Conferences and complexity theory

I just returned from +JSConf  which again lived up to hype of being one of the best conferences around and with moving the venue to an island in Florida a whole new dimension of awesomeness was achieved.

All the things Chris and Laura were putting on got me thinking how fundamentally different their approach to running conferences is to our +JSConf EU in Berlin – and what it really comes down to is complexity.

JSConf US is all about creating the perfect experience focusing on the people. JSConf EU is all about creating the perfect experience by focusing on operational details and and an environment for people to get together – but it largely leaves the people to make the best of that experience themselves.

When running a conference 1 million things can go wrong and many of them will (it is really all about the attendees not noticing). How difficult it really gets depends on the complexity of the things going on – and the main complexity really comes from managing people. While we try really hard to keep complexity in check, +Chris Williams and +Laura Williams  dive right in.

Here are some examples expressed in O notation where n is the number of attendees.

Examples EU:
- Lots of pink light O(1)
- Obsessing over the projector margins on the screens: O(1)
- Flying in artist performing songs tailored to topic of conference: O(1)
- Party on Saturday: O(n)
- Parties on Friday, Sunday & Monday: O(outsourced to community)

Examples US:
- Dinner: O(n)
- Bus transportation: O(n)
- Swag bags: O(n*k) k includes folding n t-shirts so that the logo is visible when opening the bag.
- Sending people kayaking, on a scavenger hunt, golfing, segway touring, etc.: O(n * what could possibly go wrong)

I (not)randomly picked these examples and lots of the stuff we do, of course, requires managing people, but there is a clear trend and I have the highest respect for Chris & Laura how they achieve such excellence in execution under extreme complexity.

What is very interesting is that both approaches lead to different but still equally amazing experiences. If you ever decide to run a conference, make sure to make a conscious decision which path you want to go down and it'll be fine.

Again thanks to Chris and Laura for putting on an amazing event. This must be the first time Chris did not come to me the day after event saying "I'll never do it again" :)

PS: The picture is from our setup day, packing things in a uhaul that were previously shipped through the country and stored in a storage facility. We rent everything and have vendors bring it in – you get the idea.
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