The Biker Bar Fallacy

The Biker Bar Fallacy

I’ve been in conference mode the past few days. Over the weekend, I was atWordcamp Columbus, improving my end-user WordPress skills. Today, I’m finishing NABE’s Economic Measurement Seminar, where I’m learning about how various economic indicators are compiled and how to use them.

I love going to conferences because I love learning new things, meeting new people, and seeing new places. Some conferences go a little more smoothly than others.

Going to a first conference can resemble the famous “biker bar” scene. You nervously enter a noisy tavern, the music stops and everyone turns around to look at you. Some giant guy in leather gets up: “Can I help you?” Obviously you are not welcome here.

The obvious reason for this treatment is that it’s hard to meet new people. 

But there’s a more subtle reason. 

Note that in the movie, the person walking into a biker bar doesn’t just not know anyone in the bar. To top that, he’s not even a biker.

Yes, there’s an idea of tribes, a group with shared ideas and connections. Biker gangs are a tribe. Conference attendees are also likely in the same tribe — but this doesn’t mean they all need to ride motorcycles (or the industry equivalent).

The Biker Bar Fallacy is that the only people it’s worth building a tribe with are people exactly like you.

In fact, a guiding principle of society is the division of labor. It’s beneficial to spread your ideas to people with wildly different backgrounds and skills. 

Which brings me back to conferences. The more motley the crew, the better, in my opinion. Meet people who add to your skill base, not just duplicate it.

There’s hope. Usually in the movie, the outsider eventually gets a cordial reception (think “Tequila”). It takes a little adversity, but by sharing something that would have never come form within the biker gang, he shows value to the tribe.

A conference is not a biker bar.

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