Exposure to the new

[Originally published on the Australian Government Public Sector Innovation Network under a Creative Commons 3.0 BY AU licence]

If you are ever struggling to come up with ideas or need inspiration in tackling a difficult problem, I find one of the most useful things you can do is to do something different and hear some new perspectives and ideas from other people.

On the weekend I attended BarCamp Canberra. A barcamp is an unconference (a participant driven meeting) and is:

    • an ad-hoc gathering born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment.
    • an intense event with discussions, demos and interaction from participants who are the main actors of the event. 1

At this event, there were discussions about a wide range of issues and ideas, including talks on Tweeting for your country, Gov 2.0, open government, how to give a good presentation, media convergence, and even about the game Minecraft 2. The talks involved interesting discussions and a mix of different views and perspectives. I found it a very enjoyable day and learnt quite a lot.

But the thing that made the biggest impact on me was the different style of the event. Participants self-nominated the topics they wanted to talk about (some with a lot of preparation and others more impromptu) and the rest of us self-selected which sessions we went to. It gave me a lot of thoughts about how such an event might be adapted to a work situation and how it might be used over traditional presentations/workshop style events that have been my experience in the public service.

While it would not be suitable for many occasions, I can certainly see how this more free-flowing style could be useful for exchanging ideas in particular circumstances, even in a work context.

This in turn got me thinking about how many of the ideas I get come from simply being exposed to something new. It doesn’t have to be directly related to my work – it can be seemingly completely unrelated (and many times is). For a number of my ideas I can trace them back to something that I would never had thought would be relevant to my job.

I’m interested to know if that is the case for others. Does this work for you? If so, how do you ensure that you are continually exposed to new ideas and perspectives?

(If you are interested some of the presentations can be found on the BarCamp Canberra 2011 SlideShare page.)

  1. see http://barcamp.org 
  2. Some of the other talk topics were noted by Craig Thomler here http://egovau.blogspot.com/2011/03/barcamp-lineup-at-10am.html