Last weekend I was in Franklin, Tennessee, for the 5th annual Tribe Conference. It was my 4th time there (missed the first year because of a crazy travel schedule). Find my Tribe 2018 impressions here and here. Tribe 2017 here.
Once again, it was an awesome time with great speakers and lots of actionable information. Plus ample time to catch up with new and old friends.
It was also the very last Tribe Conference. Ever.
Because back when Jeff Goins, writer, blogger, speaker and entrepreneur came up with the idea to hold an annual conference for writers and bloggers seeking to build an audience (tribe) online, he set out to do this new thing for 5 years. Of course he didn’t know then what would actually happen.
It could have been a case of “if you build it, they won’t come”. But it wasn’t. Instead they came. And came back. Year after year. Because each year has been so totally worth showing up for. Each year I’ve come home energized and ready to take on the world.
Each year the speakers are different. With new takeaways. New action points. All very applicable.
Attendance has been good from the start. So why end now?
After all, by now, Jeff’s team has surely figured out exactly each little step in making the Tribe Conference a success. Back in year 1 or even 2, they were still figuring things out. But now, in year 5, the book on how to do the Tribe Conference exists. So why not keep going?
I worked at FamilyLife for many years. Among other things, they hold weekend marriage conferences around the nation each year. Have done so for 35 or so years.
When I was there, the schedule routinely contained over 100 locations each conference season. I was on the creative team and we designed brochures with the schedules. I also worked on the conference manuals that attendees received. And on the speaker bible — a huge binder set full of all the information a speaker could ever need to successfully get through a conference weekend.
Because there were over 60 couples on the speaker team. Each conference involved 2 couples taking turns presenting conference material from the stage.
It was (and is) a sizable operation. With every last detail recorded in staff and speaker manuals, charts and timelines. You have to have everything figured out, including lists for what to do when the unexpected happens. Because that’s the only way you’re going to get through that many events in a year successfully. All while delivering a great experience for the attendees.
The blueprint exists — keep it going
So why wouldn’t Jeff take a cue from a successful operation like that (and FamilyLife isn’t the only organization holding the same conference in many venues, year after year)?
He could have. Even if he didn’t want to be so heavily personally involved, he could have continued to run the Tribe Conference through his organization, letting someone on staff do all the work and maybe even have someone else do all the emceeing. People would still come.
Because the Tribe Conference has been unique: A great, affordable place for creative people to come, learn, connect and get energized to take next steps.
Conferences are of course notoriously challenging in that it’s hard to predict revenue from year to year and costs tend to go up as the conference becomes more well-known.
Even so, I think Jeff and his team could easily have run the Tribe Conference for at least another 5 years, following the formula honed during the first 5 years. Some folks would have gone down that route, only calling it quits once attendance was in a clear decline.
Pulling the plug while on top of the game
In a way I’m glad Jeff did choose to end after these 5 successful years.
For me as an attendee it does a couple things: It really makes me have to go back and review. There’s a tendency for us to go to an event, declare that it was good and exciting and go back the next year. Because we thrive on the mountain top experience at the event. It makes us feel good. Regardless of what I actually do with what I learned at the event once I’m back home.
So going to a certain conference year after year can become a security blanket of sorts. I’m a writer because I go to conferences with other writers. Not because I actually write all that much. That kind of thing.
I’ve seen that happen, to myself and others. Actually, while at the Tribe Conference last year (my 3rd time), I pondered whether I would sign up then and there to come back next year (2019). Because, while it was good, was it really the best thing for me? Was I just getting comfortable in this setting? Was it really challenging me to the fullest? Or was it the safe thing to do. Maybe even keeping me from really growing as an author?
I seriously considered this, because I don’t want to find myself doing things just because I’ve always done it this way.
In the end, as Jeff announced that 2019 would be the last year for Tribe Conference, it made sense to come back this year and drink in everything I could from the lineup of speakers. In each case looking for how what they taught could and would help me go forward.
A program to end programs
Years ago, I worked for the Cooperative Extension Service at Iowa State University. Home base is at the university, but there are offices in every county of the state. That’s a lot of things going on in the organization. From 4-H to experimental farming practices to animal husbandry to food safety. And much, much more.
Someone in Extension leadership began to see a problem with this myriad of programs. Some had been around for a long time. Decades even. But were they filling a real function now? Or were they just still here because “we’ve always had that program in Story County”? As Iowa changed from being overwhelmingly rural to a much more urban landscape, were the programs still relevant?
So a new program was announced — one that would evaluate existing programs to determine what to keep going, what to change and yes, what to stop doing.
It just seemed silly to add a new program to figure out how to discontinue old programs.
But in reality it was needed. Far too many things in life outlive their usefulness. Because they’re still bringing in some level of income or validation or “we’ve always done it”.
Sometimes we continue doing something, just because we’re afraid to ask: “What will happen if I stop doing this?”
Going well past the “best before date”
It’s truly sad when something goes on longer than it should. Need an example? How about too many sequels to blockbuster movies? Because if #1 brought in a ton of money, then surely #2 will also do well. And #3.
Remember the Pirates of the Caribbean films? The first was good. The others, well, headed down a slippery slope towards falling off the face of the earth.
Or TV series that run long past their “best before date”. Lost comes to mind. A story concept and plot line so convoluted it was highly intriguing the first few seasons. Yet eventually became so wrapped up in more convolution that many viewers, including me, had long since left the building when the final episode eventually aired.
Given the economics and ratings plays, I surmise that it’s a near impossible task for a series creator to pitch a series as running for 5 seasons. No more, no less. With a defined story arc that will bring a satisfactory conclusion at the end of season 5.
That would never get green lighted in the first place. Because the execs will want to be able to kill a non-performing series after just a few episodes and extend one that has good ratings almost ad infinitum. Because after all, it’s a proven concept.
Courage is quitting while the going is still good
Back to the Tribe Conference: Jeff showed real leadership and courage in ending the Tribe Conference while it was still doing well. While people are still asking for more. This year’s conference was in no way a “it’s our last year, so let’s just wrap it up and get out of here”-thing. It had as much energy as any of the others I’ve been to.
I left with more clarity of what to focus on next. And more excited about writing than I’ve been in a long time. That’s an awesome way to end a great run.
Is there something you’ve been doing for a long time? Take some time to review why you’re doing it and what doing that actually does for you.
You may decide to continue or you may decide to stop. Either is fine.
Just be sure you know why you’re doing what you do. So that it doesn’t drag you down instead of build you up.