10 Years Ago: Reboot 7

Reboot 7 in 2005 was a turning point for me and many others. How a large part of my professional as well as personal network looks today, that digital disruption now fully underpins most of my work, and that I took the freedom to operate on my own, all have Reboot 7 (and the editions after it) at its core.

10 years ago this week, Elmine and I were at our first Reboot conference in Copenhagen. It was the 7th such conference, and the first one that was more internationally oriented (the previous ones focussed more on the Nordic countries AFAIK). It was organized by Thomas Madsen-Mygdal with a team of volunteers including Nikolaj Nyholm. From the fact that you will see more ’10 years after Reboot’ postings you can gather it was inspiring, and fun, and that we have much to thank Thomas and his team for.

I went to Reboot as sort of the end point of a process. I started blogging about knowledge management and social media in 2002, and as a result of it my international professional network had exploded. I felt the growing need to meet some of them. So when BlogTalk was organized in 2003 in Vienna, I and many other bloggers used it as an opportunity to meet face to face for the first time. The next year, 2004, I returned, this time with Elmine, for the 2nd BlogTalk. I came away with two key things. One, I met a wide range of inspiring people, like Lee Bryant, Paolo Valdemarin, whom I definitely wanted to stay in touch with. Two, I felt the need for much stronger actual conversations and experience sharing.

In response to the first item, Elmine and I started looking for a conference to go to together in 2005 (as there would be no BlogTalk that year) where we could meet those people.
In response to the second thing, I wanted to organize something where the conversation was the actual program, cutting away the powerpoints. These were the BlogWalks, organized with Lilia Efimova and Sebastian Fiedler, originally thought to be in support of the BlogTalk conferences. There we used Open Space formats just before unconferences became more visible through the BarCamps.

Reboot promised to combine the two: a conference where I could meet inspiring people, that I already partly knew, and where the participants were the same people as on stage.

Doug Engelbart on video from Calif. Doug Engelbart 1968 demo
The iconic Doug Engelbart demo and video conversation at Reboot 7

I came away from Reboot feeling having turned a corner, and from now in 2015 it looks more like a starting point.
Reboot delivered upon my expectations, and so much more. It was a heady mix of inspiring people I knew, and many new faces and inspiring minds. It was in a venue (Kedelhallen) that made space for plenty informal interaction, where you could be human (people started bringing their kids!), and everyone on stage was also a participant. The program was fixed upfront but curated by the people who wanted to come. Good food and drinks. All that created an atmosphere where you were allowed to ask the awkward questions, dream the big ideas, build prototypes, and have them met with curious and critical questions and exchanges. Many times we saw someone suggest something, or try something at Reboot, that later turned into a book, an application, a start-up or a Google buy-out. And there was lots of fun. It was also a very European conference, where you could see that Europe, the idea, works beautifully.

Reboot’s iconic lawn chairs. We brought some home.

I think that meeting all those great people (e.g. how I met Peter Rukavina using the Foursquare precursor Plazes) at Reboot allowed me to incorporate a number of things, that normally made me feel like the village idiot, into my work and everyday routine. Asking the big questions, while doing the small things to bring it forward. To be a fish that works to notice the water, and to question the water. To bring a more entrepreneurial attitude to everything I do. To be ok with that I don’t really have a job description, but do the things I think are worth doing. To more purposefully enable others to do the same. The type of spirit Reboot conveyed, is something I and many others have been seeking to turn into our normal mode of operation.

Danish Digital Policy Discussion
Doing a session with Danish government in the locker room of Kedelhallen

We kept returning to Reboot every year, until the last one in 2009, creating many memories. By that last one I was working on my own, and had had a very good year. I became one of the main sponsors of that last Reboot conference, which I saw as a good way of making something possible that had been a source of so much learning for me. A tuition fee for what was my greatest source of learning for a number of years. Being a sponsor allowed me to bring a few others to the conference as well, providing free tickets. So I brought students who would not otherwise be able to afford to go.

Elmine and I did a workshop on ‘owning your learning path’ at one Reboot, and took it outside because of the beautiful weather

One of them I met last year, and he explained one of the large negative side effects of Reboot.
I met him at a different conference in Berlin, and he was sitting in the central space of the venue, sipping coffee and not going to any session. He looked a bit bored. So I asked him if he enjoyed the conference. “Not really” he said. Why not, I asked. “You spoilt me when you brought me to Reboot in 2009 as a student, now I cannot stand other conferences anymore.”
The same is true for me too. I can’t really stomach the blandness and pace of most other events.

Bring your kids to conferences! Reboot had a kindergarten

And we keep searching for and visiting events that try to bring the same spirit: SHiFT, Lift, SOTN, ThingsCon and others. Or try to organize events ourselves, like our Birthday Unconferences, Data Drinks and other. And every now and then my colleagues and I succeed in taking groups of clients through an event where everybody leaves on a similar natural high as Reboot created for me.
The lasting value of Reboot is of course in how it changed my attitude and showed me new pathways. And how it created a lasting network of relationships that are my core professional peer network, and in fact many of whom have become dear friends. If you ever wondered about the weirdly distributed social life Elmine and I have, I blame Reboot.

Lee Bryant at Reboot 11
Lee proposing a new mythology (underneath the banner listing me as sponsor)

Will there ever be another Reboot? Not likely, at least not in this shape. Lee Bryant called for a new mythology at the last Reboot, a new narrative for meeting the global challenges. By now Reboot is part of that mythology, and a new conference might just spoil that. The Reboot spirit however very much deserves more channels of distribution. If Thomas ever plans to do something along those lines, I’d be happy to help. Because everyone deserves a regular reboot.

A key piece of advice and unofficial Reboot slogan