I’ve been hearing a lot of chatter that there wasn’t much new to learn at this year’s Tools of Change conference. In fact I heard the same things said about Digital Book World. I don’t know…..that’s not at all what I take away from these things. I attend a lot of conferences, even ones that have nothing to do with publishing. In fact, one of my all time favorites was Brad Inman’s Real Estate conference.

But here’s the thing, I don’t go expecting to take away some big revelation, and what I’ve learned over the years is that the lessons often take time to marinate and reveal themselves, and I don’t even know what I learned until weeks or months later. Also, for me, it’s every bit as much about the networking and connecting in the real world as it is about the lectures and panels. I firmly believe that magic can happen when you bring interesting people together face to face; the potency of that real world connection can’t be replicated virtually.

The other lesson (which I learned before, but was confirmed for me here) is that the least likely talks that I stumble into by accident are often the most interesting. This year, I fell into Brian O’Leary and Ashley Gordon’s talk about Print On Demand and it got me thinking in directions I had never considered……and the only reason I found myself there was because the Twitter room was too crowded. It was the most thought provoking hour of the week for me and I’m sure will lead me in directions I never imagined.

A lot of people are headed to SXSW this year and are asking me which panels to attend — and I’m going to give a big plug here for serendipity. I’ll be trying to steer myself clear of the obvious and will be looking to discover the magic in the least likely places. I’ll be the one looking to swim in a different pond. My favorite panel from last year had nothing to do with publishing, per se. It was called something to the effect of “How the Brain Works” by a lawyer named Craig Ball, and subsequently changed the way I give presentations (and as an aside, not to dis anyone specifically…..but I think others in our industry could benefit from what Craig Ball has to say). Another panel by YouTube star Felicia Day was hugely informative for me too — and I stumbled into it by accident.

Here are a few quick & dirty observations from TOC:

  • There were many more laptops than I saw at DWB
  • In France, all books are priced exactly the same, wherever they are sold. It’s the law. (Wow. That blew me away. Can you imagine? That changes everything for everyone). Check out Julia’s post from last Fall.
  • Peter Meyers is a visionary. I don’t know if all of his ideas will “work” — but he has really done some deep thinking about what a “book” can be.
  • Everyone needs to hear Kirk Biglione’s presentation about the history of DRM. I’m not sure I agree 100% with everything he says about how it should be in the future, but it is very informative to hear a detailed history of what happened to the music industry.
  • Tim O’Reilly says get back to work. Stop trying to be so “visionary” and work on the meat and potatoes of great book publishing.
  • Brad Inman said that trying to make stuff happen with big publishers is like trying to swim through a jar of peanut butter. I love that. I’ve been saying the same thing for years — but I call it the “sludge.” You have a great idea, and then you’ve got to swim through the sludge to try to make it happen. Not a lot of fun. I’ve learned to dodge and weave and bob my way around it. From now on, every time I think to myself “how do I make this happen” — it’s going to be symbolized by a big jar of Skippy.

All in all, I loved TOC 2010. I signed up for next year before I left the conference center.