PodcampCT : The Edge Between Knowing and Not-Knowing - #PCCT

Years ago, I read a fascinating paper entitled Our Best Work Happens When We Don't Know What We're Doing. It had been presented at the 1999 International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations and talked about how “learning involves working at the edge between knowing and not-knowing”.

It seems like this paper provides a useful framework for understanding Podcamps. First, I should make it clear that it is not about trying to do something that you don’t know how to do. Any attempt by me at brain surgery would be unlikely to be some of my best work. Instead, the paper talks about “the edge between knowing and not-knowing”. I should also note that it has been years since I’ve read that paper, so my thoughts may have drifted from some of the original ideas in the paper.

To me, a good podcamp exists on the edge between knowing and not-knowing. It is important to know how to create an environment where people can learn. Podcamps grow out of the open space technology and unconference traditions where learning comes out of treating everyone as an equal and focusing on facilitated discussions instead of presentations.

I write this blog post a couple hours before PodcampCT starts. We still do not have a set agenda. We won’t have a set agenda until after people have checked in and shared there ideas for the sessions to cover. Even then, there will be a bit of flexibility in the agenda. Yesterday, I wrote some initial thoughts about a possible PodcampCT agenda, but the real agenda will form as the people gather, and the list of people attending continues to change as new people register. Even over night, new people registered, and I expect we’ll have people registering at the door.

One person contacted the PodcampCT organizers writing

I'm being asked to pay $25 and maybe more to receive, well, nothing specific, but it'll be about social media. Do I have that right?

The schedule lists time slots, but no definite topics to be covered...

I'm used to implied contracts – when I sit down at a restaurant table I expect to be served food, and I commit to paying for what I order.  But I'm a little stuck on this implied contract: if I give you my $25 what, exactly, will I receive beyond the opportunity to interact with other people who also paid the $25 and want to receive some value for it?

Is this kind of transaction a "new normal" for online business: give me money and you'll get, well, something, probably? 

The writer received several replies pointing out that, no, they don’t have it right. Participants will received some very specific information about social media. Definite topics about social media will be explored. The issue is that people don’t know the exact details of what specific topics will be covered. The conference itself exists at the edge of knowing and not-knowing.

As an aside, when I pay my $25 at a restaurant, I often sit at the edge of knowing and not-knowing. Yes, I could go to the same restaurant everyday and order the same clams and linguini. Assuming the same chef is there with the same ingredients, I can be pretty sure about what I’ll get. However, I like try new restaurants and new dishes. I like to experience something new, and learn more about what I like and don’t like. The same applies to Podcamp, except that it is a potluck where everyone brings their favorite dishes.

I do not know what I am going to learn today. If I knew it already, I’d probably have already learned it and would get less out of Podcamp. Instead, I am going with the expectation of learning something I don’t already know.

I know a fair amount about location specific social media. I’ll check-in on Foursquare when I get there. I might check in on some other systems as well. I know that some bright people will be there who know a lot more about location specific social media than I do. I hope to sit with them and others seeking to learn from one another and discover something I don’t know about location specific social media.

I also know a fair amount about the use of barcodes in social media. I’ve written a fair amount about QR Codes. I am hoping to sit down in a session talking about QR Codes. I suspect I won’t learn much that I don’t know about QR Codes already, but I expect that some people will ask questions, most likely about use cases, that will cause me to learn something new about how QR Codes can be used.

I know the framework of the schedule, four sessions, probably between five and seven concurrent tracks, with time for networking during coffee, lunch and afterwards for drinks. I don’t know what the group of people who gather will end up thinking is important and I hope to learn something from that as well.

On one level, I know exactly what I’m doing today. I’m going to Podcamp, a chance to learn about social media. On the other hand, I don’t know what I’ll be doing. I’ll be hanging out on the edge of knowing and not-knowing about social media. I’ll be moving that edge for myself and I’m pretty excited to be going.