In 2009 Ignite Phoenix grew from about 140 people at Ignite #2 to the nearly 600 we had at Ignites #4 and #5. It’s become something very different from what I ever imagined in more ways than just size. This year it generated a lot of discussion, especially after the most recent one, and I learned a lot about how people view Ignite.
I am amazed at how passionate people are about many parts of Ignite, and especially how their views so fundamentally differ from my own. It was an interesting milestone for me as I saw how many people had invested enough in Ignite to feel a sense of ownership in its direction, and motivated enough to add in their thoughts.
As part of my Year End Clear Out I wanted to share my thoughts on what I love about Ignite Phoenix. I also want to talk about the reasoning behind some parts of Ignite (like charging admission), and where I think Ignite can improve, but one topic at a time. I’m still getting my blogging legs back and Ignite tends to make me even wordier than usual.
I’m posting it here rather than at ignitephoenix.com because this is really just my opinion. This isn’t any “official” Ignite stuff, and people who want to just attend and participate in the events may not find it interesting. If something really good comes of it I’ll cross-post, but really consider this one person’s view who has just spent a lot of time with the event.
There are a lot of things I love about Ignite, but here are my Big Three. Almost everything rolls into one of these areas:
A Chaos Bringer
We all make patterns in our lives, our thoughts, our groups, and our habits. We build our communities, view them as the whole of the world, and sometimes lose sight of how much out there we really don’t know. We may be very open to exploring new ideas, but sometime our habits just don’t bring them across our path.
Ignite brings things together in unexpected ways, putting something new in our field of view. I have a number of personal benchmarks for a successful Ignite, and one of them is whether people tell me they were originally looking forward to presentation X, but the one they liked the best at the end was presentation Y. Something new caught their eye.
I work hard to keep the chaos in the system, which means fighting against my own patterns. I’m as much a creature of habit as everyone else, so try to shake it up with a rather odd voting process, and multiple judges that change between events. My benchmark here is if at the end of voting every judge only had some of their favorites make the cut. Also I expect there to be at least a few presentations that I personally am disappointed didn’t make it, and a few I am worried that DID make it. If I’m not somewhat nervous about the final lineup, then I’ve messed up.
I believe there is inherent value in this chaos, and I work hard to try to keep it that way.
Ignite brings different groups and views together, and it grows stronger as it reaches more groups. Some people have been frustrated by mentions of Ignite in mainstream media – like the Arizona Republic and Phoenix New Times. One concern was that the community will be diluted and lose some of its value with this wider exposure. I contend that hungry-minded individuals are welcome at Ignite no matter how they hear about it.
I love seeing the growth of Ignite via word of mouth, but I believe that mainstream mentions is simply someone finding the event interesting enough to pass on via their own channels. I’ve never sought paid ads for Ignite and don’t seek mainstream coverage, but I support people who find Ignite and want to share it through other mediums.
I believe this is self regulating. Ignite is just not for everyone, and that’s all kinds of okay. People who come to Ignite are hungry for ideas and are intellectually curious. Many people who read about Ignite in the Republic could probably not imagine a more boring way to spend an evening, or they may come once and never again. I only care about the people who come and love it just as much as the people who heard about Ignite #1 via Twitter and have been coming ever since. If I tried to limit where people passed on info about Ignite, and which new groups and perspectives it brought in, I’d be doing it a great disservice.
Ignite appeals to a huge range of people, and keeping it inclusive and evolving is a huge piece of its value.
Source of Personal Innovation
Ignite Phoenix provides opportunities for people to share and learn something new, but where it goes from there is up to each person. There is no grand plan. On the simplest level it is an opportunity to hear new ideas and have a good time. Better is to explore the ideas you hear and connect with new people and activities. Best is to take action that changes something in your own life. It doesn’t have an agenda, but relies on everyone to make their own effort to engage – or not – however they see fit.
This often throws people who desperately seek to classify Ignite as a “networking event” or a “startup pitch”, but keeping Ignite open prevents it from being constrained and limiting connections to just one channel. We don’t invite venture capitalists, think-tank planners, publishers, or agents, but people still make connections. Ignite has resulted in people getting new jobs, joining new groups, gaining business, meeting great friends, and starting new careers… but it was always by the personal action someone took to take another step after seeing someone on stage.
Ignite provides an opportunity for individuals to change themselves, then go out and foster greater change. To grow from the inside out.
That took longer than I thought to write, was is probably too long for most people to read, and I clearly need more practice to get back into the blogging groove. Still, I think I captured the core of what I value in Ignite: bringing groups of curious people together, exposing them to new ideas, and keeping an open format to allow anything to happen.
Next up some of the common “Why does Ignite…” questions I get, and then where I think Ignite can improve.