inspiring conferences I have ever attended. And in hindsight I think the main reason was we organized for self-organization.
Looking back I can now see 3 things we did right to make self-organization work:
- Have a strong vision
- Gather, trust and facilitate passionate people
- embrace uncertainty
Have a strong vision
Our vision was to get a diverse set of change agents in the room and let them work on things together, instead of just sitting back and listening. This vision made it easy for us to make decisions and for participants to self-organize around.
One of those decisions was what to do with the original 21 Stoosians, the thought-leaders who came up with the first communique. Obviously they were important, but putting them on pedestals would work against the ability of the participants for self-organization. So we had 2 tiny pedestals where needed in the form of 2 keynotes.
Gather, trust and facilitate passionate people
The ideas of Stoos have already inspired more than 1000 people to join the LinkedIn group. So finding our audience was relatively easy.
Trusting them turned out to be slightly harder. My mantra for the session proposals was that we would accept anything people suggested. So what did we do when people proposed sessions that clearly were not in line with the vision we had? We sucked it up and trusted it would work. And it did. One of the best moments for me at the Stampede was when I wandered into a session. The last time I had wandered in it was everything we preferred did not happen. An expert standing and transmitting his ideas to a sitting, captive audience. But after 30 minutes the presentation had ‘degenerated’ into a lively debate with people taking turns at the whiteboard. Afterwards I heard it was one of the best sessions those people have attended, including the presenter.
Facilitating them was only hard work. Making sure there were enough rooms, with the right supplies, at the right time. Having a big agenda on the wall with enough room to add new sessions. Wifi etc etc.
The one thing that is as important as it is easy to forget is facilitating newcomers. Lucky Deborah Preuss reminded us and grabbed some time on stage to welcome the newcomers and explain the principles behind self-organization.
Pretty much everything about the Stoos Stampede was uncertain. How many people would show up? How many session will we get? Would those sessions be any good? Are we able to afford it? Will we get sponsors? Will people be able to find their own lunch? Dinner?
What are people going to do?
Self-organization is going to be uncertain. You are trusting people to do the right thing. You are facilitating, but not managing.
And that is risky, and uncertain. Instead of controlling everything, we used options, facilitating and mitigation as a way to contain some of the uncertainty. And accept the rest.
An example of the use of options is the venue. We were able to get first dibs on all the rooms in the venue. This meant we did not have to commit until a couple of weeks before the event or when someone else wanted to commit. So we postponed the decision what rooms to rent until we had a better idea of how many people would show up.
Wouter used the facilitation tactic brilliantly with the lunch and dinner Google maps. By making it easy for people to self-organize they will be more likely to do so. A proud moment was a photo of 20 laughing Stoosians packed in this tiny lunch room 3 blocks away.
And Jurgen, together with Agile Holland and Agile Consortium agreed to share the financial risk. By splitting the risk and by not renting the expensive hall they mitigated the risk one of them would fall over if something bad was to happen.
Self-organization is messy, uncertain, tremendous fun for everyone and very surprising. We suddenly had a whiteboard with twitter handles on the wall, signup sheets for local stoos communities, and best of all an impromptu panel/fishbowl mashup session.
At the end of the conference we as organizer decided to do a panel, but do it with a twist. Instead of getting the celebrities on stage (which would be against our vision), we decided to choose mere mortals that had generated a buzz during the past days.
And so it got started. We had prepared some questions when about halfway into the panel someone walked on stage with an empty chair, put it next to the panel and left. Melina, our panel host looked confused at the empty chair, but Simon, one of the panelist immediately grabbed the microphone and started to explain the rules: Whenever someone from the audience had something to share on this topic he or she would come forward and one of the current panelists had to leave. This made sure there was one empty chair at all times.
This lead to some great insights and passionate pleas from great people. None of which we planned in advance.
By encouraging self-organization and facilitating it by having a vision, trusting people and embracing uncertainty we managed to have a much better conference than anything we as organizers could have planned.