An All New Monktoberfest, Putting Society First

Trips to Portland are never complete w/o some Speckled Ax coffee to jumpstart the day & the brainIf you’ve spent any time around me in the fall, you know that my favorite conference, by far, is the annual Monktoberfest. Hosted by Redmonk every year in Portland, Maine (aka Real Portland), Monktoberfest operates at the intersection of technology and social. I like to think of it as taking craft technology, craft beer, and mixing it together to find ways to make the world a better place.

This year Stephen O’Grady took it up a notch. The 12 months since the previous Monktoberfest have been, at best, tumultuous. This is not a phenomenon of any single industry or country. It feels like the coming to head of various forces in society that is making people of all walks of life realize that they have had enough.

Seeing, and feeling, this unfold made Stephen create the most important non-technical, tech conference you need to attend.

Principles, Values, and Doing the Right Thing

The conference started with Brian Cantrill. I was excited because the energy Brian gives off during his talks is phenomenal. He grabbed our attention and didn’t let go as he looked at the concepts of principles and values.

Likening principles as those “inalienable rights” found in the Declaration of Independence, Brian said that many companies conflate the two. I see this more in tech than in the rest of the business world but the key is values. What does your organization prioritize as desired behaviors? Values should be reflected in every decision that an organization makes.

After taking down Amazon’s “principles”, Brian eviscerated Uber. As he deconstructed their values, it was quickly obvious why Uber is in the trouble they are in. Their values are not designed to lead to good decisions or a healthy culture.

Four values in particular were called out by Eric Holder and Tammy Albarrán, partners at the law firm Covington & Burling LLP, in their report when Convington investigated Uber’s behaviors earlier this year.

  • Let Builders Build
  • Always Be Hustlin’
  • Meritocracy and Toe-Stepping
  • Principled Confrontation

Brian tore into these values. As he mentioned some of the bad acts by Uber, he would quickly cited a value. Brian saying, “Always be hustlin’,” will be echoing in every attendees brain for quite some time.

Organizations need to look at their principles and values. What do they stand for? People at all levels need to understand what their work is going to be used to do. Are you creating the next Greyball to allow your firm to skirt the attention of regulators? If you’re creating algorithms to control cars, are you putting safety first or are you letting your cars run red lights at crosswalks near schools?

Stepping Up

Sitting on the sidelines is clearly no longer an option. Many talks educated attendees on different challenges in society. We learned the reality and numbers behind Gerrymandering and how innovation impacts the entire job market. There was a great talk by Clara Beyer who funneled her skills into creating websites to help people make a difference and not simply sit on social media complaining.

We also learned that the successful take a few moments to realize they are really making a difference and doing things the right way.

There were a multitude of conversations, inspired by the talks, talking about not only what we can do but how to make a bigger difference. How can we influence more people to sit up, take notice, and do something?

Drawing the Line

It all starts with personal responsibility. Educate and act. You don’t have to start a movement. There are organizations galore out there to help any cause you feel most passionate about. No matter what drives you, do something!

If you don’t have time, give money. Setup a monthly donation of any amount to help. If 1% of the US have $10 a month to a cause, that’s $32 million a month. That is enough to create a movement.

That said, find the time. Getting society to a point where we are no longer dealing with what feels like a weekly, or sometimes daily, crisis is worth spending time to address.

  • Show up to a rally to get counted.
  • No rallies near you? Make 5 phone calls.
  • Defend people when someone acts out of hate. Say something!
  • Bring your skills to the table.

Is the work you do daily meaningful. Are you building the next juicer or finding a way to provide services to those in need? Are you working to fix things or are you just blindly executing tasks that can be used against the greater good?

I’ve studied a lot of history. I’m going to leave the gloomy predictions out of this. TV is handling that just fine. I will say that individually, if you can make a difference in just one person’s life, that is worth doing. Collectively, if we each make a small difference, together we can make a difference in society.

Perhaps each of us can inspire others to act.

That’s what Redmonk and the Monktoberfest speakers did this year. They inspired action. Now let’s see where that leads.