Think about healthy families for just a moment. Healthy, functional families don't remain close family units forever. They usually don't live in the same house their entire lives. Parents rarely have an expectation that they will pay for their kids' food, clothes and wants for the rest of their lives.
Parents teach, love, train and prepare their children to make their own decisions. They expect that at a certain age they will leave home, go out into the world and start their own families.
In our world, many conferences foster and nurture family-like units, but often throw in some dysfunction. Without realizing it, they have created totally dependent grown-up kids, all in the name of membership, familiarity and comfort.
These conference organizers placate long-term attendees by never making any changes. They appease grown-up children who don't want to invite others into their playground. They mollify those birthright offspring who expect the conference to feel like a well-worn, yet tattered, pair of pajamas -- the same as last year, and the year before, and the year before that. They placate legacy speakers to present that same "entry-level" information that they've done for the past five, 10, even 20 years.
So here's the one question you should ask when you are forced to pacify that battling brood that doesn't want growth: How would a healthy family handle this?
Conference goal: Appease the few or draw a crowd?
Keeping the same attendees happy all the time usually is against conference growth. Such long-term attendees believe their tribe's goal is to get to know everyone and form a close bond with them, and adding more people just derails the opportunity to be close with those they love. They fear conference growth slaughters closeness and developing bonds.
Here's a counterintuitive idea: Conference organizers should not focus on fostering opportunities for like-minded groups to form close bonds. Sure, drawing close to one another does fill the social need to connect. But close bonds should be the byproduct rather than the primary goal of being together at a conference. It should be a side-effect of networking and connectivity, not your main objective.
Instead, we should create experiences that intentionally add new people to the heritage so these groups can constantly evolve.
Taking a high road with connections
We should encourage these long-standing groups to adopt a new vision that advances the profession, the industry or the society. We should support and promote how each tribe member can spread the passion and wealth of knowledge by being an extension of the tribe.
Healthy entities grow and multiply. That vibe is contagious. Adding outsiders may mess up the past but will definitely help sustain the future.
If you only talk about how great it is to have the same people at your conference every year, you have impacted that group but probably not the industry or profession. Conference growth takes hard work and intentional direction. Creating vibrant opportunities to connect for all should be a goal. Adopt the healthy-family metaphor for multiplication and growth.
What do you think are the barriers to adopting the healthy-family metaphor for multiplication and growth? How would you change those old traditions? What should be the goal of networking and reaching connexity (a state of connectedness)? Let us know in the comments below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.