This past week Kyle Ruane and I drove to Greenville, South Carolina for the Greenville Grok - a half-week long string of events and activities put together by the great folks at The Iron Yard.
Grok is unlike most conferences in a number of great ways. Most conferences focus on providing headline speakers to bring in a crowd. The crowd is usually separated from the presenters by a stage and dark lighting that doesn't allow the presenter and the crowd to interact. The Grok doesn't run this way.
There are times when there is a single speaker and everyone else is listening. But those talks and demonstrations were sprinkled into the schedule as a way to break up the core part of the event; talking to each other in small groups.
The main feature of the Grok are called 10/20s. All attendees are given a random number at the beginning of each day which denotes which group they are in. I pulled 10 twice and 9 once. Each group has 15-20 people in them. The groups go off into their own area of the spacious building in downtown Greenville to discuss whatever topics they would like.
A group may consist of a designer, an entrepreneur, an architect, the CEO of a relatively large successful corporation, and a freelancer trying to decide if she should learn HTML and leave Photoshop behind. No one person has the stage. Everyone's attention is on the person who happens to be speaking. Topics can be provided by anyone willing to raise their hand and if the group would like to chat about that they will. If any one person thinks that the topic being raised is boring they only need to sit through it for 10 minutes before the alarm sounds and the next topic is suggested.
It is like group therapy. And it works really well. How else are you going to get a ton of feedback from so many people that have dealt with or will deal with the same pressures and circumstances as you have? It is a great mix and a great platform for people to grow.
The Grok was held on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Each day has a very slightly different feel to it and a slightly different schedule. But each day seemed to be part of the same conversation; how can we all do better? Do better work. Be better people. Build better things.
I've left many conferences motivated to make more money or to capture a market or to squash the competition. But once that wears off I usually return to wanting to work on something fun with a team I really like and, hopefully, others will like what we build too. After leaving the Grok we felt motivated to improve at every level. Improve our industry in our area by donating our time and resources, improve our product and business and team, and improve ourselves, our skills, and how to interact with the people and world around us.
There are a lot of conferences that happen every year. If you're looking to have a relaxing few days in a gorgeous city chatting with people that are smarter than you and want to leave wanting to simply do and be better... to go the Grok.
Related links: Matt McManus of P'unk Ave., photos of Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3 by Jivan Davé, thoughts from Allan Branch of Less Accounting, and some thoughts from Elyse Viotto.