Photo by Miguel Henriques on Unsplash

This is part 3 of my reflection about our unhealthy relationship with time and how it affects communities (part 1, part 2). In this post I share some reflections on how our approach to time influences experience design:

  • I continue to attend community experiences and events that are totally overloaded. There is too much on the agenda. We are constantly running out of time. Every session would deserve more time, runs late. It feels stressful.
  • In most of these experiences there is usually no or very little empty space, no unstructured time. Every minute of the experience is supposed to be productive.
  • Reading Peter Block always reminds me how communities are a sum of the many conversations that happen within. But in our chase of productive community time, there is no more space for longer, deeper, unstructured conversations. When conversations happen, they are often in larger groups and often with clear expected outcomes. There is also very little space for serendipity, one of community’s most powerful secret weapons.
  • When I attend community experiences as a participant, I always lament the fact how busy the programming is. I wish there were just some space to simply be with the lovely humans around. Yet ironically, when I’m in the drivers seat and designing experiences, I’m deeply worried about open spaces. I’m afraid of the chaos that unstructured time might bring with itself. And I’m worried that people will find the event “a waste of their time”. I want to make sure that people get value for their time.
  • These days, every event wants to have a clear “outcome”, to produce some results. Usually that means that the bigger group is split into smaller groups, the small groups are tasked to brainstorm ideas and answer a whole list of extensive questions in 15 minutes, and then each group have 1 minute each to share out. In most events I attend, these share outs at the end aren’t very meaningful.
  • It isn’t that a structured and filled agenda is only bad. It definitely has important upsides: a clearly defined event framework makes people feel safe enough to actually show up to your event. People show up for the agenda and the speakers, not to simply “be”, but once they are there, the biggest value they are looking for is often relationships. And on the flip side, I have definitely been in events without agendas that felt totally chaotic and a waste of time. So we need agendas and we need structure, but we need generous, patient structures.

As you can tell, I have observations, but not really recommendations how to change it. How are you approaching this? I’d love to hear your thoughts!