This post is part of BookBiz, a series on (not necessarily business) books that have inspired us to look at business differently. Stay tuned for more, or suggest a book we should read!
Eli Pariser’s The Filter Bubble has been out for about a year now, and the substance of his argument is only deepening. We live in a Facebook- and Google-ified world where every news feed and search result is personalized according to our previously revealed (usually through clicks or likes) preferences. So with an information ecosystem that’s built to reinforce our existing ideas, how can we discover new ones?
Events might seem like a great way to get out of your rut and learn a few new, unfiltered, things, but even getting people together in person can simply reinforce existing filters. At a conference, you’re probably more likely to sit next to or chat with someone you already know through existing connections than with a total stranger. While expanding your tangential network can be valuable, a serendipitous connection could be even more so. So why not leave your existing social circles and break into new ones, at events or otherwise?
Additionally, the content at events may seem unique, but it’s actually fairly common for speakers to repeat the same content or give the same presentations over and over. Even Pariser himself more or less reiterate his book’s content at his TED talk. So if you’re a person interested in a particular topic, it’s relatively likely that you’re already familiar with what industry experts have to say about it–so listening to them re-state blog posts or previous presentations in person is not necessarily going to provide the type of breakthrough information you need to take your ideas to the next level.
Lanyrd is a great tool for discovering events based on your existing connections, but what about events that seem unrelated but could truly hold the key to a really difficult problem your company or industry faces? As Pariser states in The Filter Bubble, “In a personalized world, important but complex or unpleasant issues… are less likely to come to our attention at all.” Most event organizers want a conference to be a positive experience so that people will come back next year. But this may lead to a reluctance to tackle truly difficult topics or raise controversial points (though by the same token, controversy can also attract attention). And if our conference schedule is dictated, Lanyrd-like, by who we already know, how will we meet new people?
In his book, Pariser quotes media studies expert Siva Vaidhyanathan: “Learning is by definition an encounter with what you don’t know.” This echoes Steve Jobs’ much-cited maxim that “Creativity is just connecting things.” But if you’re not encountering new things that you don’t know, you’re just making the same stale connections over and over. This doesn’t typically translate into insight. Anyone who’s seen a stream of conference tweets restating and re-tweeting similar ideas might be able to relate to the thwarted desire to connect to something new in a sea of the same.
Next time your “industry standard” conference rolls around, you’ll probably still sign up–but consider sending fewer staff members, and with the money saved, take a chance on a conference in a different or tangentially related field in addition to or instead of the old standby. You’ll break through your filter bubble, connect new ideas, and hopefully emerge with more insights than you otherwise would.