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Pre Conference Travel and Logistics Planning

Pre Conference Travel and Logistics Planning

In my new role, I’ll be attending and hosting lots of conferences and meetups. This means traveling probably as much as twice a month to other places, and that means lugging all the stuff a technological nomad needs to take along to stay viable. Here’s a list that I’m compiling that contains some obvious and maybe not-so-obvious pre-plans.

Pre-Conference Travel Checklist

  • Clothes. This is a given to TAKE clothes, but be sure to have a mix of multi-use, casual-to-faux-formal clothes. Take fitness clothes, if you can, too.
  • Toiletries. The US has just approved using a quart-sized sealable plastic bag full of travel-size toiletries (shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, etc).
  • Business Cards. ALWAYS bring business cards. If you’re not traveling for your day job, print your own at somewhere like VistaPrint.
  • If you print your own, add WHAT YOU DO FOR OTHERS/WHAT YOU WANT FROM OTHERS on the card. (Example: Chris Brogan. Pulvermedia. Looking to meet and talk about the future of video on the internet.)
  • Chargers. This is the one most people miss. Double check that you have one charger for each piece of gear.
  • Transfer cables. I shot movie footage a few weeks ago, and then couldn’t display it anywhere because I didn’t have the right cable to share it.
  • Energy bars. Plane snacks are fewer and further between, and hotel snacks aren’t that great either. Take a half dozen energy bars for quick, good, calories.
  • Reading material and an mp3 player. There’s lots of travel time wasted. Take podcasts and books/magazines with you.
  • USB thumb drive(s). Take one for your data, but consider picking up a cheapie 32MB one to give out, if need be. Smaller and easier to manage than bringing along CDs or DVDs to burn, depending on the size of the media you want to share.
  • 3×5 cards or a notepad, and a pen. Are you kidding? This is on EVERY list.
  • Maps. Use your mapper of choice: Google? MapQuest? Yahoo? but use one. Map out all the parts of the city or cities that you’ll be traveling. Get directions both ways (to and from). Build these into a little binder, if you want, or at least color-tag them so that you know which one to pull out when.
  • Accommodation info. I *always* forget the name of the hotel I booked, because there are often multiples tapped for an event. I also share this with family and friends, so that people know where to find me in an emergency.
  • Prescriptions. Make sure your medicine needs are up to date. Sometimes, you can contact your doctor and ask for an additional prescription, just in case you run into trouble somewhere else. This’ll save you some time, especially if your med is important.
  • Bring a crapload (technical term) of Ziplok gallon bags, and maybe some quart bags, too. They’re insanely useful, for millions of things.
  • A roll of duct tape beats a lint brush any day. If you don’t want the whole role, peel off a long strip and re-wrap it carefully.

Targeted Planning

So here’s something people rarely do before attending a conference: target who’s going to attend. If you’re going to a trade show in your industry, get out on the site’s attendee list, see who’s coming, and look for the following:

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  • Company blogs.
  • Technorati mentions.
  • Personal blogs of attendees.
  • Industry news in general.

You could build a reasonably robust packet of information through a quick (but deep) read through your RSS reader of choice. (I like Bloglines for a web-side reader). And this will give you more conversation grist for the conference. Further, if you happen to need something, on behalf of your company or yourself, you’ll have the pre-knowledge of who’s doing what in your industry. If you learn that people are hiring, or that someplace just had a layoff, you might even find a new job, or fill the jobs you need filled at your company.

Networking Tips

Lots of people forget that conferences aren’t just about the expo floor and the presentations. It’s about getting to know other people in your industry (or in the area of your passion), and echanging ideas. The key element of this happening at the show is your pitch. What are you going to say to start an engaging conversation? I’ve mentioned going to 15 Second Pitch before to learn some great tips, and build your own pitches online for free. But here’s another tip to go with that one: Build a great 5 second soundbite, a 15-30 second teaser, a 2 minute trailer, and then the full boat conversation. What?

The 5 second soundbite is what you say shortly after people look for your badge (wear this on your right side, if you shake right-handed). It should NEVER be your job title. It should be something about what you do, what you’re looking for, or what you offer. (By the way, I’m not the expert. Laura is. Go see her for details).

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Tthe 15-30 second teaser is like the warmup to tell people just a little more if they bite on your soundbite. This should give them just a little more of the story, to show the other person where they fit into your ecosystem.

The 2-3 minute trailer is like a movie trailer. You’ve gotta show the best of your idea/offering/whatever in this 2-3 minutes, because this is your shot. You watch trailers, right? Do they help you decide whether to see a movie or not? Of course. Make your trailer really compelling, but then, you have to deliver.

The rest is just the full conversation. Remember to give the other person time to talk. Make your presentation about them, as best as you can. Give them chances to exit the information dump, in case they’re being polite instead of interested. (This will save you both time). And always be courteous to people’s time. They’re there to meet lots of people, too.

After the Show

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First and foremost, reconnect with your family and loved ones. Give them attention, and try not to lead off by talking about all the crazy things that happened to you. Ask your spouse (who cared for your kids while you were gone) or your boyfriend or whoever details about THEIR experience while you were gone. Listen to them. Ask questions. Give them a chance to feel at the heart of your attention. (This is the best advice I can give you for your relationship with regards to travel).

I’ve already covered this before, but to recap, make sure you send a brief email to every business card you received at the event –Remember: it’s YOUR job to GET cards, not give yours out. That’s a bonus– with tidbits of specific things you and the other person talked about at the event. Do this as quickly as possible. Keep the contact fresh. This will reinforce the person’s memory of you at the event, and promote a better feeling about what you and the other person might do in the near term.

Reset your toiletries. These are the things that eat up annoying time when you’re ready to travel next, because you forgot to bring them.

Your Tips and Add-Ons

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You know me. I love to end these things looking for your feedback. I love adding to the conversation. If you do it here, great. If you do it on your site, send a trackback. But let’s keep the conversation going. I bet someone could even take the first few lists and upload them into our wiki and build even more around them. But let’s keep the conversation going. Okay?

— Chris Brogan keeps a blog at [chrisbrogan.com]. He’s just joined pulvermedia as a Community Developer for Video On the Net, a conference about the future of tv and movies delivered over the net.

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Last Updated on March 17, 2020

A Review of the Book “The Art of Learning”

A Review of the Book “The Art of Learning”

Josh Waitzkin has led a full life as a chess master and international martial arts champion, and as of this writing he isn’t yet 35. The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance chronicles his journey from chess prodigy (and the subject of the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer) to world championship Tai Chi Chuan with important lessons identified and explained along the way.

    Marketing expert Seth Godin has written and said that one should resolve to change three things as a result of reading a business book; the reader will find many lessons in Waitzkin’s volume.  Waitzkin has a list of principles that appear throughout the book, but it isn’t always clear exactly what the principles are and how they tie together.  This doesn’t really hurt the book’s readability, though, and it is at best a minor inconvenience.  There are many lessons for the educator or leader, and as one who teaches college, was president of the chess club in middle school, and who started studying martial arts about two years ago, I found the book engaging, edifying, and instructive.

    Waitzkin’s chess career began among the hustlers of New York’s Washington Square, and he learned how to concentrate among the noise and distractions this brings. This experience taught him the ins and outs of aggressive chess-playing as well as the importance of endurance from the cagey players with whom he interacted.  He was discovered in Washington Square by chess teacher Bruce Pandolfini, who became his first coach and developed him from a prodigious talent into one of the best young players in the world.

    The book presents Waitzkin’s life as a study in contrasts; perhaps this is intentional given Waitzkin’s admitted fascination with eastern philosophy.  Among the most useful lessons concern the aggression of the park chess players and young prodigies who brought their queens into the action early or who set elaborate traps and then pounced on opponents’ mistakes.  These are excellent ways to rapidly dispatch weaker players, but it does not build endurance or skill.  He contrasts these approaches with the attention to detail that leads to genuine mastery over the long run.

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    According to Waitzkin, an unfortunate reality in chess and martial arts—and perhaps by extension in education—is that people learn many superficial and sometimes impressive tricks and techniques without developing a subtle, nuanced command of the fundamental principles.  Tricks and traps can impress (or vanquish) the credulous, but they are of limited usefulness against someone who really knows what he or she is doing. Strategies that rely on quick checkmates are likely to falter against players who can deflect attacks and get one into a long middle-game.  Smashing inferior players with four-move checkmates is superficially satisfying, but it does little to better one’s game.

    He offers one child as an anecdote who won many games against inferior opposition but who refused to embrace real challenges, settling for a long string of victories over clearly inferior players (pp. 36-37).  This reminds me of advice I got from a friend recently: always try to make sure you’re the dumbest person in the room so that you’re always learning.  Many of us, though, draw our self-worth from being big fish in small ponds.

    Waitzkin’s discussions cast chess as an intellectual boxing match, and they are particularly apt given his discussion of martial arts later in the book.  Those familiar with boxing will remember Muhammad Ali’s strategy against George Foreman in the 1970s: Foreman was a heavy hitter, but he had never been in a long bout before.  Ali won with his “rope-a-dope” strategy, patiently absorbing Foreman’s blows and waiting for Foreman to exhaust himself.  His lesson from chess is apt (p. 34-36) as he discusses promising young players who focused more intensely on winning fast rather than developing their games.

    Waitzkin builds on these stories and contributes to our understanding of learning in chapter two by discussing the “entity” and “incremental” approaches to learning. Entity theorists believe things are innate; thus, one can play chess or do karate or be an economist because he or she was born to do so.  Therefore, failure is deeply personal.  By contrast, “incremental theorists” view losses as opportunities: “step by step, incrementally, the novice can become the master” (p. 30).  They rise to the occasion when presented with difficult material because their approach is oriented toward mastering something over time.  Entity theorists collapse under pressure.  Waitzkin contrasts his approach, in which he spent a lot of time dealing with end-game strategies
    where both players had very few pieces.  By contrast, he said that many young students begin by learning a wide array of opening variations.  This damaged their games over the long run: “(m)any very talented kids expected to win without much resistance.  When the game was a struggle, they were emotionally unprepared.”  For some of us, pressure becomes a source of paralysis and mistakes are the beginning of a downward spiral (pp. 60, 62).  As Waitzkin argues, however, a different approach is necessary if we are to reach our full potential.

    A fatal flaw of the shock-and-awe, blitzkrieg approach to chess, martial arts, and ultimately anything that has to be learned is that everything can be learned by rote.  Waitzkin derides martial arts practitioners who become “form collectors with fancy kicks and twirls that have absolutely no martial value” (p. 117).  One might say the same thing about problem sets.  This is not to gainsay fundamentals—Waitzkin’s focus in Tai Chi was “to refine certain fundamental principles” (p. 117)—but there is a profound difference between technical proficiency and true understanding.  Knowing the moves is one thing, but knowing how to determine what to do next is quite another.  Waitzkin’s intense focus on refined fundamentals and processes meant that he remained strong in later round while his opponents withered.  His approach to martial arts is summarized in this passage (p. 123):

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    “I had condensed my body mechanics into a potent state, while most of my opponents had large, elegant, and relatively impractical repertoires.  The fact is that when there is intense competition, those who succeed have slightly more honed skills than the rest.  It is rarely a mysterious technique that drives us to the top, but rather a profound mastery of what may well be a basic skill set.  Depth beats breadth any day of the week, because it opens a channel for the intangible, unconscious, creative components of our hidden potential.”

    This is about much more than smelling blood in the water.  In chapter 14, he discusses “the illusion of the mystical,” whereby something is so clearly internalized that almost imperceptibly small movements are incredibly powerful as embodied in this quote from Wu Yu-hsiang, writing in the nineteenth century: “If the opponent does not move, then I do not move.  At the opponent’s slightest move, I move first.”  A learning-centered view of intelligence means associating effort with success through a process of instruction and encouragement (p. 32).  In other words, genetics and raw talent can only get you so far before hard work has to pick up the slack (p. 37).

    Another useful lesson concerns the use of adversity (cf. pp. 132-33).  Waitzkin suggests using a problem in one area to adapt and strengthen other areas.  I have a personal example to back this up.  I will always regret quitting basketball in high school.  I remember my sophomore year—my last year playing—I broke my thumb and, instead of focusing on cardiovascular conditioning and other aspects of my game (such as working with my left hand), I waited to recover before I got back to work.

    Waitzkin offers another useful chapter entitled “slowing down time” in which he discusses ways to sharpen and harness intuition.  He discusses the process of “chunking,” which is compartmentalizing problems into progressively larger problems until one does a complex set of calculations tacitly, without having to think about it.  His technical example from chess is particularly instructive in the footnote on page 143.  A chess grandmaster has internalized much about pieces and scenarios; the grandmaster can process a much greater amount of information with less effort than an expert.  Mastery is the process of turning the articulated into the intuitive.

    There is much that will be familiar to people who read books like this, such as the need to pace oneself, to set clearly defined goals, the need to relax, techniques for “getting in the zone,” and so forth.  The anecdotes illustrate his points beautifully.  Over the course of the book, he lays out his methodology for “getting in the zone,” another concept that people in performance-based occupations will find useful.  He calls it “the soft zone” (chapter three), and it consists of being flexible, malleable, and able to adapt to circumstances.  Martial artists and devotees of David Allen’s Getting Things Done might recognize this as having a “mind like water.”  He contrasts this to “the hard zone,” which “demands a cooperative world for you to function.  Like a dry twig, you are brittle, ready to snap under pressure” (p. 54).  “The Soft Zone is resilient, like a flexible blade of grass that can move with and survive hurricane-force winds” (p. 54).

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    Another illustration refers to “making sandals” if one is confronted with a journeyacross a field of thorns (p. 55).  Neither bases “success on a submissive world or overpowering force, but on intelligent preparation and cultivated resilience” (p. 55). Much here will be familiar to creative people:  you’re trying to think, but that one song by that one band keeps blasting away in your head.  Waitzkin’s “only option was to become at peace with the noise” (p. 56).  In the language of economics, the constraints are given; we don’t get to choose them.

    This is explored in greater detail in chapter 16.  He discusses the top performers, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and others who do not obsess over the last failure and who know how to relax when they need to (p. 179).  The experience of NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh is also useful as “the more he could let things go” while the defense was on the field, “the sharper he was in the next drive” (p. 179).  Waitzkin discusses further things he learned while experimenting in human performance, particularly with respect to “cardiovascular interval training,” which “can have a profound effect on your ability to quickly release tension and recover from mental exhaustion” (p. 181).  It is that last concept—to “recover from mental exhaustion”—that is likely what most academics need help with.

    There is much here about pushing boundaries; however, one must earn the right to do so: as Waitzkin writes, “Jackson Pollock could draw like a camera, but instead he chose to splatter paint in a wild manner that pulsed with emotion”  (p. 85).  This is another good lesson for academics, managers, and educators.  Waitzken emphasizes close attention to detail when receiving instruction, particularly from his Tai Chi instructor William C.C. Chen.  Tai Chi is not about offering resistance or force, but about the ability “to blend with (an opponent’s) energy, yield to it, and overcome with softness” (p. 103).

    The book is littered with stories of people who didn’t reach their potential because they didn’t seize opportunities to improve or because they refused to adapt to conditions.  This lesson is emphasized in chapter 17, where he discusses “making sandals” when confronted with a thorny path, such as an underhanded competitor.  The book offers several principles by which we can become better educators, scholars, and managers.

    Celebrating outcomes should be secondary to celebrating the processes that produced those outcomes (pp. 45-47).  There is also a study in contrasts beginning on page 185, and it is something I have struggled to learn.  Waitzkin points to himself at tournaments being able to relax between matches while some of his opponents were pressured to analyze their games in between.  This leads to extreme mental fatigue: “this tendency of competitors to exhaust themselves between rounds of tournaments is surprisingly widespread and very self-destructive” (p. 186).

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    The Art of Learning has much to teach us regardless of our field.  I found it particularly relevant given my chosen profession and my decision to start studying martial arts when I started teaching.  The insights are numerous and applicable, and the fact that Waitzkin has used the principles he now teaches to become a world-class competitor in two very demanding competitive enterprises makes it that much easier to read.

    I recommend this book to anyone in a position of leadership or in a position that requires extensive learning and adaptation.  That is to say, I recommend this book to everyone.

    More About Learning

    Featured photo credit: Jazmin Quaynor via unsplash.com

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