Friday, September 5, 2008

Some swords, but no blood on the conference floor

The Adelaide conference is finally over and I’m home.

All-in-all, it was an enjoyable time, but it’s really good to be back at home base with my family.

In my post yesterday, I mentioned the value of networking and learning. I want to say a little more about the quality of learning that goes on here.

There is a wider contextualisation of issues that occurs. Big ideas – really big ideas – get pulled to the surface and mulled over.

Much of our everyday experience is grounded in very localised issues and questions of specification. While it is possible (and, I believe, desirable) to engage a client at the level of values, it is still often very local in nature; necessarily so.

But at a conference level we get to consider all those locals issues and values against the backdrop of the macro issues and contexts – global warming, demographics, national and global geographical, geological and ecological challenges.

This gives fresh perspective to local issues, and the presence of so many practitioners seems to urge the incarnation of the principle ‘Think globally, act locally.’

The second major influence on the shape of learning at conferences is the presence of interlocutors: people who are willing to throw down the gauntlet when they hear an idea presented that they don’t agree with. This is where localised, specific knowledge comes into its own.

Of course anyone who wishes to volunteer their ideas in the presence of 300 experts needs to be prepared to be wrong. If no one is prepared to be wrong, nothing of substance will be shared or debated.

I’m grateful for those who are willing to engage in this marketplace of ideas. I find it easy to be wowed by a presentation, only to have someone put their hand up at the end, and ask a pertinent question that forces me to see another angle.

No one has a corner on all knowledge. We learn by being willing to be wrong, and by bringing together people who share something of our own direction and heart for the work.

It was really good to spend the last few days with a bunch of people passionate about working well with trees – people who care enough to think big, and to engage each other thoughtfully.

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