Week 111

Maddie gives a (very positive) account of the Mozilla Festival in London.


I’ve been away for most of the last three weeks on various trips, one of which, notably, was to the Mozilla Festival in London. Here I would like to pay homage to the great work of Michelle Thorne, Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino and all the others who helped put this wonderful event together.

MozFest can’t really be called a conference in the usual sense: its structure is looser, and better able to adapt to the particular interests of the people attending. The thing that made MozFest great was the friendly, accessible, open atmosphere. The setup wasn’t rigid at all, and we were encouraged to swing by any workshop that interested us, and dart out again if there was something else we didn’t want to miss. Coming in halfway through a session wasn’t a problem, since others would fill you in on what was happening. There was no elitism and nobody was judgmental. You simply tried things, chatted, tried more things. Workshops and sessions were described minimally on the schedule, and so were allowed to evolve in unforseen directions.

To give an example, our friends Louisa Heinrich and Martin Spindler conducted a session on hacking the city, or exploring ways to improve the quality of urban life. We jumped right in, throwing post-its on the walls, splitting quite organically into groups, quickly getting ourselves deep in conversation with perfect strangers, and scribbling notes on large pieces of paper. One group tackled quality of life in terms of health services, and devised a way to make use of already-present infrastructure to take better care of the elderly and the sick: repurposing the postal service to include not only mail pickup and delivery, but also checking in on customers’ wellbeing. At least one member of that group fully intends to continue developing the idea and to implement it. (My group was working on culture – our final idea involved laser beams, robotic bumblebees and Weavrs – we went a bit “off-piste” as one participant put it.)

I also saw Joi Ito speak for the first time. He talked about his emancipatory experience with learning on the internet. One line of his really stuck with me:

Education was something other people did to me. Learning was something I did for myself.

This embodied the spirit of the event: we were all stopping and starting wherever we liked, learning together or alone, and relying heavily on our own motivation and initiative, with minimal lecturing and instruction. We were given the resources to go exploring on our own.

More on the topic of digital learning to come.

Week 56

Last week we had a chance to dig deeper, with interviews and a topic sprint. Johannes met the good folks at Dachis Group, and we’ll be visiting Bonn and London.

This last week we got a chance to dig deeper into some things. It’s something we enjoy tremendously.

Learn about your client

We kicked off a series of interviews with client teams. Exploratory, semi-structured conversations, analyzed qualitatively are a great way to really understand what’s going on inside a company. It helps you understand way more than the basics. Processes, information flows, nuances and motivations – all that can be revealed in interviews if you know how to ask your questions. And in the few hours you spend here, you’ll learn so much more than from any org chart or internal report.

In fact, those interviews have turned out to be so useful, we basically insist on kicking off any major project that way.

Dig deeper

We also had our first topic sprint. Loosely based on the idea of a book sprint, we try to pick one topic and then dig in. It can be any emerging topic we think will become relevant soon, or a problem we’ve been banging our heads against. Without giving to much away yet, this was the first one, and we spent a half day brainstorming and debating the topic we picked. What was important to us is to have clear format restrictions.

In this case, we set out with the following goals:

  • The eventual output we work towards would be a series of blogposts.
  • The output at the end of the topic sprint would a table of content, or an exposé, of this blog series, and author names attached to each one.
  • We would spend no more than four hours on the sprint itself.

Armed with those rules and some croissants we set out and started digging. Slightly less than four hours later we saved a doc with what will turn into a deep dive into a topic we have been thinking about. Check back here for more – but give us a few weeks, we have a lot to write.

Social Business Summit

Johannes was at the Social Business Workshop organized by Dachis, a high-level meetup in preparation for Dachis’ bigger Social Business Summit 2012 series that will also come to Berlin. After a day of conversations with the hosts Jeff Dachis and Peter Kim, Johannes is looking forward to the big event in Berlin on May 17, 2012.

Our travel schedules this week

November is a busy month, so Johannes and Igor will be in Bonn on Wednesday and Thursday. I will head over to London on Friday for the Mozilla Festival and parts of Internet Week Europe. Let us know if you’re around and want to grab coffee!