Abandon All But Tomorrow When Planning Your Conference


When do you stop pouring resources into things that have achieved their purpose? asked management guru Peter Drucker.

It’s one of Drucker’s signature strategies: abandoning the past for tomorrow. He called it the concept of purposeful abandonment.

Purposeful abandonment doesn’t sound very attractive. Few leaders brag about the product, service or idea that they abandoned. Yet deciding to abandon a conference programming element can clear the way for new successful traditions to take hold.

Purposeful Abandonment

Purposeful abandonment is about abandoning the past in favor of the future.

It involves the discipline of consistently asking the right questions. It is creating a habit of regularly questioning every conference planning practice and programming component that we currently use.

This includes asking the more obvious yet often elusive questions of “Why are we holding a conference? What’s the purpose of our event? Who is our target market and our primary customer? And what are we trying to help them do, solve or achieve?”

Usually, the most difficult question to answer about a conference is “Who is our target market?” It is only after evaluating and studying our attendee data, identifying our loyal customers, and examining their challenges, needs and goals that we can begin to more accurately respond. Oddly, the right answer is usually anything but the obvious one such as our target market is our membership, or anyone who will pay, or practitioners in our profession.

Defining your target market means making tough decisions about which markets to leave, which to enter, which to target and which to abandon, as Drucker would say.

The Devious Lure Of Past Success

One of the most perilous and deceptive traps for conference organizers are the successes of the past. Since our major events only happen once a year, we feel we can easily repeat the past to enjoy yesterday’s success.

A similar illusory snare is repeating those near-successes. Everyone, including your conference customers, say that if you just give it one more try with additional resources, time and attention, it will go over the top.

In both of these situations, we need the wisdom and insight to apply purposeful abandonment. We must remember that tomorrow is a different time and context than today.

The Conference Growth Policy Of Abandonment

The first step in a growth policy is not to decide where and how to grow. It is to decide what to abandon asserted Drucker.

In order to grow, your conference must have a systemic process to get rid of outgrown, obsolete and unproductive procedures and programming elements. Your planning process should include the management of change. This involves evaluating everything your conference offers through the lens of organized abandonment. It includes preparing and planning for abandonment rather than trying to prolong the life of a successful element.

Similarly, who on your conference programming team is charged with looking at the trends, examining the markets and preparing your conference planning team to exploit new opportunities created by new realities? You cannot abandon yesterday and take advantage of new opportunities unless someone has the specific assignment to work on tomorrow. You want to put the greatest amount of your conference resources behind the high-opportunity programming elements.

As a conference organizer, you can’t practice purposeful abandonment alone. You should enlist team members that are closet to your conference customers to discover and identify programming elements that are fading. Then they can contribute ideas that lead to new opportunities.

Read more about Drucker here.

What questions do you use to examine your conference practices through the lens of purposeful abandonment? How do you educate and prepare your planning team—both volunteer and staff—to practice purposeful abandonment?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *