The Jigsaw Puzzle Approach

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I was speaking with a friend the other day and he asked me how things were going with the preparations for Social Media Week.  Having answered this question numerous times in the past few weeks, I have begun to develop an analogy that best describes the process and experience of planning a very complex, distributed conference.

Planning Social Media Week is a bit like working on a giant jigsaw puzzle, only that rather than the puzzle being a standard size, with a set number pieces, it is more amorphous and constantly growing, and in some cases the pieces keep dividing into smaller pieces.

The reason for this is because the number of people, partners and collaborators involved in organizing Social Media Week runs into the hundreds and the total number of venues will be around fifty and the number of attendees will probably top 2,000.  However, despite how wonderfully complex this makes planning process, the rewards as you start seeing the jigsaw’s picture emerge is incredibly gratifying.

So, why did we develop such a complicated model? There are three main reasons:

  1. Removing the burden of an expensive venue, reduces the cost of hosting the conference, allowing us to allocate sponsorship revenue towards production, which in turn allows us to keep attendance free for almost all events.
  2. We wanted to take advantage of the cities underutilized, iconic and interesting space, that traditionally is not used for conferences. Here in New York we are benefiting from space in the New York Times, Wired, Time Inc and IDEO, among many other wonderful venues.  The other cities are all doing the same.
  3. Distributing the conference over multiple locations allows us to host many more events, which in turn helps us reach more people with a more diverse range of topics.

In addition to reducing costs, utilizing alternative space and designing a broader program, the model behind the team for Social Media Week is also structured differently.  Rather than take a top down approach, we instead build a team made up of key influencers in the space, who bring a range of experience and understanding to the conference.  The program of events and the overall format is very much a reflection of the thirty or so people involved,  and of course a reflection of the wider community who are also instrumental in helping to build the program of events.

The reason for sharing this was motivated in part because as we move towards the launch of the conference there are many people asking about the how everything works, when the schedule will be live and when it will be possible to register for events.  Understandably, people are frustrated when only three weeks out there is not a publicly available agenda.  The reason for this is simple.  It’s not ready yet.  It will be, very soon, but it’s not yet.  It would like to be notified when it is, please send an email to or if you want information on another city, you can reach them through their site.

I hope however, that through sharing how the program comes together, people will be more patient and understand that despite this rather unorthodox approach, the quality of events, the learning experience and the opportunity to connect around emerging practices and trends in social media will more than make up for any frustration felt in the build up.