Far too many conferences continue to be very standard, with run-of-the-mill circuit speakers talking about uncontroversial topics and no effort to really stimulate attendees or make use of them being in the same place at the same time. Such events are often little more than marketing activities, and are at best talking-shops. The UK government’s ‘Civil Service Live’ is a prime example; this costly (in terms of money and time) event is the one point in the year that a lot of Civil Servants will be in the same place at the same time yet there is little or no effort to glean value from the group as a whole or to introduce thought-provoking topics or challenges that will have an impact that outstays the event itself. Unconferences (‘participant-driven meetings’)- the polar opposite of this stale format- are on the rise but they continue to be the domain of the edges; it is rare that a corporation will stray this far.
The ‘Amplify’ conference (a ‘festival of innovation and thought leadership’)- which I’ve recently returned from – therefore made a welcome change. This event certainly still had the familiarity of a conference (reassuring for some), but through unusual twists and integrated additions it challenged the accepted norm and brought internal value and global reach to the week.
For those not aware of Amplify, it:
- Is a 5 day conference organised by AMP for AMP (with a scattering of external attendees), but participated in and followed by people around the world through Twitter and live video streaming;
- Took place in three different Australian cities (Sydney, Parramatta, Melbourne);
- Featured talks by 35 world-class speakers including Andrew Mcafee and Mike Hawley (who worked with George Lucas to invent digital cinema) as well as numerous advisors to Obama and other world leaders;
- Used technology in creative ways (such as the “Amplify effect” used to visualise the festival’s impact across the world) to enable an increase in the reach and scope of the event;
- Included unusual events such as Tech on Tap (an open mic night for PhD students pitching for funding) and iDea iDo iPad (rapid ideation sessions on challenges facing AMP).
This conference- which happens every two years (partly due to the face that each one takes 18 months to organise)- is not only a great testament to those involved in organising it, but- importantly- it’s also an amazing reflection on AMP as an organisation. There are very few- if any- other corporations that invest so much time and effort in broadening the thinking and knowledge of employees.
As with any workshop, event or conference, however, the hard work didn’t stop when the final day came to a close (in this case- with a beach-themed Expo and a ‘spark’ cocktail party). AMP’s CIO has stated her aim to see the conference ideas ‘mould into real world benefits for AMP, our customers and our stakeholders’ so the desire to sustain (or ‘echo’) Amplify’s impact is certainly there; to really take advantage of the stimulated minds and renewed energy will not be simple, however. AMP will need to sustain the embrace of innovation, and continually assess the change in employees’ thinking, the direction of the company, and the reaction of customers. If successful, the AMP model of a ‘corporate compromise’ conference could be replicated within businesses across the world- with a potentially fantastic impact on collaboration, agility, and the culture of innovation.