A few days ago, I was talking with a friend, who I used to study together with. We were talking about GOTO Aarhus, and whether he thought he would be going this year.
He told me that it was unlikely, as the company he works for, has a limited training budget, which also covers conferences.
While I can understand why some companies might have to be careful about costs, it seems to me that this is short-term thinking, which will cost them in the long run.
In my experience, and in the experience of other people I have talked with about this subject, the people who ask for conferences, usually belongs to a group of people that the company would like to keep in their organization. This doesn't mean that the company wants to get rid of the people who don't ask for conferences. Rather, it means that innovation within the organization tends to happen from people who likes to seek inspiration everywhere (and what are conferences other than a giant source of inspiration?).
Conferences are, in other words, a great way to introduce new ideas and solutions into the organization, as long as someone who wants to go there, get to go. For the people going there, conferences are often a vital part of getting new ideas, since they will spending days together with like minded people, who might offer new insights. I think most of us have tried to hear someone say something, and suddenly have your brain go "click", realizing that you've dealt with a problem the wrong way. A conference offers you thousands of opportunities to get such "click" moments.
People like my friend, comes back from a conference with fresh new ideas, and new ways at looking at old problems, perhaps allowing for a novel new solution to a problem the organization has had for a long time.
So, all in all, my suggestion to companies would be, that if you have a employee who wants to go to a conference, think twice before saying no.
On the other hand, don't force employees to go. It is quite fine to suggest to someone that they go, but if they don't think that it's worth the time, it is pretty much a self-fulfilling prophecy, and a waste of money.
At the end of the post, I should probably also mention the fact that some people, myself included, consider conferences so essential that it is something we take into consideration in relationship to employment (my current employer, NineConsult, also considers conferences essential, so in that sense we're a good match).
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