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Friday November 6, 2009 8:38 pm
Getting ready for Seattle Mind Camp 6.0: The Philosophical Guide
This is an updated version of a post originally published on April 28, 2006
Most of you who have previously attended Seattle Mind Camp understand the free-form nature of the beast. However, many of you will be joining us for the first time, and I wanted to try to prepare you for the kind of event you’re going to encounter. Mind Camp is not a traditional type of gathering, and the success of the event depends in large part on the willingness of the participants to wrestle the chaotic mess into order.
Seattle Mind Camp is an “unconference,” in the style of Bar Camp or Foo Camp. The idea of an unconference has been promulgated by Dave Winer, among others. As I understand it, Winer’s particular insight was that, for any conference panel discussion, you could take any random group of people out of the audience, replace the panel onstage with that random group, and have an equally enlightening and worthwhile session. The Mind Camp experience seeks to leverage that idea by completely doing away with a pre-planned program of speakers. The day’s sessions will be designed by the attendees and the schedule will be created by the attendees themselves.
So how does that happen? Well, it’s not entirely left to chance. On Saturday morning, session organizer candidates will tape up their candidate forms along the walls of Synapse, so that they may be previewed by arriving campers. After everyone has lunch and introductions are made, attendees will file along the walls, using small stickers to vote for the sessions they’d like to see. The session organizers will assign rooms and times to the most popular sessions, and then to a group of randomly-selected sessions. Then, with the sessions placed on a large grid, everyone will take a look at the schedule, pick their session, and make for the appropriate room. (See the full explanation of the process here.)
Chaotic? Yes! But out of that chaos comes a most remarkable order… an unexpected, un-plannable, un-recreatable program of dizzying depth and variety. The Mind Camp attendees are engaged in a wide variety of personal and work projects and bring a broad range of experience and expertise to share with others. I expect that few sessions will feel like lectures; in fact, most will likely be highly participatory. Mind Campers have a lot of insight on a variety of topics, and they’re not particularly shy about offering it!
In addition to the sessions, the hallway conversations that are a major part of any conference are a big part of Mind Camp, too. There will be lots of stuff happening in the common areas, including gaming sessions, impromptu coding slams, and who-knows-what-else?
It would be cliche to encourage you to “think out of the box,” but the fact is that Mind Camp is open to any sort of direction you want to take it. Not enough rooms available? Use the common area. Go the the cafe down the street. Meet in the hall. Sessions too dull? Not likely, but feel free to go nuts and create something completely different—a session where everyone in the room can say 10 sentences about whatever topic. I don’t know… go crazy. If you’ve got a problem with something at Mind Camp, don’t just bitch about it, offer a solution. As long as you respect a few basic rules, the building, and your fellow campers, no one’s going to tell you no.
I guess the one thing that’s a tough conceptual leap for some folks is the idea that no one is going to spoon-feed you a conference program. You are going to be responsible for your experience at Mind Camp. We are creating the space; we’re doing our best to make sure all your basic needs are taken care of, so that you can focus on interacting with the rest of the campers. Beyond that, we simply expect that you’ll participate by bringing your knowledge and experience in whatever field you’re in, and sharing that knowledge with others.
You can read more about the unconference concept from Johnny Moore, Dave Winer, Hugh Macleod, and Marc Cantor. And, of course, there’s a Wikipedia entry. And, if anyone else can amplify on what I’ve outlined here, I encourage you to revise and extend these remarks in the comments section.
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