Confab 2018 – Day 1

I am attending my first ever Confab conference; decided that since it’s an event I can attend without travel I should take advantage of the learning & networking opportunities. There are ways in which Confab feels a lot like the Summit–I don’t have the tribal “these are my people!” vibe that I have at the Summit, but the energy feels similar with lots of really nice people who are keen to be welcoming, even if most of our introverts who are exhausted by the effort. 1

Highlights from Gerry McGovern’s talk

The morning started with a talk by Gerry McGovern that was full of good stuff–and actually is very compatible with Jared Spool’s IAS 2018 talk about the need to direct our energies to figuring out how to solve problems that require input from multiple organizations and don’t have a defined “owner.” Full slide deck here.

  • There has been a collapse of trust in politicians and religious leaders (Edelman Trust Barometer) and yet a corresponding rise in the use of services like AirBnB and Lyft. What is it that makes people willing to let strangers into their homes or to get in cars driven by strangers? McGovern suggests that what we are seeing is a decrease in trust of authority figures and an increase in trust of the network. You may not necessarily trust the driver–you trust the other people who have ridden with the driver.
  • He contrasted the weaknesses of efforts that have originated from authoritarians and “great leaders” (such as Mao’s famine) with the quality of scientific learning that is coming from efforts involving many scientists/researchers–both across disciplines and countries.
  • “Traditional organizations always seem to have time to do it wrong, but never time to do it right”
  • Silos have useful functions, but we need bridge builders–> “If we work in silos we work to fail”
  • Complex problems are better solved by the many, but to get collaboration there has to be a unified structure that everyone can agree to. McGovern argues that EVIDENCE should be that unified structure–that we have to become ruthlessly evidence-based. 2
  • He argued against relying on gut & opinion “we love our own disciplines too much,” hence the need to rely on evidence
  • One of the most important points he made (IMO) was in acknowledging that building bridges and figuring out how to work collaboratively as he’s describing will be really, really hard–but it must be a sign of a good talk that when he was done I felt convinced that we should embrace the challenge

I don’t have time to capture notes from other talks at the moment, because I have to go to the Confab party being held at the Walker. Ooh la la!



  1. I was really impressed by the probing questions one of my fellow breakfasters asked–she pulled everyone around the table into the conversation in a way that was direct but didn’t put anyone on the spot.  She later said she started her career in journalism, so it makes sense that asking compelling questions would be a skill. There is a lot of emphasis on listening and empathy at this event and most of the people I’ve interacted with are walking the walk, not just talking the talk.
  2. I have a quibble here that I can’t fully articulate yet. I don’t think that evidence = a unified structure, it seems more like a governing principal. I don’t disagree that evidence is important, but I also think back to Scott Berkun’s reflections in The Year Without Pants around the way humans game metrics and tend to produce evidence for things that are easiest to measure. More to think on here.

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