Biggerplate.com, arguably the best mind map gallery on the web, recently held its first Biggerplate Unplugged mind mapping conference in London. I contacted founder Liam Hughes to learn more about the focus of this landmark gathering of mind mappers, and to find out what’s next.
Frey: You recently kicked off a series of Biggerplate Unplugged events around the world. What were your objectives in creating these events?
Hughes: The primary objective for the Biggerplate Unplugged series is to create a better connected mind mapping community. We believe a better connected community will be more collaborative, more innovative, and more able to drive mind mapping forward on to bigger and better things.
We’ve done some great work over the last few years in the online world through Biggerplate.com, but we figured it was about time the mapping world had some more regular and coherent offline/real-world opportunities to develop these online conversations and relationships further, and that’s what these events aim to provide.
Frey: What is the schedule for these conferences?
Hughes: Biggerplate Unplugged hits Paris in just over two weeks on March 21 and then onto the Netherlands in October.
Originally, we had some U.S. events scheduled for this year, but we’ve had to adapt this plan due to a number of factors that will actually help to make the US events bigger and better when we get them underway in 2014. Early interest for events in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York has been extremely high, so we’ve had to adapt our original plans in response to this. Suffice to say, we will be making our way across the Atlantic soon! Anyone wanting to register their interest for our US events (to receive advanced notice of tickets going on sale) can do so on this web page.
Frey: Let’s talk for a bit about the recent London conference. How did it compare with your expectations for it?
Hughes: It was fantastic! The initial feedback from participants was extremely positive, and as a first attempt, it has given us a huge amount of learning to take forward into future events.
As I said to the attendees on that day, I am very fortunate in my role at Biggerplate because I get to meet lots of mind mappers in person, from all sorts of organisations, different countries, with all sorts of backgrounds. What I have found is that there is a definite shared mind-set amongst mappers, which is collaborative, innovative, creative, and very open-minded. I genuinely had no doubt in my mind therefore that bringing people with this shared mind-set together for an event would be extremely interesting, and great fun! Fortunately, I was proved correct!
The learning we got out of this first event as a business is unbeatable, and it has already informed a number of key decisions that we have made within Biggerplate (including the decision to postpone and adapt our planned events in the USA). I don’t think you can beat the sort of market insight you can get from a room full of knowledgeable, passionate people who share their views openly and honestly. My expectation was therefore that we would learn a lot, and in reality, we learned even more than we expected!
Frey: You had quite a diverse group of speakers, didn’t you?
Hughes: Yes, we were really pleased with the caliber of speaker we had at the event, and the broad range of experiences and perspectives they were able to bring. It was hugely encouraging to have received such great support from the software vendors in particular, who brought a fantastic level of insight to the event, and entered into all of the discussions with totally open and collaborative minds and completely without bias. For us, it felt like a really big achievement to have so many of the leading players in one room, having an open and honest conversation about the future of the mapping arena, and looking for ways to push things forward.
Frey: Was part of the goal to encourage discussion and networking between attendees? How did you structure the event in London to enable that?
Hughes: Yes, we are extremely keen that these events enable people to convert existing online connections (Twitter follows, LinkedIn contacts, etc.) into real-world relationships. The great thing is that everyone else seems to want to do this too, so we didn’t really have to do much to make it happen once we had got people to the event! There were plenty of lively Q&A sessions at the end of keynote presentations, and we also had two dedicated interactive panel discussions with a number of questions and perspectives from the floor. Plus there was plenty of time to chat over a coffee during breaks, or in the pub afterwards!
It’s worth noting some great feedback from the attendees on the day, who said they would like to have the opportunity at future events to break-out into small groups for short collaborative sessions, so this could be something we look to do in the future, and this would certainly enable even greater discussion between attendees, and perhaps set some really interesting projects in motion.
Frey: What was the composition of the attendees for the London event? Were there many people who are new to mind mapping? Or mainly people who are already doing it?
Hughes: It was mainly people who are already using mapping, which is really the group to whom we are pitching these events. That said, it was a very pleasant surprise to meet several people who were new to mapping who had come along too. Some had been told about the event or invited by friends who were mappers, but some had discovered the events themselves, and decided it would be a great way to immerse themselves in mind map learning as they started trying to use it. The feedback from these newbies was that the event gave them some great insight and had really energized and inspired them to get stuck in to mind mapping as soon as possible! They felt armed with a greater understanding of what was possible with mind mapping, even though they were completely new to it. That was a fantastic and unexpected outcome, so I hope people will not think these events are only for seasoned mappers, as there is clearly benefit for anyone.
Frey: Is there somewhere online where the readers of this blog can either view or listen to the presentations from the London event?
Hughes: Absolutely, we’ve compiled all the photos, videos, presentations, and mind maps at a dedicated page on Biggerplate which can be found on this web page.
Each Unplugged event will have a page like this, which means over time we will gather together a phenomenal amount of brilliant content that people can take a look at and learn from, which will be really exciting.
Frey: What was the most significant insight that came out of the London conference, in your opinion?
Hughes: First and foremost, we validated our hypothesis that there is an appetite for a mind mapping conference, and that people want to see this happen, and see it happen regularly. That was satisfying and reassuring, given the degree to which we are committing to the Unplugged series over the next 2 to 3 years!
For participants, I would suggest the most significant insight may have been that their experiences of introducing others to mind mapping were shared by others. The theme for the day was “mind mapping and the mainstream”, and part of this discussion focused on how people had succeeded or struggled in introducing others to mapping in different contexts. When people started to share their experiences, there were certainly common threads running throughout, and this perhaps helps to reassure people that they are not a lone mapper trying to convert the world! The great thing was that these discussions were very much focused on what had been learned, and what approaches may be effective going forward, so hopefully participants picked up some useful things to consider next time they introduce someone to mind mapping!
Frey: Will the Paris, Amsterdam and U.S. events follow a similar format, or will you be making any new enhancements to them?
Hughes: The Paris event will be slightly different, and will involve more time for roundtable discussions, and fewer keynote-type presentations. We have designed the Paris event with the help of a brilliant advisory group made up of French mind mapping experts who have (hopefully) helped us to ensure the event format is tailored towards the local market, and the local mind mapping community. The great thing is that this gives us a chance to test a slightly different event format, which will again provide us with invaluable learning to take forward.
The San Francisco event (and other U.S. events) will most likely end up as a hybrid, based on what we learn from Paris. As mentioned earlier, the U.S. plan has been shifted due to the amount and nature of interest we’ve had, so the format we set for these events is also being adapted in response to this. Hopefully, the result will be worth waiting a couple of extra months for!
Frey: What would you like to say to the mind mappers in Paris and Amsterdam about your upcoming Biggerplate Unplugged conferences in those cities? Why are these “don’t-miss” events?
Hughes: I’d simply say that these events are a great opportunity to build upon the existing online relationships you have within the mind mapping community, and a wonderful catalyst for innovative thinking and practical learning.
In terms of being “don’t miss” events, I think that’s something we have to prove over time and have validated by others, but I’d like to think that many/most attendees from the first London event will not want to miss the conference when it returns to the city in 2015.
Biggerplate Unplugged will be constantly on the move over the coming years, and seeking to engage with strong or growing communities of mappers, wherever they are in the world. For people who don’t see their city on the list yet, I’d ask you to be patient, but vocal in your wish to see a conference in your area. For those who do see their city on the schedule in the coming months, I’d encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity, because space is limited, and it may be a while before the event returns to your part of the world!
Frey: Have you given any thought to what you’ll do with the Biggerplate Unplugged concept after the first set of events is over with? Will this be an ongoing series of meetings?
Hughes: We’ve been working on plans for the Biggerplate Unplugged concept for over 18 months, and it is an absolutely integral part of our plans for the future. We already have a short list of planned conference locations that will take us through to 2016, and plans are already underway for these events. We’ll also be revisiting previous locations (such as London), so that we can build upon the learning and connections made each time. We’re expecting an 18-30 month gap between return visits, purely because of the realities of planning and funding so many events, and partly because we feel it’s important to focus on broadening the reach of the events by engaging with new communities in new locations.
Provided we continue to see interest and engagement with the events, our intention is for this to be an on-going series that will run consistently around the world for many years to come. We hope that mind mappers will support the series, and join us whenever we’re in a town near you!
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