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How often do you come home from a professional conference and say something like: “The best part of the event was the coffee breaks and the cocktail parties.”? I sometimes say that even when the keynote presentations were world-class.

In this age of social media, free long-distance phone calls, and webinars, why do we spend so much time and money to attend conferences?

Well, for most of us there is still plenty of power in face-to-face communication. Good keynote speakers can have an incredible impact even in a big, crowded ballroom – an impact that is substantially different from reading their books and blogs or listening to them during an online webinar.

But I know as well as you do that the real value of going to most conferences is the opportunity to meet and have personal conversations with colleagues and professional friends, both old and new.

So why do so many conference organizers still fill up their agendas with pontificating platform speakers and with endless breakout sessions that always seem to be “I will talk and you will listen” experiences?

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There is only one of you

June 30, 2014

Ponder this for a moment:  as big and as global as the Internet is, every single human being is born with a far more impressive network. It’s called a brain.

I learned last week from author Steven Campbell (Making Your Mind Magnificent) that the human brain has  more than 100 billion neurons (that’s not a typo!). But, as Campbell says,

...this is nothing! Each of those neurons has an average of 10,000 connections to other neurons. This computes to 100,000,000,000 connections! That is a quantity found by multiplying 100 billion times 100 billion, times 100 billion...ten thousand times. As a comparison, 100 billion multiplied by 40,000 is a number larger than the number of stars in the Milky Way. We truly cannot fathom the number of connections our brain has.

(Making Your Mind Magnificent, p.4)

Campbell is describing the network inside just one human brain! And there are upwards of 7 billion human beings alive today – most of them in possession of a functioning brain.

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It’s a cliché you’ve heard before: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

That’s often said in a highly derogatory tone, criticizing people who get a job, or win a contract, or get into an exclusive restaurant, because someone they know has opened a door or an opportunity for them based more on the relationship than on their skills or experiences.

And of course that is often the way things happen. But there’s a positive side to this picture as well; when you know someone, and trust him or her, you have a reasonably accurate understanding of what s/he is  capable of, and how reliable s/he is. So your predictions about how well s/he will perform should be fairly accurate.

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There is no such thing as “a team.”

There are big teams and little teams; there are research teams and problem-solving teams; there are fact-finding teams and product design teams. There are functional teams and cross-functional teams. There are co-located teams and distributed teams. There are departmental teams and multi-company teams.

And there are certainly many, many books, websites, thought leaders, and trainers who offer general prescriptions for building effective teams. But today we want to focus on the things that make every team and its work different from every other team.

For the last several weeks we have been exploring the value of looking at teams – and entire organizations – as living systems. We are deliberately moving away from Industrial-Age models of leadership and management, and we are seeking lessons about team effectiveness from fields like biology, zoology, and other disciplines that focus on living systems.

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Instant Mind Meld

June 9, 2014

Twitter is the best way we humans have to broadcast instant messages (short and sweet) to our colleagues – and to the whole world. And we all know the profound impact that Twitter has had on our global society, most clearly in the context of recent populist uprisings in the Middle East.

Yes, there are undoubtedly many more mundane messages on Twitter (and Facebook) than there are life-changing ones; but the impact of the messages that matter is worth all the idiotic ones about who you had coffee with, what your baby sister said this morning, or how much water your cat drank out of the toilet (and never forget that what you consider mundane might be cherished by someone else).

Once you get past those trivialities, our ability to send essentially instantaneous broadcast messages to almost every other human being on the planet is far more profound than most of us realize.

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Leading the Living

June 2, 2014

I’ve been stewing for many years about my personal experiences with Industrial-Age bureaucracies and the way they constrict, and even destroy, human creativity and innovation.

And I know it’s not just me. I’m convinced that the dismal levels of employee engagement (in American organizations at least) that have been reported recently by Gallup (see State of the American Workplace) and widely discussed ("The Costs of Ignoring Employee Engagement," “Why You Hate Work”) are symptoms of a fundamental misfit between people, work, and current organizational practices.

The latest, and very articulate, commentary on this Very Important Topic appeared last Friday, May 30, in the New York Times (“Why You Hate Work”). If you haven’t seen that article yet, I urge you to go read it and then come back here.

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The IFMA Foundation Workplace Strategy Summit will convene in just two weeks at Wokefield Park, just north of London (8-10 June). There are still seats available, and you really don't want to miss this very special event. Attendance is limited to 160 of the smartest, best-informed workplace experts in the world (including you, if you register now).

Our official host is Alexi Marmot, Director of AMA - Alexi Marmot Associates Ltd., and Professor of Facility and Environmental Management at University College London. Here she reflects on the first Summit, held at Cornell University in September 2012, and expresses her expectation that the 2014 Summit will be just as exciting and provocative:

It's not too late to join me, Alexi, Frank Becker of Cornell, Frank Duffy, and 160 other thought leaders and experienced practitioners from all over the world. Click here to read more about the Summit and register to join us for two days of energizing conversation and presentations.

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My most recent “Talking About Tomorrow” hosted conversation was deep into a fascinating discussion about the “consumerization” of the workplace, when one of the participants commented “I think the smartphone has had a bigger impact on the workplace than the laptop ever did.”

Really? Hasn’t the laptop practically replaced the standard desktop computer, reduced space requirements, cut costs, and enabled millions of workers to work almost anywhere? How could a mobile phone even dream of having as dramatic an impact on the way we work?

Stay with me for a moment.

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What’s the Common Good?

April 14, 2014

Several hundred years ago most villages had at their center a “commons” – an area of public land that served not only as a meeting place (the “public square”) but usually also as grazing land for the villagers’ cows, sheep, and other animals. It was a shared space that offered food and protection for individuals who were members of the community. Ownership of the Commons was shared by everyone who lived in the village.

Now it’s April 15: here in the United States it is tax day – the day many of us mail our checks, at the last minute, to the Internal Revenue Service. And while it always hurts to pay taxes, I view them as our investment in society as a whole – our “dues” for having a healthy, safe environment to live and work in, and for having an infrastructure that provides us with those things (schools, roads, national defense, and so on) we cannot build by ourselves.

Our federal and local governments are the means by which we design, build, and manage our modern-day Commons. All of which makes me think about what kinds of corporate infrastructures are needed today, and where the boundaries lie between public and private support capabilities.

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Three Special Events

April 14, 2014

There are three important professional events coming up over the next couple of months that you should seriously consider attending. Here’s a quick overview of each of them, with links to where you can find more information and register to attend them.

WorkTech14 - New York City (May 15)

This one-day event sponsored by Unwired is one of about 20 similar gatherings that will take place in major cities all over the world in 2014. Spend the day hearing the latest stories and case studies focused on the intersection of workplace and technology.

Subscribers to The Future of Work Agenda and readers of this blog can get a significant discount to this event by registering using the following link:

http://shop.instant-shop.com/UNWIREDNewYork/category390901.html

Positive Business Conference – Ann Arbor, Michigan (May 15-17)

This is the first national conference being sponsored by the Center for Positive Organizations at the University of Michigan. It will be followed by an informal half-day gathering on May 17 by many of the active champions collaborating to create the Great Work Cultures movement (I am one of the co-founders of Great Work Cultures).

This is a marvelous opportunity to learn more about how organizational cultures and management practice are evolving away from “Command and Control” and towards “Respect and Empower.” Please review the two events at this link, and join us in Ann Arbor May 15-17.

Immediately following the Positive Business Conference, a group of champions, instigators, rabble-rousers, and work revolutionaries (the Great Work Cultures gang) will be gathering to discuss — and take action on — one straightforward question: Where do we go from here? Click here for more information about this free, post-conference open space event.

Workplace Strategy Summit – Wokefield Park, United Kingdom (June 8-10)

On June 8-10 of this year, University College London will host a gathering of the leading thinkers in workplace strategy.

Building on the success of the first Workplace Strategy Summit held at Cornell University, the 2014 summit will feature leading academics and experts in the fields of facility management and real estate speaking about the most innovative concepts to emerge in workplace strategy. Attendees will not only hear from these global innovators, but also be able to engage with the presenters and other attendees from all over the globe in round-table discussions on a range of issues related to work and workplace in the 21st century.

Meet with the best and the brightest FM professionals from Europe and the United States to review the “state of the art” of workplace strategy and help chart the course for future research about the business impact of workplace design. Sponsored by the IFMA Foundation and University College London.

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