Monday, March 23, 2009

The Inaugural GTD Summit...Did It Change The Way The World Works?

After attending the GTD Global Summit a little over a week ago, my mind is still swirling with all kinds of thoughts. I wanted to write a final post to close things out earlier, but I hit the road to visit customers literally a couple of hours after I arrived back from San Francisco. Now that I've been back for a day, it's time to process my inboxes, update my lists and get some things done. One of the main items was to write this post, so here we go. First, I'll try to distill down some of my notes from the opening keynote, then wrap up with my overall impression of the event.

The conference kicked off on Thursday morning with the opening keynote session, although there was a social mixer the evening before. For those who could make it, it was a great treat. As Eric Mack told me it would be, it was a classy affair. Nothing fancy...just nice. A jazz band played while people mingled and introduced themselves to fellow GTD enthusiasts. There was great food and drink available as well, and the atmosphere was very casual. It was kind of funny to see so many people with capture tools (pen, pad, etc.) in one place, scribbling things down to remember later as people talked about books, other GTD tools, etc. I met more than a couple Lotus Notes customers and people from around the world, which I found exciting. My wife and I met a guy who had come up from Chile while we were in the elevator, and during the evening event, we met folks from Hong Kong, Antigua, Spain and other exotic locales. I think it speaks to the power and efficacy of GTD that even in a tough economic climate, these people felt it was beneficial to come to San Francisco to attend this gathering. The Wednesday evening event set up a promise of a great two days to come.

Thanks to the David Allen Company (and to Eric, of course), I was fortunate enough to attend the GTD Summit as a guest blogger. While I endeavored to live blog the breakout sessions, there was just too much info flying during the keynote to do it justice. I was given a press pass and took advantage of the area they had set aside for us to capture the action.

David is an unassuming, yet compelling speaker. Its interesting that in our society, our expectation of a "celebrity" (and he certainly is in this circle) is one who is standoffish and self important. David spoke with an ease of one having a conversation with the audience rather than presenting to them, which was really refreshing. He also has a great sense of humor. During his opening remarks, David talked about the phenomenon that is GTD. His original book, "Getting Things Done" has been published in 28 languages and has sold close to 2 million copies. There are over 150 software applications to support GTD. It truly is a global phenomenon. He jokingly shared that "Getting Things Done" was published during the dot bomb phase and his new book, "Making It All Work", was introduced at the height of the sub-prime crisis, prompting him to promise "For the right amount of money, I'll guarantee I will never write another book". He also shared stories of groups using GTD in their lives and work. The Simpsons writers, for example, are big advocates of GTD. Many other corporations are evaluating GTD and determining how they can inject it into the organization.

When David started putting together the ideas for this Summit, he generated a list of speakers, panelists and moderators that he wanted to attend. He figured only a small number would commit, but 85% of them said yes to the invitation, all coming to the conference on their own dime. I think that speaks volumes to the respect that this community has for David and his ideas. These speakers are all masters in their field, thought leaders and entrepreneurs. In the end, even with the best systems and best intentions, however, we can all be victims of circumstances beyond our control. David was very candid and chose to share that he had to lay off 40% of his staff recently due to the huge drop in training budgets from companies. I was impressed by the fact that he shared this. It implied a trust with his audience that even amidst all of this trouble, he believes that all of us as practitioners of the GTD methodology are on the right track. In fact, David believes that the tools of GTD are more important than ever now that we are in survival mode. To quote David as he finished his opening remarks, "Now is the time that this is in it's time". Very interesting times indeed...

For the second half of the keynote session, David introduced Guy Kawasaki, serial entrepreneur, venture capitalist and founder of Alltop. David invited Guy to serve as moderator and to interview David for the remainder of the session. They dove right in to a frank and open discussion. It was obvious that nothing was rehearsed ahead of time, which was another refreshing touch you don't see at too many conferences. Of course, this also meant the conversation took some unusual turns and tended to meander a bit, but overall it was a stimulating conversation. I loved how one of Guy's first questions was about Twitter and he asked David if Twitter gets in the way of our productivity. David's reply, which probably comes as no surprise to the GTD crowd, was that Twitter doesn't get in the way at all if Twitter is what you want to be doing. :-) At this point, David commented about the phenomenon of Twitter, how intimidating it is in some ways to be "followed" by 75,000 people (now over 126k!) and that he was fascinated by the number of people who were using Twitter. It was at this moment that he pointed out my blog post in which I was gathering a list of people tweeting at the conference and asked "where's my IBM guy" (which I thought was totally cool). I was sitting at the press table in the back and told him we only had about 30 or so names on the list. He asked the audience who was using Twitter and at least 1/2 the hands went up. It seems we have a way to go to get the GTD community following one another, much like we do in the Lotus community.

Guy and David had a great rapport. Guy is an unnaturally good moderator, combining humor, self-deprecation and fun questions to keep the audience's attention. He had a lot of great soundbites, and I could see during my peeks into the #gtdsummit Twitter stream that people were enjoying capturing them. He ribbed David about not using a Mac, asked if the key to getting things done was not having kids, and suggested that claiming e-mail bankruptcy is perhaps key to being productive! I do think one of the more humorous quotes to come out of the whole conference was when Guy told David, "I don't see how anyone that thinks they are going to get things done uses Windows". After the initial playful banter, Guy settled into some more serious questions. He asked David what he felt was the greatest barrier to GTD. David's replied that it was "addiction to stress". In order to solve this problem, according to David, it is necessary to get your mind clear. By being more aware of the stress, you will be much more interested to alleviate it quickly.

The conversation continued with a few more questions and answers before moving into the second half of the session, the plenary panel. One additional comment was made that I think was worth mentioning before moving on. David noted that he believes small communities have the best chance of having GTD take hold. If we could build this up as a mind swell, we could start to have a big impact. I think this is very true, as I've seen GTD work very well as a grassroots effort and spread by word of mouth. It's my hope we'll start to see these ideas introduced to kids in school. In fact, I'm starting to work with my son this week to give him the GTD basics.

The plenary panel was up next, and this was a special treat. The panelists represented some of the top thinkers in their field and it was a pleasure to listen to each of them. The panel consisted of Maj. Gen. Randal Fullhart, James Fallows, Paul Saffo, and Marshall Goldsmith with moderators David Allen and Guy Kawasaki. Each panelist took a bit of a different approach, talking about various topics from the work they do to a general overview of how they "do" GTD. Of particular interest was Marshall Goldsmith's talk on the idea of peer coaching and the concept of "daily questions". As a way to stay accountable, the two peer coaches ask each other a series of questions every single day. Each question is structured to be answered with only a "Yes" or "No" and is designed this way to make you focus on living your values. I heard more than one attendee express interest in this idea and I expect we'll be hearing more about this from other GTDers in the coming months. (For more information, I found this great document at the Marshal Goldsmith Library.

The remainder of the two days of the GTD summit were filled with some amazing panels. You can find my thoughts from some of these sessions in my earlier blog posts and entries on Twitter. I found it pretty amazing that so many of the attendees were sharing their thoughts in real-time via Twitter. Most were using the #gtdsummit hashtag, so you can go back through and get a feel for how the GTD Summit unfolded through their eyes. The conversations in the hall between events and in the exhibitors hall were all equally stimulating. I hope that we'll see this event repeated in the future and that it will reflect by it's growth the corresponding growing awareness of GTD in the public at large.

Of special interest to me was the fact that I found many people who were surprised to find that David Allen uses Lotus Notes to manage his own GTD system. In fact, he has been using Notes for about 15 years in all aspects of his business. For his GTD implementation, David uses the eProductivity template developed by Eric Mack. I know that based on some of the conversations I had, people who were unaware of Lotus Notes are going to be taking a look at it. I think this is a great opportunity for us in the Lotus community. We have a champion in a well-known figure, a person being followed on Twitter by 126,000 people and counting. It's natural for people to want to use the systems their "heroes" are using (sports stars, musicians, etc.) and the same is true for GTD. On a personal note as an IBMer (but certainly speaking for myself), I hope that IBM/Lotus can figure out a way to team up with David to get the word out about both GTD and Lotus Notes. I think it would be a win-win for both sides.

Another cool aspect of the GTD Summit was the vendor exhibit area. All of the exhibitors there were focused specifically on GTD or personal productivity in some way, shape or form. I was very pleased to see that the eProductivity booth was usually busy. Eric and his daughters Wendy and Amy did a fantastic job demoing the software and I saw many people walk away very impressed by how it all works. Special shout out to my friends at was great to meet you all in person!

The GTD Summit was all about "Changing the way the world works". I think that it certainly met this promise and started to instigate the change needed to bring this methodology to everyone. It's up to us as attendees to now take it as a next action to propagate these ideas in our circles of influence. In doing so, we'll help keep the spirit of the GTD Summit alive.


David Allen said...

Chris, many thanks for the time invested and integrity in observation in your post. I'm still trying to process what happened, and your perspectives have been a great assist.

David Allen

marisol said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


dannielo said...

Great presentation. Thanks.