#ConfabEDU takeaway: we’re all in this together

The best conferences create intentional or unintentional threads and themes that come home with you. For the recent #ConfabEDU conference in New Orleans, a message of togetherness was the main one stuck in my head and soul. Whether about working together with others on your campus, trying to bring communities together or the togetherness of the higher ed content strategy family, this message came through repeatedly — sometimes as reinforcement, other times as revelation.

Lisa Welchman discussing collaboration and web governance.

Lisa Welchman discussing collaboration and web governance.

Lisa Welchman, author of the web governance guideline Managing Chaos, set us in the right direction. She advised us to collaborate, enable and encourage all our website editors instead of trying to tell them what to do. She talked about workteams, and how the ones that worked together to set and follow standards do the best job.

In “A Four-Step Framework on How to Succeed at Practically Anything,” the University of Rochester’s Lori Packer talked about creating opportunities for our communities to share things on social and the importance of telling each other about our cool ideas and projects. Pat Brown from Purdue, in discussing “Optimizing Organizational for Web and Other Futile Pursuits,” said change management is a key part of web management today and added successful efforts need to fill four roles: change advocate, change agent, sustaining sponsor and executive sponsor.

Myths and realities

Kicking off day two, “Myths of Innovation” author Scott Berkun cited, among other things, the myth of the lone genius. All of the greatest inventions, he said, came from people inspiring and inspired by the ideas of others and often from groups conducting experiments … not from the myth of epiphany of a single inventor. He also mentioned how the former Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (today better known as 3M) suddenly had its most lucrative invention in the form of masking tape, manager (and future president/chairman) William McKnight realized an important change in management structure — by instilling a culture of delegating authority and trusting experimentation, he helped 3M turn into a company where true innovation could (and did) come from just about anywhere within the organization.

Tweeting this in the morning, and Georgy Cohen posted it in the afternoon. What is this sorcery?

Tweeting this in the morning, and Georgy Cohen posted it in the afternoon. What is this sorcery?

Jeff Stevens from the University of Florida offered a fresh take on the silos we find around campuses or within campus systems: perhaps instead of isolation they can serve as watchtowers that can alert and communicate with others. Georgy Cohen of OHO Digital followed up on that in her presentation on building internal communities for content strategy, which encouraged actively engaging your editors and experts in making your web community better. Sarah Maxwell Crosby and Susan Lee from Dartmouth discussed amplifying voices within your community to build a better web presence.

Amanda Costello of the University of Minnesota closed it on a high note with “How Silos Learn: Working in the Idea Factory.” We may dread the silos on campuses, she said, but there’s no reason to die in them. She encouraged working horizontally with others to share ideas, institute projects and seek success. Quoting the late Paul Wellstone — “We all do better when we all do better” — she said connecting people is a form of teaching.

Less loneliness

My own presentation, “‘Am I the Only One?’ Personalizing ‘Social’ to Connect with Students” went better than expected (it’s a tough topic that’s very different from the rest of the conference) in large part because I had an empathetic audience willing to engage in discussion. The problem: College is a mentally challenging time for students, who deal with new situations, the feeling they have to meet impossible standards and that everybody is doing better than they are (their connections post social-media highlight reels that aren’t reality). Audience members talked about what they’re doing at their colleges, what they want to do and ways we can change the situation for the better.

Erin Supinka and Ma'ayan Plaut making the New Orleans airport more awesome.

Erin Supinka and Ma’ayan Plaut making the New Orleans airport more awesome.

And, almost as if I needed a bonus lesson, what is usually a solo trip and wait in an airport reconnected by with conference friends. I bumped into (SUNY Oswego grad) Tim Senft of Cornell University, and we split a cab to the airport and a bite of late breakfast. Then the wait for the plane was made more pleasant by hanging out with friends Ma’ayan Plaut from Oberlin and Erin Supinka from Dartmouth.

Indeed, everything is better with others. Working (or just laughing) together improves our work … and our lives.

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