The theme for this year’s Agile Open Northwest is “Finding your agility in the unheard voices.” The opening for this year’s open space was a bit different than previous years. April Jefferson, our facilitator, asked us to take the time to write down what “Finding your agility in the unheard voices” meant to us. We did that, and then she asked us to look at what we had written and see if we could find the questions that we wanted answered at this year’s conference.
This initial focus on the theme is very new. We’ve had themes in years past, but once they were mentioned they were quite quickly forgotten. Not so this year. Instead we had someone from a local Indian tribe come out to talk about their history as “unheard voices.” It was a curious way to start the conference, but…very effective. As someone who had come prepared with topics that didn’t necessarily relate to the theme, it gave me pause.
I took the time to re-evaluate my ideas in the new light of the conference theme. I realized that one of my ideas fit very well with the theme and put the topic in a much more interesting light, so I retitled it, “Using Thermodynamics of Emotion to reveal unheard voices.” That focus on the theme of the conference helped me to adjust my approach to match the theme of the conference.
We kicked off the conference in the usual fashion and I started with my talk on the thermodynamics of emotion. I found that my session only had about 20 minutes because things were running a little late, so I had to run through my material super-fast. I quickly discovered that it is complex enough that I really couldn’t do it very well. So, lesson learned, either distill the message down further or use a longer session time. The nice thing about open space is that you can always try again. I had someone ask me to do just that, so I’ll take another pass at it tomorrow. We’ll see how it goes. I’m convinced I can do much better.
Afterwards I sat in on a session on writing techniques by David Bernstein. He is a big advocate of using narration and dictation to write his books. I think that might be a very useful technique for me, given my predilection for public speaking (and generally talking to myself a lot).
In the afternoon I co-led a session called “Beyond Budgeting” There were a couple of things that were interesting about this session. First, there was a surprising amount of interest. We had a fairly large group of people there to talk about it. Second, when I was asked to partner on the talk, I didn’t think that I had much to offer, but I had some experience dealing with finance, so I thought I would try to help. It turns out that I knew a lot more than I realized. As soon as people started asking questions, I had no difficulty at all with examples and providing answers for people. I actually have a lot of experience with agile finance. So I learned a little about myself. The lesson there is that partnering with someone on a presentation, even when you don’t feel like an expert, can reveal expertise you didn’t know you have.
Another session in the afternoon was about “Failure Stories.” I figured I was a pro at failure, so I definitely needed to attend. I told a story about a project failure and the curious thing was that the story sounded a lot like a success when it was all done. Now, if you had asked me a few years ago to tell that same story, it’s highly likely that it would not have come out as nearly such a happy tale. It seems that as time goes by, I’m able to tell a more evenly balanced story. A story that is not all bad or all good. That’s kind of reassuring.
So that’s day one in the bag. I’m impressed with where this open space conference appears to be moving. I think it will benefit our PNW agile community.