In his book “Thinking and Deciding,” Jonathan Baron describes three types of thinking:
“We think when we are in doubt about how to act, what to believe, or what to desire.”
In-the-workflow thinking, the first type, makes the decisions people are facing in their every day work life and above-the-workflow thinking, the second and third types, invites people to step out of their everyday experience to look at the big picture of the world and the opportunities it presents.
Before the explosion of technology and media, business people’s choices of actions were limited by their local resources and they had limited contact with the world and its opportunities.
As a result, they had very little need for help with in-the-workflow thinking and substantial need for stimulating above-the-workflow thinking.
The thought leader model emerged to meet those needs and event keynotes and panels emerged as channels of distribution.
However, technology, globalization, the internet and other forces have changed the thinking landscape. Today, most business people are inundated with a steady stream of both information about all the latest developments that could possibly relate to them and stories of all the things people are trying.
And their choices about what actions to take have simultaneously exploded.
As a result, attendees arrive at our events with a pretty clear big picture. It may only be 2 mega pixels instead of 20, but the main features of their world and its possibilities are clear. And if they want to zoom in on any feature, they can do it for a very low cost on the internet.
What most of them don’t know is how to translate this big picture into concrete actions that are relevant to what they’re doing back at the job.
This crumbling foundation of the typical event’s thought leader value proposition is evident in some recent blogs (See Is Social The New Conference Black & Are Attendee Lists the New Allure? or Why I Travel to Conferences Last Minute) in which the authors state that their decision about whether to attend an event is becoming more dependent on which members of their social networks are attending and less dependent on the speakers and program.
They’re more interested in going deeper into their workflow, which is what our online networks are becoming, than listening to speakers talking about the big picture.
Most attendees don’t yet have the robust social networks that can offer the same opportunities for engagement so attending the speeches and panels continues to be their best/only value proposition at the event.
However, a strategy based on scarcity (lack of robust social networks) is an emperor with no clothes.
The fact that the authors of these blogs are willing to take the time and spend the money for transportation, lodging and event registration shows the value they believe face to face contact can add to their social networks and points to the new strategic direction in which events need to embark.
Helping people develop rich social networks that help them with their in-the-workflow thinking is a new opportunity for event producers and one in which the face-to-face realm has a clear competitive edge.
Instead of offering conference content and random networking opportunities that are becoming a decreasingly less attractive alternative to the unconferences which attendees’ social networks are letting them build, event producers need to embrace this shift and
- Make it easier for prospective attendees to see how the conference will enrich their social networks. This will involve not only letting them see who in their existing network will be there but also what meaningful and relevant contacts they might be able to add to their network,
- Change the event pedagogy from instruction to construction. Instead of presenters who attendees learn from, use facilitators who get attendees learning with each other because exchanging tacit knowledge is the best way to build the trust and understanding that’s a social network’s soul, and
- Keep enhancing your attendees’ social networks between events. The world doesn’t need another online community so don’t try to build one and recruit your audience into it. Instead, visit your attendees’ and prospects’ communities and constructively participate with useful knowledge and ideas as well as suggestions about other networks they might find interesting. Naturally you’ll wind up with your own social identity and web presence, but keep in mind that your value proposition relates to their social networks, not yours.
The thought leader/expert model is fundamentally inconsistent with the emergent wisdom of the crowds that social software platforms are energizing.
This represents a new and rapidly growing opportunity for event promoters and speakers who are willing to start shifting their focus from above-the-workflow thinking to in-the-workflow thinking that offers people opportunities to deepen, enhance and expand their social networks.
What do you think?