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Sydney’s latest tech event Daze of Disruption was not my kind of circus, but it highlighted a bigger industry problem

Daze of Disruption is the latest in the string of “disruption” events to hit Australia in the last few months. With an inaugural run over last Monday and Tuesday, Daze of Disruption eagerly opened it’s doors at the Surry Hills Belvoir Street Theatre. As many of us have hit peak event fatigue, the industry is left to wonder how to tell these events apart.

Unfortunately, Daze of Disruption does not make a good case for itself. After the long series of keynotes and panels, it was hard to determine whether we were meant to feel threatened, encouraged, or any sense of urgency around this mystical “disruption”.

Daze of Disruption, at least in this initial run, went down as its own cautionary tale: have we jumped the disruption event shark?

Probably.

However, it is hard to blame the Daze of Disruption team for this bumpy first round. As someone who is tasked with putting together an “innovation event”, I greatly empathise with the challenges of getting the right pieces at the right time. Sponsors are few and far between; and often, the money is spent before you ask for it. The mountain to climb is steep even if the path is well-treaded.

Not my kind of circus 

The biggest disconnection about these “industry events” is that they are in the experience business. Ultimately, they are in the content business, delivering a story that the audience will internalise and take with them. TEDxSydney has done this exemplarily over the last five years.

Content meetings for industry events seem to launch from the wrong foot form the start. Instead of starting with an anchoring message or a clear point of view, these meetings start with “who can we get?” and work backwards from there. As a result, events like these are less Cirque du Soleil and more Ringling Brothers.

Instead of a cohesive thematic narrative, I had the impression that we were watching distinctive individual acts being introduced by a skilful ringmaster: “And now, the tigers! … And now, the clowns! … And now, the trapeze artists!” I could have watched all the keynotes individually on YouTube and had the same experience.

Having said all that, the quality of the speakers was unimpeachable. Jeremy Knibbs and his team have done a stellar job in securing a stellar lineup, particularly considering the breadth of events that are snapping up speakers. The major takeaways, though disjointed, were worth the price of admission. Here are my three favourites in no particular order:

First Dates – John Batistich (Westfield)

A breath of fresh air, the always dapper John Batistich from Westfield let us in on a personal note: he had his first date with his wife at the Belvoir St Theatre. It was a short, funny tale of self-deprecating first-date jitters with a looming, but welcome, happy ending.

Having observed John at meetings, he is a commanding presence without the trappings of spectacle. The story was quick, touching, relevant and left you wanting more. It connected with the audience as I can assume, we have all been on first dates and can relate to the experience. It was easy to project our own experiences on to his.

This was a remarkable example of how to quickly build a bridge across to your audience, without the need of artifice or fancy ploys. As he wrapped up his 30 second tale, we were all hooked – leaning in to hear the rest. We were emotionally primed for the Westfield infomercial that followed and I could not have been more delighted to hear it! I can only hope speakers would take a page from John’s book.

Let’s get out of this bubble – Richard Webb (StartMesh)

Do you know that there is a direct correlation between housing prices and how innovative a city is? I didn’t know that either, which is especially embarrassing since it was my South Bondi cofounder, StartMesh’s Richard Webb, who spoke about it from the Daze of Disruption stage.

Apparently there are studies that show that a city with high real estate pricing will automatically push down unpredictable risks in favour of trusted and well-traveled paths. So next time you wonder why the hell your boss, client, colleague, manager or partner doesn’t want to explore new ways of doing things, it’s because he or she doesn’t want to lose their house.

Sydney’s real estate prices are at an all-time high, which means our innovation roadmap will stall for some time to come. Scary? You bet – particularly since there seems to be no end in sight for this bubble. The only upside of it will be the release of true innovation once it bursts.

“What Google saves on taxes, they spend on shoes.” 

I wish I could say that this was my line but it belongs to the Daze of Disruption MC. I imagine the lovely speaker from Google must have the most covetable Pinterest board in the business.

If you, like me, thought that Google was in the technology business, this talk was a rude awakening. Google is the new 007, an institutional spy with license to kill. They cannot wait to tell us how much fun they are having looking into our lives and, further even, into our intent.

The speaker Lucinda Barlow asked us to take out our phones to teach us a little trick, though she warned us she only knew how to do it in Chrome, which was very convenient brand placement! The trick was showing us how to access our browsing history, which apparently they read as if it were part of our DNA strands.

Google knows what we want, what we need, our fears and hopes, our aspirations and our intents. What Lucinda finds fun and exciting, I found bone-chilling – especially considering there is no way for us to protect ourselves from it. Google owns our browsing experience as much as the ATO owns our government dollars. I really wish someone would put those two together.

When all is said and done, Daze of Disruption only suffers from the symptoms of a wider epidemic of industry events. If we can crack the nut of making these events more interactive and purposeful, we can get sponsors to join in. I’m excited to disrupt this space! Let’s get on it, Australia!

Featured image: Daze of Disruption Conference | Credit: B&T Magazine