The last three days I was in Goa, attending the second edition of the Goa Project. Considering how stressed out I was with work last week, it was a good three-day break, and I had a good time meeting new ! people, getting to know them, generally hanging out and drinking (though I must admit I got sick of beer).
The Goa Project is an interesting concept. The basic idea, as one of the organizers put it, is to get a bunch of interesting people together and put them in one place for two days and let the network effect take over. There is no particular objective in terms of immediate outcomes from the workshop – it is simply about connecting people! Talks are scheduled through the days and at any point of time one typically has three sessions to choose from, but like in any good conference, most of the “useful stuff” happens outside the lecture halls – where participants meet each other and just “hang out”.
I took an overnight bus to Goa (first time I used VRL – was pretty good), and so reached the venue only at 11:30 am. The first pair of keynote lectures (those that don’t have any “competitors” and thus don’t give you a choice to not attend) had just got over and people were moving around. The first set of “real sessions” were starting, and I realized there were few people I knew. But then, the point of an event such as this is lost if you end up knowing a lot of people there, and don’t make any effort to expand your network.
In ten minutes I was in and out of all three simultaneous sessions – all of which I found rather uninteresting. Then began my quest for what I called the “white noise space”. The problem was that the microphones at all three venues had been turned up, and it was impossible to have a conversation without any of those lectures disturbing you. Finally I reached what is possibly the “weighted centroid” of all the loudspeakers, where sounds from each of the three lectures could be heard equally loudly, so that they cancelled one another out, allowing us to have a conversation.
Two or three weekends back, I was reading this book on networking called “Never Eat Alone” (on Gandhi’s recommendation), which for a “management book” was a really good read and rather insightful. It was while I was in the middle of that book that I got an invite to speak at the Goa Project. So it can be said that my visit to the Project was an attempt to put what I read in that book to practice.
During the course of the two days of the workshop I don’t think I talked to more than twenty people (there were over two hundred there). My wife had made twenty five or so new business cards for me to give out at the workshop, and I gave out less than ten. I collected three of four business cards. There was this small group of people (some of whom I knew earlier, but not too well, and most of whom I had never met earlier) that I met, and this group expanded during the course of the Project. So while I didn’t expand my network wide, I did manage to get to know a few people well.
The irrepressible Krish Ashok (with whom I hung out for a large part of Day One) gave an absolutely kickass talk on day one about mixing and making music. Fittingly, it was heavily attended, despite it eating into lunch time (inevitably, I must say, there were delays and the schedule got badly mangled). There were only two other sessions on day one that I sat through till the end, though, with most of the others being rather underwhelming.
When we got married, my wife and I had decided that we would not have live music for the reception, for if you keep it too soft, the artists will get offended, and if you keep it too loud, it can interfere with conversation. The live music at the end of day one had the second of these effects, and with some people who I’d hung out with that day, I went to a far corner of the venue (where the music was actually enjoyable) to eat my dinner.
I was talking about the economics of auto rickshaws – perhaps a part two of the talk on Chennai auto rickshaws I’d delivered in Chennai in 2011. I got slotted into a track called “society”, where interestingly I was perhaps the only speaker who was not an activist. In some senses that made me a bit of a misfit with the rest of the track speakers. Sample this interaction during my talk:
Audience member: Given that the auto driver is under privileged ..
Me (cutting her short): Policies should not be framed based on who is under privileged and who is over privileged. They should be based on sound economic reasoning.
The audience member was a bit stunned and took a while to recover to continue the question I had cut short.
Anyway, the lady who was managing my track had sent an email asking us to rehearse our talks and also sent Amanda Palmer’s TED talk to tell us how we should structure our sessions. She had asked us to script our talks, and rehearse it a few times. While my experience on day one indicated that few other speakers had bothered to actually rehearse, early on Day Two, I thought I should rehearse at least once before the talk.
And talking in front of the mirror as I made coffee and dressed myself, I over-exerted myself and promptly lost my voice.
The rest of the morning, before my talk, I decided to “conserve my voice”, and thus not being able to speak, I decided to attend some talks. I sat in the front row when Lucia director Pawan Kumar talked about how he crowd-funded and made the movie. I listened to this guy (who I know via a “secret society” but had never met before) talk about his experience of being a cop in London. In between, I walked about, talking in a low voice, with people I had met the earlier day.
Mangled schedules meant that my 12:40 talk started only around 1:50, when lunch was underway. It didn’t help matters that it was scheduled in the arena farthest from the cafeteria. Calling it “economics of local for-hire public transport” also didn’t help. But that there were less than twenty people in the audience meant that I could settle down on the stage and deliver my talk.
And so I delivered. Mic in hand, low voice didn’t matter. Small crowd meant I could take questions through my talk. Hanging out with a few people through the length of the workshop meant they helped enhance my audience (a favour I returned). And a lunch-time talk meant that when I started getting too many questions, the track manager declared “lunch break” and I slipped away.
I was wearing a white shirt with sleeves rolled up, over khaki cargo shorts. Sitting on stage cross-legged (which meant that the fact that my shirt was untucked or that the shorts were cargo didn’t show), with a microphone in my left hand and waving a pointed right forefinger, I think the only thing that separated me from an RSS pramukh was a black cap on my head!
The rest of the day went well. I attended some excellent talks through the afternoon and evening, though not too many others did, for the schedule had played havoc again. Dinner time saw a nice band playing, though I stopped drinking since I got sick of beer. I met a few more people, gave out a few more cards, “watched” Liverpool massacre Arsenal via Guardian minute-by-minute commentary, and returned to my hotel a happy man.
The Goa Project continued into its unofficial third day today, as I met a few of the other attendees for breakfast (we were all at the same hotel), a few others for lunch, and some more at the waiting area of the impossibly tiny and congested Dabolim airport as I waited to fly back to Bangalore.
I’ll be back next year.