My childhood subdivision was a place so thoroughly explored that neither a downed tree nor tattered moving truck escaped our notice. The comings and goings, although never intentionally tracked, were indexed and cataloged each and every day. We were explorers seeking to discover new adventures by simply applying our own unique point of view to the situation at hand. In that everything was known, everything was unknown, a wide-eyed sense of surprise triggered by the dropping of a backpack on the porch, the embodiment of latchkey freedom. In the annual migration to the HR Tech conference, I attempt to recapture that sense of wonder from the moment my lanyard is donned and my feet hit the floor.
Looking out the window of my flying office, I reflect back on this year’s conference with a profound sense of melancholy. In that time is precious, it’s impossible to walk away from this event having satisfied the goals with which I entered.
Strolling the halls these past few days I saw friends old and new, but the shark-like pressures of near constant movement necessitate the most unsatisfactory of engagement – a hug, a quick hello and the exchange of pleasantries followed by the gravitational pull of mutual obligation. At best I leave having finally engaged in a select few deep and meaningful conversations. At worst I am frustrated, wondering if a quick fly-by is better than never having seen one another at all.
The beauty of this event, however, is a profound sense of community, an ability to seek a singular destination comprised of an assembly of those I respect, trust and admire. Behind the keynotes and panels, the demos and badge-swipes, the parties and dinners lies a common sense of purpose and drive. We come to teach and learn, engage and be engaged. Although at times we’re left wanting, we’re often encouraged by the spark of ideation that comes from the most unexpected of sources.
And I think that’s the trick – for those who are the mainstays of the event, we’ve heard their positions and predictions for more than a generation. I believe our industry elders do have much to teach based upon their impressive body of experience, but this year I found more innovation from the diligent minds of our less assuming, more approachable peers. It’s worth acknowledging that the contributions of our long-standing luminaries broke ground for those who followed. My issue is that these new and impressive voices are often oxygen-deprived at the event.
Perhaps I romanticize this notion of community and the lifting up of all for the collective good. You might argue that a conference is realistically serving an utterly dull and professional obligation necessitated by the needs of our respective enterprises. But what if it’s more. What if these fleeting moments of connectivity are the “human” part of our industry that we often speak to but rarely acknowledge for it’s truly critical meaning.
Who’s to say. I, for one, have the litany of feelings one would expect from a fleeting moment of community. Intrigue. Comfort. Connection. As Tennyson said, “I am a part of all that I have met.” If once a year we can come together and collectively rise all boats in our ever-changing industry, you can count on me to be there, oars in hand. And in the 360+ days between now and our next HR Tech encounter, let’s try and remember that the litany of media at our disposal should remove the need to wait that long. I look forward to your thoughts.