TribeCon 2011: Lessons From the Tribe

It’s been a week and a half since TribeCon 2011 and I wanted to offer the world a few tidbits of the community magic that took place on October 27th, 2011. I was a very small part of the team behind TribeCon this year and I didn’t get to watch every presentation, but I learned a lot from the talks I did see and even more from my interactions with the TribeCon community.

Lesson One: Interact

TribeCon is advertised as an “interactive” conference, similar to the way South by Southwest is primarily an interactive conference (SXSWi). According to my friend Google, the definition of “interactive” is as follows:

The “interactive” referred to in the description of TribeCon is the second definition. TribeCon and SXSWi both focus on the internet and the way we as humans use it for all varieties of good and evil. Although the theme of TribeCon 2011 was “Unplugged,” the undercurrents of the conference still focused on the web and the way it shapes the world around us.

The “interact” lesson I’m referring to is the first definition. TribeCon was full of influential and well known people. In such situations it can be tempting to jump right into telling your story every time someone is standing near enough to hear you. The more effective way to connect is to truly listen, find common passions, common experiences and common goals. With a few of those established conversations can be meaningful and relationships formed can be long-lasting. Don’t pitch, interact.

An expert panel discussing online vs. IRL (in real life) at TribeCon 2011. Photo courtesy of Taylor Davidson.

The concept is the same online. In a panel I moderated about Online vs. IRL (in real life), we discussed the age-old saying, “If you build it, they will come.” You can’t just show up online and expect people to care about what you have to say. You can’t just build a product and expect everyone to inherently understand the value. Online and offline: Community and value must be built and proven from the ground up.

Lesson Two: Yes, and…

Chris Trew spoke at TribeCon 2011

One of my all-time favorite New Orleanians, Chris Trew, is the founder of The New Movement Comedy group and an improv master. Not only is Chris hilarious, he’s a hustler and knows how to get things done. He presented at TribeCon on how a few basic improv comedy guidelines can transform brainstorming sessions and work environments.

Chris explained how the concept of “Yes, and…” is taught as one of the primary principles of improv. The idea behind it is that the first person throws something out there and everyone else immediately accepts it as true and builds on it. It works well in place of the usual team-building exercises and also helps to tease out your own ideas during individual brainstorming.

Chris had a few TribeCon participants demonstrate on stage:

Lesson Three: Don’t Take Knee Jerk Reactions as Fact

Every year after the presentations are all wrapped up the Tribe heads over to the peristyle in City Park to enjoy a keg of local beer. While chatting with a few of my fellow Launch Pad co-workers around the keg, we joked that someone should do a keg stand. And then someone said, “Chris Schultz should do a keg stand.”  The idea was spread around to other attendees but the response every time was, “That would be awesome, but he won’t do it.”

After nearly giving up the dream I walked past Chris when he wasn’t otherwise occupied. I informed Chris that there had been some chatter among the crowd; they wanted him to do a keg stand. He looked surprised for a second and then said, “Well if that’s what the Tribe wants…” Chris Schultz did a keg stand. 

It was like getting to pour Gatorade on the head coach after a championship game. The experience of hearing everyone say that he wouldn’t do it and then having him acquiesce to the request so quickly reminded me of something Gary Vaynerchuk talks about frequently.

When new technologies, ideas, or products are suggested, the gut reaction of most people is to say, “I will never use that,” or even, “No one will use that.” In his recent talk at the 2011 Inc. 500 event, Gary polled the audience about their own previous gut reactions to new concepts like cell phones, texting, Facebook, Foursquare, and social media marketing.

Many of them admitted that when first introduced to the idea of carrying a cell phone they said they wouldn’t want people to be able to get in touch with them all the time. A lot of people said the same thing about e-mails when first introduced to the Blackberry. Most people will think a new technology is crazy the first time they hear about it.

Asking, “Will you (or someone else) do/use/buy X” is the wrong question. Find other ways to test your ideas. No one believed Chris Schultz would do a keg stand until Chris Schultz actually did a keg stand. And some of them probably still didn’t believe it after the fact.


Keep the magic of TribeCon 2011 going:

View TribeCon Presentations on Slideshare

Interact with the Tribe on Facebook and Twitter

Review the list of speakers on the Lanyrd site and follow the @TribeCon twitter list of 2011 speakers.

View the gorgeous pictures Taylor Davidson took throughout the day on the Flickr set here.