Losing our Common relationships

For those of you NOT involved in the i community, this is probably irrelevant news.  But to us folks who spend most of their time in the i trenches, this is big.  The “this” is the blog post from Jon Paris and Susan Gantner found here: http://ibmsystemsmag.blogs.com/idevelop/2009/11/au-revoir-common.html .  Basically Jon and Susan, for financial and other reasons, will not be speaking at Common this year, bringing a lengthy run to an end.

The immediate question some may raise is why even have a conference at all? After all, this IS the twenty first century and certainly the technology has matured to the point to where an on site presence is no longer needed in order to learn technical content.  That, of course, IS true.  If the Common Annual Conference was just about delivering educational content and IBM “first hand” information then it would be as passe as polyester leisure suits and disco balls.  But the value THIS annual conference brings to the the IBM i professional is relationships.  In fact, at the bottom of it all, it is ALL about relationships and that is why Jon and Susan’s absence will be so keenly felt.  They are truly good people to know, as many in the i community are, and not seeing them there and spending time with them will be a loss.

As the technical world has advanced, our personal worlds have contracted.  Email has replaced hand written letters.  Skype has replaced face to face meetings. GoToMeeting has replaced the valuable practice of of forcing people into a room to work through difficult issues until they are resolved.  We are slowing becoming less human as we further remove opportunities for us to interact at a personal, one on one, level.  Nothing can replace the value of an in person meeting.  Period.

However, the financial realities of bringing humans together is something that has to be reckoned with.  Common *had* a unique and distinguishing practice in the industry of compensating speakers by reducing conference fees  for each presentation given.  That could extend into hotel and airfare costs, depending upon participation.  This unique barter system was brilliant and was, in my opinion, a reason for the success of the conferences.  People traded their expertise in one area for learning in another.  And, the shared effort across all strata of expertise actually built up the community.  Everyone had a stake.  Everyone gained a benefit.

I believe that the cut back of this benefit by the Common board was a strategic error, perhaps a fatal error, to the Common that is.  And, it would be a deadly error to transition the organization  to one whose sole purpose is to deliver education content electronically.  It is the relationships built at the conference that was the key to the success of past conferences.  Quickly returning to those “human” roots may rescue Common before it is too late.  But it needs to be soon before more folks like Jon and Susan vote with their feet.

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