The unconference: unbottling bravery

On Friday I attended my first Connecting HR event and my first unconference on the topic of #BraveHR.

I have no idea what that meant – can you break it down please?

Connecting HR is a group of HR profesionals connecting through social media and in real life to work out how to do things better

An unconference is a hardly structured collaborative event where the agenda is driven by the attendees. Floating off topic onto something you find interesting is fine, nobody is chasing you for timings. If you want to move to another discussion group you use your feet and do so

#BraveHR is the version of the world where we all do what we know we should do  – and what we talk about doing

# is to do with Twitter. If you aren’t on Twitter then don’t be scared, just get on Twitter. That’s what brave people do.

So, what happened in this chaos? I imagine dead ends and frustration?

What happened was fifty shades of awesomeness – creative, aspirational, practical, challenging, open, fun, disruptive, constructive and relaxed, but always on the front foot.

It turns out that if you get a diverse group of people with a common purpose and just say ‘go for it’ then you don’t need an agenda, you don’t need control, you don’t need a stopwatch or training notes – you just need a place to go afterwards when you run out of time and people are still talking with passion.

If those people are really positive and smart you don’t need to keep saying things like ‘back in the real world’ because everyone is smart enough to know there is a real world – and they know that the world changes and think shaping it is exciting, not daunting.

Sounds like a good chat? Did anything come out of it?

  • The conversations were constantly captured and translated into art. At the start I was just pleased to have my own words being translated into art. It was (selfishly) a lovely experience being able to pick out the contributions that you had made to the dialogue. You weren’t just chatting to someone you were helping create a narrative. By the end of the day the most rewarding thing wasn’t your own contribution, it was being a part of growing a broader narrative – of how businesses can be and the steps we can take to move closer to that reality
  • During a ukulele lesson (!) that was used to break up the day I sat next to poster. I hadn’t noticed it, but suddenly there was laughter and the flash of photography. I now have a new picture to accompany my LinkedIn and Twitter profiles


  • I met fantastic people. I chatted to Peter Cheese, CEO of the CIPD about the future of the workplace and the role of HR. I chatted to his people about the changes they had seen and what it was like to work for the CIPD at the moment (exciting and motivational) I chatted to the HRD of the company that has just topped the Times Best 100 to work for. I chatted to people whose blogs I have read an enjoyed and I chatted to people just entering the profession. And they all chatted and created with each other
  • I’m currently looking for a new role, I didn’t go to the event to network, I went to learn and relax. It’s Monday now and I’m just reviewing a pile of business cards I was offered over the day from people offering to help in my search . So I found kindness too.
  • 11pm on Friday saw me queuing up at Burger King in Victoria Station (slightly wobbly, I’ll admit) animatedly discussing the benefits and limits of various behavioural nudges ( with someone I hadn’t met until a few hours before. I found energy, shared interests and knowledge.

The output of the day was a mixture of things – all of them good. Each individual has taken away lessons and things to reflect on, but as a group we now have an even stronger shared agenda and plans to take that forward.

It’s amazing what you can achieve without an agenda. Next year – just go. Clear your calendar and go to an event with no agenda. It makes sense.


PS – whilst I loved the collective narrative there is always a strong feeling of attachment to your own ideas. Here are two of mine that found favour on the day and I got a buzz out of seeing illustrated

i) I think that HR should be braver by being the ones that call out the elephants in the room. The problem with elephants is that the more of them you get the less room there is for people to grow (and eventually to be). HR – chief elephant clearers


ii) the conversation wasn’t just about HR, it was about the future of business. In fact it is a frustration of many of the people who attended that conversation is often just about HR in isolation. The role of HR is to help create the conditions and drive for success. Part of this is strategic deployment of resources and I described how the temptation to put your best people on maintaining business (when competitive advantage is always temporary) needed to be resisted


This led someone to ask if it should just be oranges we are looking for or should we be seeking other fruit.

I confirmed that oranges are not the only fruit.

4 thoughts on “The unconference: unbottling bravery

  1. Even though I read this yesterday, had another read today while writing up my own piece. Brilliant post. I liked your point about being a part of growing a broader narrative. One change at a time.


    1. Thanks Mr Paisley. I’m looking forward to yours. I think understanding that each of us can (and should) have a part to play in change is key to making it sustainable. Take all of the energy from dissent and turn it into steps forward. Looking forward to your blog… still waiting.


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