Three Lessons From Conference Season

A few weeks back, Michael Lamoureux (AKA, The Doctor) asked a number of bloggers and commentators if they'd share their thoughts on conference season in his latest blog cross-posting series. In this post, I thought I'd offer up a few general observations rather than specific nuggets of what I've learned (which you've probably read far too much of recently). But take them for what they're worth, especially given that I'm writing them exhausted after nearly a month on the road at various events. So here goes, in no particular order:

1) Don't judge a book by its cover (or an event by its past reputation)
2) Attitude is everything
3) You really can find examples of innovation at many events to take back to your organization

Don't judge a book by its cover (or an event by its past reputation) -- If you were to consider the history of past events such as ISM or SAP Sapphire, you'd probably dismiss them as massive affairs where getting down to the detailed level in breakout sessions or the show floor was all about impossible (except, of course, if you were in the "power elite" conference within a conference at the former). But in both cases, you'd be wrong. SAP offered up a number of detailed break-out sessions at Sapphire with useful details on their solution progress to date and how customers are actually using their SRM technology. In addition, the vendor floor offered an excellent look at SAP's current SRM offerings, not to mention prototypes and demos of where they're headed. And I heard that ISM -- despite its somewhat questionable reputation for event usefulness in the past -- put on quite a good show this time around, ranging from awards which were earned to sessions with incredibly useful details. So don't judge events just by their past reputation (unless of course, they were vendor meat markets like some with five providers chasing every one practitioner in attendance).

Attitude is everything -- Even though I tend to be the gregarious sort at most events -- choosing to mingle with those I don't know as much as searching out those that I do -- it's still often the case that I tend to keep my guard up in conversations, especially with folks that I don't know (much like everyone who goes to conferences). But Dawn Evans -- the new owner of SIG -- is such a huge proponent of conferences networking that she takes nearly every moment to remind attendees the importance of getting to know those around them. At first, this may seem a bit over the top, but I agree with her premise. The key when it comes to networking and learning is that attitude is everything. If you go to an event with an open mind about what you'll learn and who you will meet -- rather than scripting out every pre-planned minute -- you'll have an entirely different experience than if you don't. Granted, this type of approach does not always work at large events. But for smaller and medium-sized events, it's worth having an open minded and what you'll see, who you'll meet and what you'll learn.

You really can find examples of innovation at many events to take back to your organization -- OK, on first glance, I would not believe such an outlandish statement either. Come on, most events are far more about the networking than about the knowledge. But at each event I went to this spring, I found a number of examples of innovation that stood with me. At SIG, I learned how one company had mastered the art of surviving rising oil prices for its fleet, avoiding nearly double-digits in additional heartache from better sourcing strategies. At CVM Supply World, I learned the rigorous, quantitative home-grown approach to supply risk management that Bank of America applied (and how it might be applied elsewhere). At SAP Sapphire, I saw more product innovation around their SRM suite than I've seen for years from one vendor (granted, innovation is not the same thing as a G/A product, but man, these guys do have some good ideas). And at Ariba LIVE, I came away with dozens of anecdotes and examples about what true leaders are doing differently in the areas of global sourcing, supplier management and spend analytics, just to name a few things (incidentally, it's critical to point out that technology is only one small piece of the puzzle in these areas).

- Jason Busch

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