I spent several days last week at Web Summit, which took over Lisbon, Portugal, in a way that no amount of summer tourists can approach.
With more than 70,000 official attendees, and probably another 10% to form the whole entourage, Web Summit doesn’t so much wash over the town like a wave—rather it encapsulates the spirit of entrepreneurship and new thinking already on an unstoppable march through the city’s centuries-old passages.
I needed a shot of that motivation, so I chose to go this year as part of the Women in Tech initiative, attending the WOW Dinner (a networking event prior to the show) and taking advantage of a bargain rate offered in a promotion last spring.
From those four days I found the following 3 Takeaways:
1.Getting women to the party helps move the needle—but it’s not even halfway there in terms of real change. When it comes to changing the demographics of the STEM fields, representation matters. Web Summit reported roughly 45% women in its registered attendees—but there were a number of glaring discrepancies still in evidence, in the speakers, in the awards, and, tellingly, in the representation of start-ups (particularly from Portugal—this is its own issue). The split felt more even amongst the 20-35 year old attendees. And, overall, there still needed to be better representation from people of color.
In aviation we face a subset of this problem, and it has proven even more resistant to change. We can keep inviting women to the party, but we can’t stop there. Mentoring, intelligent promotion, and generations of changing practices will, with persistence, bring our industry into parity—and diversity in other critical ways. In part, it’s one place where our next big ideas will come from…
2.The big names weren’t necessarily the big innovators. The coolest ideas that I saw were down on the floor, in the Alpha, Beta, and Growth areas featuring start-ups in those varying stages of development. One company is working on a way for you to execute your own will after your passing—using blockchain. Another seeks to make real change in the way we talk about politics on social media—wouldn’t that help us all?
While I see the big aviation manufacturers building on success, they tend to be iterative—much like their colleagues in the tech world. Real change still starts in someone’s T-hangar in the sticks. Or the person drawing connections between seemingly disparate industries. And it comes from a diverse community, folks from widely divergent backgrounds, coming up with solutions in new ways.
3.You can put all the info at a person’s fingertips, but delivering information does not equal communication. That person will miss something important. Web Summit uses a well-thought out app to help attendees manage their experience—it’s better by leaps than any event app I’ve used thus far. But I still missed a few big things, and came close on others–like Stephen Attenborough from Virgin Galactic. The scale of the show is impossible for a single person to digest (it’s like trying to master every function on the G1000)—so here’s where AI can step in. And it will still be the case: Communication must be personalized—and to do that, a person has to be willing to share their preferences and desires.
As communicators, we need to poll our audiences in a way that is timely and congenial—we can’t just keep guessing what they want—or assume they want to hear what we think is best to deliver to them. But they must feel confident in sharing those preferences with us–we must trust each other. I only watch cat videos when I’m already bored to tears—give me compelling stories (it helps if there’s an airplane involved) any day. That echoes another theme: Good content wins influence.
What do you think?