2007/02/26

Innovation: BarCampMadison and FS3

Andy Bechtolsheim had a great quote in a recent InfoWorld article: "If you want to innovate, you sometimes have to throw things out and see whether you can make them successful. Because there's no easy way in advance to predict how exactly it will play out."

Andy's advice holds true for both BarCampMadison, 3 - 4 March 2007, and for the FireSeed Streaming Supercomputer (FS3). These are both tech 'projects' that didn't exist six months ago. No one knows how BarCampMadison will play out because it's a tech unconference. And no one knows how the FS3 project will turn out because it is not the standard approach to supercomputer design or to working on a major tech project.

The one thing participants do know about the barcamp is that they'll enjoy it. Having been to two previous barcamps, it's easy for me to know BarCampMadison will be both fun and successful. For those who have not been to a barcamp, consider participating in one this coming weekend. If there is any tech subject about which you're passionate, you will benefit in three ways from participating in this technology mêlée in Madison.

First, you'll get the chance to share your passion with others at the event by leading a session. Leading a session isn't about being a recognized expert who is giving a talk for others to sit passively and listen. The session leader's responsibility is to get the conversation started by explaining what there is about the topic of the session that gets them excited, that they are passionate about. Share your enthusiasm with others who are in the session. Elicit questions, be ready and willing to go off on tangents, ask others in the session to talk about their experience with the subject of the session.

Second, you'll get the chance to be exposed to tech topics about which others are really passionate. You will be involved in discussions about technology issues which are either new to you or are presented differently than you seen before. You may also contribute helpful information or ways of looking at things that other session leaders or participants hadn't heard before.

Third, you'll have the chance to meet a whole bunch of new tech enthusiasts. Some of them write code or design or build hardware. Others design websites or are proficient at using technology in unique or effective ways. You'll have the chance to connect with people passionate about the same topics as you or with geeks passionate about a topic you'd like to know more about. Some people have even said barcamps changed their lives and resulted in them doing new projects or starting businesses with people they met at the event. Serendipity is a great thing, and there will be lots of it at BarCampMadison.

The FS3 project is also well-described by Andy's quote and is being 'thrown out there' to see if we can make it successful. Not only is the technology unproven, but the ad hoc tech project model at this scale is unproven as far as we know. The project team will figure out ways to make both the FS3 and the ad hoc tech concept as successful as possible. Regardless of the eventual supercomputer product developed by the team, everyone who participates on the project will learn something about working with others in the knowledge economy and will take that experience with them to make their next project even better.

Two outcomes are desired from communicating about BarCampMadison and the FS3 project.
  1. Get more people involved in these two projects, and in other projects like them.
  2. Help others learn about these projects, encouraging them to contribute their suggestions, experiences and questions, making these projects and others more successful.
If you've been thinking about starting a project or event, throw it out there and see if you can make it successful! And if you like the sounds of BarCampMadison or the FS3 project, come join the fun!

*****

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