Microsoft, Silent Disco, and the Collaboration Revelation

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Flight time, 7 a.m. Touchdown, a few hours and a couple of time-zone-changes later. Ride secured, hotel checked into. It had begun.


I've just returned from my first Microsoft MVP Summit this week, though I can't yet talk about most of it because at the time that I'm writing this, all that marvelous, unparalleled learning from my workshops and seminars is still under NDA.


I know. Bummer.


[Perhaps this is also you at the moment, dear reader. (Pinterest)]


Value Beyond the Classroom


Still being under NDA is actually okay, because what I discovered, what I experienced, is something I can share anytime, and extends far beyond those very valuable if censored workshops and seminars.


I had been indecisive about going to Summit. There's a lot of stuff to do at home and at work, all those "Well, but" and "I should" etceteras we find it so easy to surround ourselves with. Yet I'd missed last year's Summit for much the same reasons.


This year, I did that useful trick of thinking at least 20 minutes into the future: Would I be satisfied just to look back at an experience I once again didn't choose, or would I be happier with one I immersed myself in?


I immersed.


[Amy Dolzine, Kirsty McGrath, me, and Melanie Hohertz. Photo credit to Ragnar Heil, who took this pic as we were taking a photo booth pic!]


My career has taken me deep into collaboration in online communities, currently using Yammer for both internal and external customers. As a result, I'm more used to talking in my head to people than talking in person to people, including other Yammer people who do what I do in their online spaces all over the world.


[This is a decidedly offline hat, courtesy of the airbrush station at the Attendee Celebration.]


It's not often that we get a chance to get together in person, and even so there's not usually all of us able to be in the same space at the same time. At Microsoft Ignite and now at the MVP Summit, we miss those who aren't around even as we delight in each other's company.


[Photo credit to Amy Dolzine for putting us all together.]


What Happens When You Take Time to Let It Happen


There's a lot of beauty about being at Summit. The Microsoft campus itself is a part of this, of course, set as it is in a lush pine forest.


But there's also the beauty of impromptu hallway conversations started by nothing more than, "Hey, my shoes go with your jacket!" and suddenly you're talking about socks and specialties and connecting on Twitter before heading off to the next building.


[With Lesley Crook.]


There's the beauty of rushing off to a session knowing that even though you won't know everybody in the room, whoever you sit next to or nearby will be someone you want to talk to, even if you don't know it yet.


[Photo credit: Kirsty McGrath, with Kirsty, Ben Elias, Simon Denton, and Kevin Crossman]


There's the beauty of the bus.



And there's the beauty of learning amazing, heartwarming, inspiring things about each other while just standing around a tall table eating lunch or hovering outside of a tree house because of course Microsoft has tree houses.


[I believe photo credit goes to Lesley Crook.]


All these things make up the building blocks that form lasting friendships.


[Photo credit: Ragnar Heil.]


And it's due to the brilliance of one of these friends, Amy Dolzine, that I'm getting my own thoughts out on a particular beautiful experience right now.


The Disco Collaboration


Microsoft loves to let all of our brains relax after a hard few days of learnin'. At the Attendee Celebration, we're allowed, nay, encouraged to turn into big kids released into a little kid playground. Mounds of tasty goodies; games such as Pac-Man (obviously lent from Brobdingnag); the almost hypnotic allure of mega Lite-Brite.



And then came silent disco. I had never done it before. I wasn't sure if I wanted to do it now. And then I did it and it was marvelous and I want to do it again.


**Definition Interlude**


Silent disco: "An event where people dance to music listened to on wireless headphones. . .music is broadcast via a radio transmitter. Those without the headphones hear no music, giving the effect of a room full of people dancing to nothing. . .Over time, the technology moved along to where there were two, and later technology allowed for a third channel that three separate DJs could broadcast over at the same time." --Wikipedia, December 2017.


**End Interlude**



[Noah Sparks didn't even wait until he got to the dance floor before he was showing us what's what.]


This was explained to me far more fluidly at the time. Even so, faced with this very real manifestation, I didn't get the point. There was already music being piped out over the loudspeakers. Everyone cavorting in the far left corner of the celebration ballroom wearing these weird glowy headphones, definitely not following the loudspeaker music, just didn't compute.


I sure didn't want to do that! I'd rather eat my ice cream toppings from the massive ice cream bar of awesome! (Which I did, by the way.)


And again, it was that 20-minutes-into-the-future trick: Would I regret not trying it at least once, just for a little bit, just for laughs?


Here's what happened:

I got closer and watched. I saw my friends having a great time. I saw strangers having a great time. I saw friends and strangers having a great time together. And nobody was looking like they were judging anybody for anything. All I saw were wide open smiles.


I secured a pair of headphones and people explained what to do: There were two DJs spinning different sets. Toggle the headphone switch to choose either the blue or the green channel's music, or rest at "red," neutral, with no sound. (Is it just me, or is there a bit of a case for ternary in there? ;) )


I took this next pic when I was still on the sidelines, and it's very apparent what happens when you take that first step and join in: People are delighted you're there!


[The overjoyed Lesley as Melanie steps on in.]


So I took that step. Yeah, it also took a little bit to feel completely at ease, but not too long at all. And then it became amazing.


It felt like being in a big yet exclusive club that defined exclusivity as "all you have to do is want to join." And this club didn't burst at the seams no matter how many members joined. It made no difference which channel you chose; you had people very happy that you chose it! If the other channel suddenly started playing something really cool, you had people gesturing emphatically to get you to change it so you could experience it with them!


And you could do the same to them. It seemed that no matter what choice you made, it was always the right one.


I've had great fun dancing with friends at regular clubs, but there's something about being in your own headroom with the music, yet being in sync with everyone else's heads inside the music, that made this a transcendent experience. It's like dancing in your living room only with a real live crowd thinking you're doing a smashing job of it.


Collaboration Revelation


This simple space was open by default and came with instant acceptance. But you do have to take the first step yourself and plug in—get connected—or you won't get that value and experience. Just like with the Summit itself.


Amy Dolzine's "Working Out Loud in Silence" extends the concept of silent disco right smack into open collaboration. And it works. Here's a massive quote:


"A silent disco, in a way, is EXACTLY like working out loud. When you make your work visible to others, so that they can benefit from it you are working out loud.
When you see others, who are just like you, participating in working like a network, you may dip your toe in. You get a feel for how powerful that is to know you may not have all the dance moves, but you know the people who do.
You can all dance together on one channel, or move between channels seamlessly. You’ve built strong relationships from sharing what you know to benefit others and bringing people along with you to the dance floor."

I want you to go over to read Amy's post, so I'll leave you with one final thought that came to mind after I returned home.


We were all taking selfies on the dance floor. When you take a selfie with other people, you naturally gravitate toward your "known" pack of people. Except there at the silent disco, whenever a selfie moment was starting, everybody else in the vicinity instantly noticed and rushed over to pile in. And that made it even better!


What did you experience at the MVP Summit?


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