Yawn, another conference. Why Link Festival was different.

Yawn, another conference. Why Link Festival was different.

Conference. The word, it makes you yawn. The conference space has undergone renovation over the past half-decade.  You can read this HBR article “Three ways to make conferences better.” Part of this renovation has included better user experience principles; part of the renovation has been name changes. Conferences have become experiences or events. I am guilty of using this terminology, in part because event is shorter for twitter, and also because I’ve bought into the idea that using a cooler word will make the event seem cooler. In reality a conference should just have better content to be more engaging.

We go to a lot of conferences, we also happen to run one. And it would be easy to fall for the trap of being bored by conferences, to not engage, to not learn. To avoid this I make sure I am reflective after each conference; what did I learn? What didn’t I learn? What excited me? What scared me? Who on the panel would I most like to speak to?

A group of us recently attended the Link Festival, run by Engineers Without Borders and Wildwon. Both friends of the Centre (admittedly) but also a conference which we learnt from and which opened up the world of STEAM for us. Did I just say conference, I meant festival.

I asked my colleagues to reflect upon what made the conference worthwhile, and those insights are shared below. If you have ideas of what makes a great conference and what would make Future of Work most useful to you feel free to tweet at us @leadingatwork using #FoW2016.

‘A highlight of Linkfest for me was the  “Designing the Materials of the Future” session with Leah Heiss and  Dr Aaron Thornton holding a discussion about “Tech push” versus “market pull’.  Dr Aaron from CSIRO comes at problems from the point of view of theoretical mathematics and materials. He talks about what is possible. Leah comes from the designer’s point of view asking, “what does the customer want and need?”  It was an engaging and natural exploration of the topic of invention, design and commercialisation.  In the rapidly advancing world of tech this tension is definitely something we are picking up on at Future of Work.  As a side note in that session Dr Dan Oldfield told a story about how a couple of guys invented the process of making graphene by crushing a pencil and folding sticky tape to create a one atom thick film of carbon atoms, so my 8 year old daughter and I naturally spent that evening crushing up HB pencil lead and folding sticky tape, I think we missed something because we just made a mess!’


‘I was intrigued in the new perspective to the misfit economy and potential to learn more from the innovative entrepreneurship approaches taken by groups of people such as hackers, terrorists and pirates.  Not to applaud the disruptive impact to society but there are striking commonalities between these groups of deviant entrepreneurs and those building aspirational business.   As Pamela Hartigan iterated the importance of ‘apprenticing’ with a problem in developing solutions, Kyra Maya shared how Pirates were driven by their own personal experiences that led to the establishment and growth of the informal economy.  There is much to learn from misfit economies and their pioneering approaches to problem solving that we could carry and apply to our worlds in challenging the rules in being creative. ‘


“I like to think that we Arts kids are pretty unpredictable on our own, but mix in STEM and you’ll encounter some thought-provoking stuff. From Vicki Sowry’s experiences as the Director of the Australian Network for Arts and Technology, Jonathan Parson’s media/arts-meets- robots conventions extraordinaire, to choreographer and dancer Amrita Hepi whose practice seamlessly moves between her indigenous roots, Beyonce’s grooves and political protest – each speakers’ individual story captivated. The Q&A took us even deeper into the debate around how we can make collaboration between ‘unconventional friends’ the norm. How can we encourage an interest in the other, both culturally and across disciplines? How can we break down the barriers between STEM and the Arts, including each side’s preconceived notions of one another? Perhaps it was the diversity of the audience, perhaps it was what Jonathan called “the perfect combination of fascination and fear” of the subject matter – whatever happened at LINK festival, it certainly got us to push our personal boundaries.  There’s never been a better time to embrace the unknown.”

– Marie

“Einstein famously pointed out that we can’t fix the problems of our time by applying the thinking that got us into them in the first place. That’s why one of the most exciting elements of Link Festival for me was the enthusiasm and energy of the younger generation I saw engaged with the subject matter. From the school groups that were taking part alongside us, to speakers such as Arie Sawyer from the Field Trip, I saw a group of young people stepping up and taking responsibility, but with their own ideas and approaches. It left me feeling encouraged about the future.”



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