Longs days and little sleep make it likely that I’ll forget important details from the 2012 CRC conference, so I thought I’d write a few quick thoughts while they are still in my head…
I flew up to Sydney early on Tuesday morning, for a day of student training workshops with the other research students. Student numbers seemed down a bit on previous years due to a few scheduling clashes (ANZMAC in Perth, OZCHI in Canberra) but we still had 34 PhD students in attendance.
The major theme behind this year’s workshops was “creative leadership”, with sessions run by Ralph Kerle from the Creative Leadership Forum. We also heard from Paul Boustead about his journey from CRC researcher to director of the Interactive Voice group at Dolby, a keynote from Stuart Anderson (Sydney Capital Partners), and some advice from Natalie Chapman (Gemaker/Smart Services CRC) on idea evaluation, protection and commercialisation.
I enjoyed Ralph’s session on the FourSight thinking profiles (built on Gerard Puccio’s work at Buffalo State University). Despite having a very biased group (almost all PhD students, engaged in some kind of technology research) we were relatively close to the global norms: slightly more Ideators, and a good mix of Clarifiers, Developers and Implementers. The FourSight archetypes are an interesting tool for looking objectively at team composition, and examining the strengths and weaknesses of groups and individuals.
Natalie’s session seemed more relevant to the CRC researchers than the IP workshop we saw a few years back: covering some of the same ground, but in a more accessible fashion. People asked questions about their own work or that of their colleagues, and saw the range of options available when trying to take an idea to market. It’s not always about patents or copyright! There are lots of tools available, and situations where each might be the most appropriate.
Late in the day, we tried a group exercise where teams of eight students proposed a series of business ideas, picked one, and worked through a series of stages: identifying what IP would be involved, ways of protecting it, a pathway to commercialisation, and a description of the product and business model. My team had plenty of ideas, but struggled a bit on the details of how to mange the interim stages – possibly because we’d ended up with a team almost entirely filled with ideators, and lacked the developers or implementors who would work on those areas. I love team challenges – another reason why I need to finish my damn PhD already, as the endless solo work is wearing me down…
Wednesday involved the formal start of the conference, with research presentations, a great keynote by David Harrison from Freelance.com, and the student poster sessions. The room layout did no favours to the students: poster sessions were held during meal breaks, with the food in a different room. Few people made it to the far end of the main room where I was based, so the opportunity for conversation was pretty limited. I think the 2009 conference was the closest to a format that really worked in that regard – while those sessions were far too long, at least we spent all day talking instead of hoping that someone might come over for a chat. Still, the few conversations I had this year were all valuable.
An oft-mentioned research strength in the CRC has been our combination of technology and user research: understanding user motivations and behaviour, in order to design better products and services. While that’s broadly true, I think that we still have a ways to go on that front: the CRC contains sharply contrasting research groups, and “social” research is obviously not a priority for some. For me, that was probably the only sour note in the conference: talking to people with bold, world-changing ideas that risk going nowhere at all, because their products require widespread adoption from a group of poorly understood potential customers. I firmly believe that the users of a technology should be placed right in the middle of the design process: understand what they want, how they will use the technology, and why they might not use it in the way you had imagined.
Ignore the users and you risk them ignoring your technology: regardless of how great its potential benefits might be. Having seen a glimpse of what those futures might hold, it would be a shame to see them never realised.