Many years ago, I volunteered to help a conference team reenergize their conference program. They had been putting on the conference for a number of years and were looking for some new, fresh, and outside opinions on how to change the format and reenergize it. 

You see attendance was declining, not too much, but a troubling trend. And attendee feedback, while positive, pointed to getting a bit bored with the current repeating recipe.

We went out to dinner to brainstorm. It was attended by the long-time program chair and an invited set of 4-5 outsiders who were asked for their ideas.

We’ve tried that before…

As the dinner commenced, the introductory conversations turned into a brainstorming session. All seemed to be going swimmingly and I was excited about the possibilities.

One of the others suggested something to change in the conference. I thought it was a very interesting idea. Out of the current recipe, but something I’d seen be successful at other conferences

The program-lead responded with – we’d tried that ~10 years ago and it didn’t work out so well. So that idea didn’t get any legs.

Another idea surfaced, and then another.

Each was met with the same reply – we’ve tried that before (~n years ago, under these circumstances, etc.) and it didn’t work. Each was shutdown.

After about 30-45 minutes, the ideas simply stopped coming.

I myself had suggested a few. But it quickly became clear that, while the program chair said they wanted to change and were open to new ideas, they were not. So, I stopped suggesting things. As did everyone else.

Wrapping up

We went on to have a really nice dinner. Especially nice because it was free.

In the end, the program chair thanked us for spending the time and for the ideas. They expressed frustration though that none of them seemed “good enough”. That nothing new and exciting had emerged. They sort of left it that their existing recipe must be sound because nothing new seemed to fit in.

I recall walking away with a wry smile.

Realizing that the chair was not open to new thinking. Or new ideas. Even though they had asked for them.

Their mind was not open. While they asked for change, they were not ready for change. And they were not sufficiently self-aware to even realize it.

I wonder if this story resonates with any of you. Are you asking for things, but not getting what you desire? I wonder if the blocker might be yourself or your own thinking.

In other words, are you listening, open minded, and receptive? Think about it…

Stay agile my friends,


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