Monday, June 21, 2010

Praise for the Norwegian Developers Conference - A Conference with Heart

Leaving the Norwegian Developers Conference after the last session of the last day, conference participants were bid a fond farewell at the door by Kjersti Sandberg.

I suppose it's not such a big deal to have people saying goodbye to participants as they leave, but in the case of the NDC, the person doing the goodbyes was the conference organizer herself.

There is a lot to say about the quality and value of a conference like the NDC, but if you trace the outward expressions of quality back to the source of the quality, you inevitably find yourself staring square in the face of leadership. It's Kjersti's leadership that makes the NDC an excellent conference - and in my case, one of the best and most rewarding conference experiences that I've ever had.

When you build something that you truly believe in, and when you have intentions to do something great and hold yourself to extremely high standards, that sense of ownership is palpable in every aspect of the work and of the product. The Norwegian Developers Conference in Oslo last week was an obvious expression of leadership, vision, and commitment.

I get the sense that being at the door, in person, to bid farewell to conference participants wasn't just the execution of good customer experience technique and strategy, but was a moment for Kjersti to enjoy the fulfillment of hard work and excellent execution. I can't remember a conference where the conference director was so deeply invested in her customers' experience that she was there in person to wish them well and to express her appreciation for their participation.

Anyone can fake these kinds of expressions of customer service, but it takes heart to do it and to make it clearly sincere and meaningful.

Kjersti wasn't at the door to wish NDC participants a good journey back home and through the next year because it's just smart, personable technique. She was there because it meant as much to her to enjoy the moment of personal and personable accomplishment as the experience of the NDC meant to the people who came to NDC. And it was definitely a moment of absolute pleasure for me to watch something quite rare: a true appreciation for customer experience reflecting a true investment in product and customer development.

Kjersti wasn't at the door with a big sign over her head letting people know that she is the person behind the NDC. She was there anonymously. She wasn't there for the show and the display, she was there because it means something for her to be there, and to say farewell in person. It wasn't about a demonstration of investment in customer, it was simply investment in truth incarnate. For me, it was probably the most endearing moment of a conference that overflowed with endearment.

There's much more to say about the people involved in making the Norwegian Developers Conference happen. I'd just like to say thanks to everyone at Kjersti's company, Program Utvikling, and to Anders Noras, Rune Grothaug, Henriette Holmen, Jakob Bradford, Thale Sandberg, and a host of people who had a role to play in making the NDC a memorable and rewarding human experience.

The most important thing about creating a good conference is crafting a space for ideas and perspectives to come together - especially conflicting ideas and perspectives - to learn what new ideas can come from the experience, and to form new, higher order ideas that resolve what we had previously assumed were ideas of irreconcilable difference. It takes courage and integrity to create a space to allow this to happen. The space itself is just a blank slate, it becomes a space of courage and integrity when it reflects these qualities that are already qualities of its leaders.

Two salient takeaways for myself from my experience at conferences in Scandinavia:

Firstly, Scandinavian conferences, like NDC, Oredev, and others, don't seem to allow the kind of mindless orthodoxy that is eroding integrity in many conferences in the United States. They encourage encounters of diversity that, while tense, inevitably lead to the greatest ideas of the future, and point the way to the next steps.

And secondly, the United States conference market is in desperate need of a practitioner-level conference like the kind I've experienced in Scandinavia - especially in the Microsoft community, where diversity is increasingly avoided and, in some cases, actively suppressed. My hope beyond hope is that we'll see one of these conferences on our shores soon, and that their influence will help to get the community focused on goals that are more important to society as a whole than they are to the imperatives of a particular player's interests.

Ampersand GT

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