Last week I had the pleasure of attending The Next Web Conference in Amsterdam. With the theme “Innovation through inspiration”, TNW pride themselves on bringing together leaders in tech who are shaping the way we work and innovate.
It was definitely an innovative experience. The festival-style layout with music, good food and cool areas to network or catch up on work was a welcome change from most conferences.
Overall, TNW was pretty awesome and a great place to get excited about new ideas, innovations and tech. Here are some of my personal highlights and takeaways from TNW18.
Building Habit Forming Products
Nir Eyal, author of Hooked
Background: Nir Eyal talked about distraction and how to be more productive. We often use technology as an escape, but we need to understand the root of our distraction. Are we hiding from something? We can’t claim to be distracted if we don’t know what we're being distracted from.
Tactic: Make time for traction. Map out your day, and plan your time. Don’t focus on the output or beat yourself up if it doesn’t go according to plan.
Be self-compassionate. Distraction comes after the fact: we do something "else" and then beat ourselves up for it. The voice in your head can be pretty dangerous - talk to yourself like you would talk to a friend.
Try snoozing notifications, make a “DO NOT DISTURB” sign for your desk, try productivity tools like FocusMate and leave your phone out of meetings.
Takeaway: Eyal said that the number one determinant in changing behavior is your belief that you can do it.
As a team, how can we become less distracted? Should we reduce the amount of messaging and Slack usage? Should we have a "no phones" policy for meetings?
Managing Engineering Teams That Scale
Nick Caldwell, VP Engineering at Reddit
Background: Nick Caldwell spent 13 years at Microsoft, working his way up from being an intern to GM of a 300 person organization. He stressed the importance of trusting each other and cross-coordination across teams. He believes you should have Engineering Managers instead of tech leads, you need someone who will handle the coordination.
Tactic: Adding more people to your team decreases efficiency, but you can fix this with good process. No one really likes process, but process becomes culture over time. The best kind of urgency is discipline in disguise.
He recommends using the RACI model - a responsibility matrix for project managers.
Takeaway: Communication and coordination and trust are imperative for a scaling team and in organizations of all sizes. Every engineer on your team should understand their mission.
Evolution of a new online economy
John Collison, Co-Founder of Stripe
Background: John gave a great talk about the importance of plankton (what?). He believes that we need to build products, organizations and an internet that is resilient and decentralized like plankton. He asked why people love dinosaurs so much, even though they were wiped out by a rock, millions of years ago. We should be learning from organisms like phytoplankton that truly know how to adapt and survive.
Tactic: We need a decentralized, diverse and dynamic web. We need to be more like plankton, not like dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are like monopolies, and monopolies slow down innovation. He believes the alternative to giants is not other giants. Stripe is a platform that fosters the growth of others, they want to be like plankton and provide infrastructure for businesses of all sizes.
Takeaway: We should enable the plankton, not the dinosaurs of the world. For a healthy online community, we need permission to innovate.
You can watch the full talk here.
"We need a decentralized, diverse and dynamic web."-John Collison
Investing in Bitcoin and Blockchain Adoption
Background: A friend recommended I see Tim speak and I am SO glad I attended. He was one of the most entertaining speakers' hands down. Tim’s net worth is US$1 billion and purchased nearly 30,000 Bitcoins in 2014.
Tim believes that the Bitcoin Blockchain revolution is the biggest thing to happen since the Stone Age. In ten years, all our data will be on the blockchain and there will be no need for banks or governments, something Tim is really looking forward to.
Tactic: “Try a ledger and the world will change for you.” In terms of investing, Tim won’t invest in something that provides a "bad service for a high cost", like the government. He showed us his Estonian ID card - he is an e-resident of this “new digital nation” that issues digital IDs to anyone in the world. This is the way of the future, where governments will be competing for us.
Takeaway: The Blockchain is fair, honest, consistent and incorruptible. There are no limits with Blockchain. Smart governments will open up and move to the Blockchain, they will be competing for us.
THEN. Tim got up and performed a song he wrote about how Blockchain will change the world. It was insane (and awesome).
Email me if you want to watch my personal recording of the song.
Mark Adams, Vice: He started by asking everyone to get up and share their passion with the person next to them. His advice to brands: “If you deposit something of value to your audience they won’t stop thanking you and they’ll help you co-create”.
Trisha Wang, Sudden Compass: She said we need to stop seeing big data as a magical solution, that we rely too much on data and we should use a "people model".
Dr. Danielle Wood, MIT Professor & leader of Space Enabled: At Space Enabled, their goal is to use space technology to enable sustainable development in the global effort to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. She covered some truly amazing topics.
Getting to hear first-hand from these speakers (at a really cool venue in Amsterdam) was a truly memorable experience. If you get excited about the way innovation and technology will shape our cities, organizations and daily lives, I highly recommend checking out the conference next year.
One downside was having to line up or not getting let into some of the talks, but if you were smart you could find a way to sneak in.
I really enjoyed hearing about Blockchain, Smart Cities and sustainable technology in real life and from real people. When you work in tech and get most of your information from the internet, it was a nice change of pace attending these talks.
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