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We’re Not Done Yet

15 Nov 2009
by Alex Hillman

“We’d love to wait for you to come on board and help us, but fuck it, we’re gonna do it anyway.” – From Scene but not Nerd, January 2007.

The sentiment hasn’t changed for me, it won’t change anytime soon, and this past weekend’s events illustrate a very important part: the sentiment is shared by more than just this angsty technologist.

DIY, or “Do It Yourself” for the uninitiated, means more than just “bottom up” for this town.

It means that people have a true sense of ownership, and a true sense of pride, in what they make, and why shouldn’t the city that they live and work in be a part of their portfolio?

BeerCamp Philly was more than a party (and believe me, there ain’t no party like an IndyHall Party, cuz an IndyHall party don’t stop), but a framework for achieving many of the important aspects normally not achieved by DIY.

First, the notion of doing it yourself seems to imply two things:

  • Do it BY yourself
  • Do it FOR yourself

BeerCamp debunked that in a big way, and put a stake in the ground for an fast growing, almost entirely underground community of homebrewers.

Among the takeaways I heard as the night played out, two important ones were recurring, and I believe the most important.

  • Many of our participating homebrewers don’t get to taste their beer with anyone outside of the group of friends with whom that they brew. That’s a lost opportunity for creating a feedback loop to learn from.
  • Many of our homebrewers don’t get to taste other homebrewer’s beer, and compare notes. Yet another lost opportunity to accelerate their learning process, and continue to experiment.

I should point out that it is my intuition that homebrewing is a social activity, and very few people do it 100% solo, but I’m not sure about that.

In one night, we connected 11 brewers to each other, and simultaneously introduced them to our sold-out attendance of well over 200 beer-lovers.

Brewers shared notes about process, junior brewers learning technique from a senior generation (and not surprisingly, some of those newer brewers had some things of their own to teach).

The act of “doing it yourself” for these brewers took something they did for craft, became a shared experience with a much larger audience, many of whom were new faces to our community.

In those series of moments, everything accelerated. Not just during the event itself, but with lasting effects that have yet to be seen unfold.

That’s the difference. Lasting effects because they have skin in the game from here on out.

During BarCamp Philly II, which was probably the dozenth’ or so “unconference” event I’ve attended in the last couple of years, something similar occured.

These people, and the dozens more that are out of frame and that came throughout the day, seized an opportunity to take 7 hour schedule and make it their own.

At 8am, there was no conference schedule. At 10am, 12 rooms had organized into over 50 sessions. The schedule board was full, and the organizers reacted by adding a 13th track, making room for up to 6 more presenters.

For all of the energy put into carefully crafting a conference schedule that’s ideal for an event’s agenda, I think this one came out pretty well.

Note the diversity, by the way. BarCamp Philly has begun to leave the realm of “geeks only” (only a couple of Twitter/social media sessions, and a healthy smattering of tech-oriented sessions), and is now also strongly trending into business, communication, education, law, art, music, and culture.

Back to Doing It Yourself.

For many attendees (I’d estimate well over half based on a show of hands at the beginning of the day), BarCamp Philly II was not only their first BarCamp, but their first exposure to the broader community of people moving and shaking in Philadelphia. At every event since the 2007 BlogPhiladelphia I co-organized with Annie Heckenberger, I’ve heard the same phrase over and over:

“I had no idea so much was happening in my own back yard” And that’s just it. There is already so much going on in our own back yard.

Much of it, without the traditional focus on “What resources don’t we have and how do we get them?”, and with more of a focus on, “What can we accomplish with what we’ve already got?”.

Also, while it’s a little bit hard to be sure from session titles alone, I think you can deduce (and others can confirm) that BarCamp Philly was much less instructive, and far more interactive and conversational.

It wasn’t just about getting people to share ideas (which is fine, but not intrinsically productive), but about finding ways to help ideas connect.

That’s the difference between being told it’s a good idea to share your ideas, or having ideas shared with you, and having some skin in the game yourself.

Receiving pre-synthesized information leaves out all of the opportunity for self-discovery, idea branching and merging, and ultimately, innovative thinking becomes unidirectional.

Presenter->Audience.

Kung Fu Master->Grasshopper.

Yoda->Luke.

Mentor->Mentee.

Those relationships are valuable and important, but it’s not the only way to do things.

We’re doing this a little bit differently, we’re doing it ourselves.

When the participants of BarCamp Philly come together to decide what’s important enough to talk about, and dialogue about it, serendipity accelerates in a big way.

And because they have skin in the game, the lasting effects are strong, and most exciting for me, yet to be seen.

So these events were a success, right?

Well, yes.

The organizers totally dominated in putting together an incredible event framework, and worked their asses off to make sure that participants of the events could be effective. Roz Duffy, JP Toto, and Kelani Edmondson are quickly becoming master event planners and organizers. Kara LaFleur joins them as an extraordinary volunteer who just gets things done, and even more, coordinates volunteer efforts in force, allowing big things to happen when all you’ve got is a bunch of willing hands.

That said, as I titled my unusually somber and introspective session with Geoff, “We’re not done yet”.

If my personal goal was to be able to travel the country sharing and learning along with other people working to improve their cities, I’d be happy saying I’ve achieved that goal.

If my personal goal was to generate press (for better or for worse) around our efforts, more than once gracing the front page of established print and digital publications around the world, I’d be happy saying I achieved that goal.

If my personal goal was to be surrounded by, and work with (but not for) some of the smartest, most driven, talented, and incredible people you can possibly imagine, I’d be happy saying I’d achieved that goal.

Luckily, those personal goals are all being achieved as the first chapter of a much longer story is being written. There are a lot of characters already (rivaling a Tolkein novel at this point), and the cast is only growing.

I’m not writing this book, we all are.

We haven’t even finished the first chapter, Philadelphia.

The fun is just getting started.

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Alex Hillman I am always thinking about the intersection of people, relationships, trust and business. I founded Indy Hall in 2006, making us one of oldest fully independent coworking communities in the world. This site is packed with the lessons and examples I’ve learned along the way. You can find me on Twitter, too! 🐦 Say hi.