Conferences Can Cultivate Curiosity Or The Cult Of Expertise Groupies

Black Lips at Maxwell's.

Everyone seems to be looking for the next sure thing.

We like answers. We seek quick remedies.

We attend conferences looking for shortcut solutions with big payouts. We expend a lot of energy to find tips to the trade, keys to success, or hacks that provide instant results. The less we have to work at it, the more we like it.

Cult Of Expertise

We crave and want quick cures and successful tonics to our dilemmas.

We spend $1,500-$2,000 for conference registration, lodging, travel and meals with the hope of getting one take away that helps us get ahead of others. We are willing to take two-three days away from the office, our homes and families for antidotes and a sure thing.

Attend any conference and you’ll find standing-room-only sessions packed like sardines. These sessions offer experts’ findings. Audiences want specialists’ insights on fast, easy and quick how-tos.

Organizers and volunteer committees are more than willing to stuff their conferences with these self- and business-help gurus. We give our crowds what they want: expert professional authorities.

Conferences are cultivating the cult of expertise. We are creating groupies that crave a currency of static answers.

Shortcut Solutions Trump Lingering Questions

Our conference crowds are starved for shortcut solutions instead of open minded questions.

We don’t want to be left hanging with more questions than answers. It’s uncomfortable.

We have created conference attendees that disregard curiosity, ignorance and learning. Rarely do conferences cultivate participants that barter in deep questions that lead to job and profession improvements. Instead we want someone else’s strategy to win.

The cult of expertise has obscured the capacity for learning. It eclipses the thirst for understanding. It thumbs its nose at ignorance. It snubs curiosity needed for authentic learning.

Taking A Cue From Subject Matter Experts

When subject matter experts get together, what do they discuss?

They don’t spend their time discussing their latest facts. They don’t usually talk about what they know says author Stuart Firestein.

Instead, the talk about what they are questioning. They discuss what they would like to know. They explore what’s next to figure out and consider.

Questions More Important Than Answers

We are too enthralled with answers today. We need to start embracing questions.

Questions are more important than answers. Good questions open the mind to curiosity. Good questions can shine the light on multiple layers of answers. Good questions can generate new inquiries.

Answers often end a learning process.

Nurturing Conference Curiosity

The real challenge for conference organizers today is to find ways to foster a hunger to learn. It’s to install a culture of inquiry. It’s to nurture conference curiosity.

We need to find ways to cultivate conference participants who are less likely to defer to experts’ ideas. Because it’s only then that they can transcend those ideas.

We need a conference culture that is more collaborative, creative and competitive. Not controlled by expertise and answers.

Our conferences need more curious learners. Not the cult of expert groupies.

For it is the truly curious that are really in demand.

Sources and hat tips to Curious: The Desire To Know And Why Your Future Depends On It author Ian Leslie and Ignorance: How It Drives Science author Stuart Firestein.

How can conferences balance what attendees want with what attendees’ need and experts’ answers? How do we create conference experiences that promote curiosity and inquiry instead of faux instant success?

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1 comment
  1. I was hoping someone would have left some answers to your questions in the comments–ironic, no?

    So I’ll add a few of my own instead:
    How can we change our professional culture (whatever our profession may be) to one that values questions instead of quick fixes and easy answers?

    How can our pre-professional educational system prime upcoming generations to be more about the journey than the destination?

    In what ways would a more curiousity-driven, exploratory, questioning workforce improve business outcomes (or would it not)?

    What would make people understand the value of this type of conference, make it worth the extra effort that it would entail over the usual easy-answer format? Especially what would make them want to attend their first (I suspect that most people, once they’ve experienced it, would not have the same resistance when it comes to experiencing it again)?

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