Dare: People Skills For Digital Workers

At the end of September I had the great pleasure and honor to travel to London to speak at the inaugural Dare Conference, a two-day event of incredibly honest talks about work, communication and management for anyone who does anything on the web — even if that just means reading and commenting on articles.

When Dare first launched their conference site, their message was a bit waffly and vague. It seemed like a personal—not work-oriented—type of conference, which, as organizer Jonathan Kahn explained during his opening words, made it hard for a lot of people to justify this as a work expense, or even just take the time off for it. Their site relaunch greatly improved matters, however, with a tagline that nailed it: People Skills for Digital Workers.

Indeed, you weren’t going to learn the latest and greatest CSS technique, design principle, Ruby trick, sales hack or startup lesson. What you were going to learn at Dare was people skills: those vastly under-appreciated and undervalued skills we all use and depend on heavily, but can often barely articulate as a coherent message if our job depended on it. 

The tone of raw and complete honesty had been set right from the start by Jonathan’s opening notes, continued throughout Karen McGrane’s keynote, and all the sessions over the course of the event. It was inspiring, insightful, and chock-full of valuable lessons about teamwork, management, interpersonal interaction, and personal development. Each average Dare session was more powerful than many of the best talks I’d seen at any other event.

While barely focused on startups or startup culture, the many talks at Dare were hugely applicable and relevant to people working at or running a startup. Especially in tech, startups are generally composed of entrepreneurial youngsters with a technical skill and some design chops, at best some good business acumen. But more often than not, startup founders have little to no management experience, despite it being a key skill requirement from their first hire onwards.

Another aspect of running a startup that is often overlooked is having a good, deep understanding of yourself—your strengths and limitations, specifically—and this, too, was given a lot of attention in the Dare talks. For these reasons, I found it a particularly valuable conference for myself as a startup founder, as well as someone who has worked at and with multiple, varyingly-sized startups over the years. I’ve been to a number of startup-focused events, but none were as long-term useful as Dare was. 

The tagline mentions Digital Workers, which obviously applies to a wide variety of professionals. But there truly was something valuable for everyone who works on the web in some capacity or another. For writers, sales people and marketers, there were things to learn about resonating and communicating with people through the digital medium. For product designers, founders or similar, there were lessons about accurately catering to the needs of those on the other side of the screen. For anyone in a management role, there were invaluable lessons about managing people, such as increasing retention, productivity, and employee satisfaction. For developers, there were key things to learn about systems of people, something that matters just as much as programmatic systems and tools.

If you live in London (or area) and missed out, there is good news: first of all, the session videos are available (with optional, but encouraged, donation of £20 — a steal for the value you get), and secondly: Dare is coming back with a one-day event in January! I highly recommend attending for anyone who works on the web.

I attend and speak at many events, but rarely do I write about them anymore. Dare Conference was the kind of exceptional event that warrants it. My great thanks to the organizers for putting something special together, an experience that stood out in more ways than a 650-word blog post could address.

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