The first of hopefully many Neoteny Singapore Camps has come and gone and by every measure I can think of was a huge success. Of course I’m biased because I was one of the organizers, but it was better than I expected it to be – and I expected it to be good.


It’s worth noting that for the majority of the time before the conference the organizers were not all in town working on this – I was in Los Angeles, James Chan was in Singapore and Joi Ito was on a plane. Luckily we had Tara, Mark, Mika and others who while also not in Singapore did lend a hand to help us with many of the details. While I got into Singapore a few days prior, Joi’s flight didn’t arrive until 7am Saturday morning. The same Saturday morning that his opening talk was to begin at 8am. So even with everything working perfectly there was still a pretty high stress level going into the event.

Of course things never work perfectly which became obvious when we saw Bre tweet that he’d just missed his flight to San Francisco, and the next flight he could catch would cause him to miss his flight from SF to Singapore. The good news is he rescheduled quickly, the bad news is his new flight put him into Singapore 3 hours after the scheduled time of the panel that he was supposed to be on. And then Joi’s flight was delayed out of Frankfurt. So before the doors opened Saturday things were a little tense to say the least. But flights arrived and schedules worked out so no worries.

People filtering into #NSC1

The idea behind the event was not entirely conference, not entirely unconference. We curated the morning talks both days, bringing in people who are officially involved with Neoteny Labs in one way or another, as well as people who are unrelated but we think highly of and thought might have interesting things to say. We also wanted to string a few common themes though what might seem at face value to be unrelated topics. We wanted to talk about being agile, being able to change and adapt quickly. We wanted to talk about not being afraid to try something new, even things that might fail. We wanted to talk about how failing, preferably quickly, is good because it lets us drop things that don’t work, learn from them and apply those lessons to the next thing we try. We wanted to talk about how chaos can be good.

We wanted to talk about what we were doing right now and what we planned to do in the future, and invited others to do the same. With the afternoon sessions we followed much of the model I’ve learned from organizing BarCamps in various cities. We created a schedule of several breakout rooms, broke them up into 30 minute chunks and then put them up on the wall asking people to claim times to talk about things they they were interested in. The schedules looked like this:

NSC1 afternoon schedules

Now, for the last few years any event I’ve done like this takes about 30 minutes for the schedules to fill up entirely. Perhaps this was a new idea in Singapore, or perhaps the attendees weren’t sure what we were asking them to do, or maybe they just didn’t think they had anything to talk about because for the first 4 hours or so there was only one session being proposed. I’ll admit I was panicing a bit. But people figured it out and stepped up.


Afternoon schedule

Dare I say they even had fun??

MAX's (10yr old) breakout session about what kids want from tech

I was watching twitter and saw early on that people were excited and surprised by the sessions and very quickly others in the city who were seeing their friends tweets decided to make their way over as well. There are tons of photos on flicker tagged NSC1 that allow you to see the event from many different perspectives. A few of the early reviews like “Neoteny unconference – How Epic Fail and Agile Development Can Change the World” and “Long weekend at Neoteny Labs” suggest people liked what we had to say and the environment we were trying to create.

Curating a event like this is an interesting task because it’s not just business. I mean, certainly there is a clear place for chats with the folks from Pivotal Labs and Ideo about business and philosophy but I feel like the context of those talks is given a broader scope when juxtaposed with things like Brave New Pong. Completely different angles leading to some of the same conclusions.

The breakout sessions were amazing as well. There was a 10 year old named Max who took 30 minutes to talk about what kids want from technology, Mitch was teaching people how to make things, Jens talked about hackerspace design patterns, Adam talked about The Idea Lists, Joi explained term sheets, Evelyn talked about language, Meng talked about Religion, bunnie talked about manufacturing and so many more I can’t even recall them all. It was really fantastic, and my heartfelt appreciation goes out to the sponsors who helped make it possible.

Hackerspace Panel at NSC1

I heard from more than one person that they never thought they would see an event like this in Singapore, and especially would never see some of the talks and ideas we presented. That is a good thing. I’ve already started thinking about next year and NSC2 as well as the possibilities of Neoteny Camps in other cities in the meantime. We’ll see. You know we’ll keep you posted as things develop…