The Workbook – a conference companion

This post is a joint piece written by Emma Nordung and Zofi Holgersson. You can find a_ pdf version of 'The Workbook' here._

Focusing on exploring complexity, trends and human behaviour in the digital world, ‘The Conference’ attracts roughly a thousand attendees from all over the world to central Malmö. Year after year, they gather top speakers and people for an interesting cross-pollination of well-curated and relevant content. On top of this, the organisers of The Conference are also keeping up a constant meta-conversation, exploring the conference format. What are the strengths of these kinds of meetings? What do we do just out of habit, and how can a conference as a learning experience be reshaped and enhanced?

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Connecting the dots

As Team Coaches at ustwo, we work with learning every day. Learning is about connecting the dots from different experiences and internalising them for your own context and reality. We are responsible for making sure that we constantly capture insights, utilise them and iterate our processes accordingly. We do retrospectives, host team sessions and make sure the teams take the time to reflect and share. Having a work-in-progress approach, constantly flexing our reflection muscles, helps us stay real and address needs along the way in order to adapt and change throughout a project and in the end – create great things. For us humans, in order to learn from experiences and develop, we need to go through a reflection loop that usually looks something like this:

  • Repeating the experience to ourselves. Just going through what has happened, what did we hear, what made an impression?
  • What did it mean for us? Which feelings, associations, and thoughts were evoked by the experience?
  • **How does it relate? ** What does it tell about what we want to do, our wishes, goals, values, our contexts?
  • **What do we want to do now? ** What will the consequences be? Is there anything that we want to do differently now?

Companies, teams and individuals all need to go through this in order to learn. If the circumstances are well suited, individual or group reflection might happen without much effort. But more often than not, we’re aware that reflection can be quite hard work and it’s easier to just keep going than to stop and face the questions that reflection demands answers to. If we are committed to keep learning, we need to consciously create those good circumstances for ourselves. So, in close collaboration with The Conference’s organisers, we tailored a special conference companion that was given to every attendee of this year’s The Conference – 'The Workbook'.


A charming conference friend

'The Workbook' is designed to be a space and a catalyst for the reflection loop, help connect the dots and specifically adapted to the conference format. It can be described as an A5-sized, charming conference friend that is always sincerely interested to hear what you got out of a conference session or keynote. A friend that isn’t afraid to ask those follow-up questions that makes you think a little bit harder. In shorter, time-boxed events, the threshold to download a digital tool can sometimes be a bit big, so we decided to create a real, physical notebook with each of its pages laid out to evoke reflection over a theme or a specific talk from The Conference. Using a combination of open-ended questions, minimalistic graphical models, and doodle areas, we are inviting the book’s owner to organise their notes and thoughts in new ways over 48 pages.


The making of...

Together with The Conference’s masterminds, armed with a whiteboard, paper sheets, and coffee, we designed 'The Workbook' over a number of sessions. We were constantly looking at the talks and sessions that were booked for The Conference and combining them with some of our favourite reflection models and designing some brand new ones in the process. Working visually from the start, we drafted and redrafted the layouts of the pages as we discussed the right level of specificity and abstraction of the questions asked, aiming to make them open-ended enough to be useful for each person in relation to their own context. We didn’t want to imply any particular way of understanding the talks and sessions, but the phrasing still needed to be specific and sharp enough to provoke reflection. This includes personal, introverted reflection as well as providing structures for discussion or sharing with people around. The idea is also that a book will be longer lasting than your average conference programme, and of course your memory. Our hope is that it will facilitate reflection and sharing beyond the actual event and be a kind reminder of insights, things to research and tell others about.

We had a great time doing it, also infusing the book with a mischievous sense of humor, that we hoped would crack both people and perspectives up while using the book. This year’s conference is now over, and it has been a delight to see people jot, draw and connecting dots in the book. We hope that 'The Workbook' will have given the attendees an extra juicy experience and that they will get back to it long after the event is over to continue learning.

A downloadable pdf version of 'The Workbook' can be found here.

To top things off, here’s what conference participant Nina Koch, Interaction Designer at XING AG, Germany had to say about the book: P1030064-1024x683

How have you used the workbook?

I’ve mostly used it as a regular notebook. However, it sparked some new questions and ideas and made me take some more time to think about specific things about the sessions I attended. I like that there are designated spaces, with pages connected to each talk and session.

What could be done differently?

Some areas felt a bit restricting at times, but I just used it as I felt like using it. I think a few more spaces for own reflections or notes would be nice for the sessions. I like the quotes section.

Do you usually give yourself time to reflect?

I really try to take something with me from experiences like this so it doesn’t become something that just happens in the moment.

Will you use the book after the conference?

I hope so! I think I will use it to spread the ideas and to share with others. Probably bring it to work and share with my colleagues, and for memories.

Passionate about skiing, mint chocolate chip ice-cream and unleashing the collective genius, Zofi Holgerson is a Team Coach, Learning designer and facilitator at ustwo Nordics. She designs and leads collaborative processes with big international brands as well as smaller companies.

Emma Nordung is a Team Coach at ustwo. She’s a socially capable introvert who loves hardcore campfire cooking and a cold beer. If you'd ask her what she does at work, she'd say she helps make sense of things.