Digital transformation ‒ Co-creation formats are replacing conferences
The internet is obeys different success factors than the classic German industrial sector. Successful companies in “Silicon Valley” are demonstrating how to exploit the dynamics of the internet world. For example, the automotive manufacturer Local Motors has an online community consisting of more than 36,000 car fans and experts such as engineers and designers all over the world who interlink their knowledge. So vehicles can be developed for a fraction of the cost and within a much shorter development period than at conventional corporations. For years, the bookselling trade has known what it means when an internet company like Amazon enters the market. But Local Motors, Amazon and the like are just the beginning: The internet is transforming all products, business models and business sectors.
New values: networking, openness, participation and agility
What factors get companies prepared and fit for digitalisation? The same factors that constitute the basis of how the internet works: networking, openness, participation and agility. In order for companies to be able to exploit those success patterns, their senior managers have to develop further themselves and learn “management by internet”. They have to recognise when it is better for them to bid farewell to mechanisms like hierarchy and control, and instead to allow themselves to be guided by values such as networking, openness, participation and agility within the scope of leadership and co-operation.
That requires a large measure of courage: courage to experiment and to give staff the freedom needed for independent responsibility and organisation. In order to achieve that, it is initially necessary to reduce bureaucracy. That is the only way that innovations can grow and flourish. Working methods are brought to organisations almost automatically through their young employees, the so-called digital natives. But senior managers also have to take advantage of that innovation pool by allowing and encouraging new working methods.
That also includes new types of information exchange: the so-called co-creation formats. They generate enthusiasm, results – and encourage participation. PowerPoint and lengthy meetings are a thing of the past. They are being replaced by “Open Space” events, “BarCamps” and “FedExDays” – participation formats that are based on networking and agility rather than lectures and one-dimensional information.
As a consulting company, doubleYUU is providing accompanying support for digital transformation at the SWR broadcasting corporation; in this context, SWR Director Peter Boutgoust comments: “For quite some time now we have been experiencing a continuous media revolution and observing that social conditions are also changing. This means that we also have to change if we want to keep up with those developments.“
That is why the SWR has already been organising Open Space events and BarCamps together with us, the managing consulting firm that specialises in digital transformation doubleYUU GmbH (doubleyuu.de/) since 2009. And in doing so it is definitely no longer a pioneer.
What is “Open Space”?
“Open Space” actually implies something like “free space” or “open landscape”. And that is exactly the objective of Open Space events. They do not have anything in common with conventional meetings or conferences. The greatest difference is that although there is an overall theme – which is usually quite complex – there is neither a planned agenda nor predetermined participants. The idea originated in a narrative told by its inventor, Harrison Owen: after a convention for which he had spent a great deal of time and effort on the preparation, he noticed that everybody liked the coffee breaks best. They were the most useful part of the event.
A feeling that every one of us is probably familiar with: You only realise that a certain aspect of an event is the really interesting thing while standing at a cocktail table with a colleague that you hardly even knew before, and then you return to the auditorium promising each other that you will talk about the matter in greater depth the next time.
That is exactly how an Open Space event works. It is suitable for groups ranging from eight or ten participants to several thousands. The lack of a predetermined agenda does not mean that there is no structure whatsoever. That structure emerges during the first one and a half hours of the event. To that end, all of the participants initially sit down in a circle or in concentric circles if more than 50 people are attending. Then everyone has the opportunity to enter the centre of the circle and present his or her issue relating to the theme. The important thing is: He or she must be willing to shoulder responsibility for the theme. For one of the laws of Open Space is that every individual is allowed to press ahead with every theme. That in itself already releases incredible energy. Perhaps it may be the journalism intern or the accountant who focuses on a certain aspect of a comprehensive change process, thus moving the discussion forward in a decisive manner.
Free exchange with results, but without bureaucracy
When everyone has presented their issues and posted them on the “market place” on the wall, all of the participants sign up for the area in which they would prefer to take part. And then things really get started: Each group works on its theme in a self-organised fashion. At the end, all of the groups publish their results, recommendations or agreements on the “bulletin board”. The “bumble bees” are especially stimulating: participants that “fly” from one group to another, building bridges between the various themes. That gives rise to a network that is similar to the exchange of information in the internet and - above all - it is not impeded by any bureaucratic or corporate policy obstacles.
Before an Open Space event is concluded, all of the participants are provided with the results of the individual groups. They can be used as a basis for more in-depth work or can stand alone. Anyone who has experienced such an Open Space event knows: What is really special is that the spirit of that sort of event extends far beyond the two or three days that it usually lasts. Besides the results, the participants take home the experience of having been heard, of knowing that work was done on an issue that is important to them, and usually they are filled with the conviction that they have achieved something in a self-organised fashion.
A “BarCamp”, which adheres to the same basic concept, is organised in a more casual manner than an Open Space event. The name already reveals that the roots of this event format can also be found in the digital world: “Bar” is a special IT term that designates a placeholder. The intention is to make it clear that everyone can take part; no invitation is required. But other aspects of the BarCamps also reveal their digital connection quite clearly: Usually, they are already planned via the internet; they often have a dedicated blog or their own website via which interested participants can already network in advance. Every BarCamp is recorded in writing, photographed and documented on notebooks or other end devices, and immediately uploaded to the website.
That is not only conducive to the free exchange of ideas; it is the quintessence of it all. Simultaneously surfing on the internet – which is frowned upon elsewhere – is an integral part of the event. Therefore, good IT infrastructure at the rental venue is quite naturally a fundamental prerequisite.
The “FedExDay” is another event format that can open up and replace conventional conferences. It got its name from an express mail service which boasts that it will deliver within 24 hours. In this case as well, the objective is “delivering”, but of course results are delivered, not packages. Developers and experts take 24 hours of time to devote themselves to themes that are related to the service or the product of their company. Complete autonomy within the groups is also the rule in this case; people work with whomever they wish, focusing on the themes that they consider to be important.
The special aspect in this case is time: A FedExDay usually starts at noon and is interrupted at night for a short rest period. The results of the groups are presented to the other participants at the end of the event. And the format is strict in this respect: Delivery within 24 hours!
There are reasons why these new event formats are on the rise. What is happening here is more than information transfer. It is an expression of genuine change at companies, part of the digital transformation. The spirit of “Silicon Valley” can be brought to every company that would like to change something. There is no doubt that formats of this type are not suitable for all kinds of content. But for all the issues which companies are passionate about, and which are complex and new. Just try it out, take the plunge!
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