The future is now: Lessons from the Milwaukee Blockchain Conference

About 85 percent of the jobs people will be doing in 2030 do not yet exist. Moreover, it’s predicted that up to 375 million workers worldwide will be affected by emerging technologies.

Futurists predict organizational executive roles will mesh in the next 10 years and the C-suite of today will be converted into a CXO-suite, or a high-performing team of executives who are well versed in cross-functional disciplines and lead with unique perspectives rather than leading from expertise in a mono-functional profession.

More than ever before, it is imperative that the education and preparation of our cities, economies, and workforces are positioned to meet these trends head on so we can build leaders and skilled talent within, leaving our traditional practices behind us and focusing on solutions that meet future needs.

As executives, business leaders, and HR professionals, how should we prepare our organizations and ourselves for these workplace changes? Ramp up organizational and individual development and e-learning initiatives, you say? Maybe; however, this depends on building curricula to develop and curate relevant content with predictable learning outcomes, which frankly, you cannot predict. Even if done at a rapid pace, I find two problems with this solution: 1) In the digital era, data and information rapidly becomes irrelevant, and 2) in a society that is increasingly becoming individualized, who decides what data and information is best to curate and for whom?

When you look at how much data creation has expanded, it can be startling. For example, Google received more than 2 million search queries every minute in 2014, and today Google receives 3.8 million per minute, around 3.5 billion per day, and around 1.2 trillion per year. According to Forbes, at our current rate, humans are generating an estimated 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every single day, and many sources indicate that 90 percent of the world’s data has been created in the last two years alone.

The rise of a multitude of sources — from social media, podcasts and online video, to the expanded use of sensors in internet-of-things-enabled devices and smart device skills — makes it difficult to make sense of the data available, for humans to learn, and for organizations to “prepare” skill sets for our successful future.

One solution, already in action in Wisconsin, is building more centers and forums around social learning and innovation, while making them accessible to all learners, especially around complicated emerging technologies such as blockchain, AI, IoT, AR, and UX design. They help our cities attract and retain the necessary talent, innovation, and innovators, rather than seeing them settle on the coasts.

One of those learning centers poised to help Wisconsin and the Midwest become of a hub of innovation and learning, as well as an attractive place for talent to work, is the Milwaukee Blockchain Conference, which is more an exponential learning expo than a conference. The second annual Milwaukee Blockchain Conference was held Nov. 31, 2018, and centered on an educational overview of blockchain that was split into two tracks — Enterprise and Entrepreneur.

Below are several key takeaways from the expert sessions, keynote presentations, a live podcast, and a lively, impromptu lunch roundtable to provide you with an example of how this type of learning can work for your organization. Choice in learning opportunities really matters, as it provides workers with lots of different and beneficial experiences to choose from.

1. Do not confine your keynote

Kicking off the Milwaukee Blockchain Conference, Karl Gouverneur of Northwestern Mutual gave an insightful overview of blockchain — what it is, what it offers, its unique capabilities, and how can we expect blockchain to evolve our daily transactions in an open-air forum.

Learning outcome: We are in the early stages of blockchain, and there are numerous opportunities to create new business models as we move forward. There is no right or wrong way when it comes to emerging tech. It is emerging, so from a learner’s point of view it’s what we make of it.

2. Shorter learning sessions for a learning basis

First up for the Entrepreneur track, Alec Shaw of Euphrates Group, had about 20 minutes for his session on “Analyzing Blockchain Use-Cases.” It was incredibly difficult to pack all the relevant information into just 20 minutes; however, Shaw focused on the fundamentals for a maximum our understanding of the core technology.

Learning outcome: It is fundamentally important to learn what the blockchain is and distinguish between the three types of blockchain — public, private, and consortium. The latter is a hybrid of public and private, and includes consensus procedures controlled by preset nodes.

Shorter learning sessions help break audience assumption stacks by giving audiences the opportunity to draw their own conclusions and learning outcomes rather than being fed one by the presenter. It can be challenging to understand emerging technologies, but that’s what every learner has in front of him or her in this new era. We have to be challenging, innovative, and ready to go beyond the status quo in order to attract people who are like minded.



3. Panels that are fun and involve the learners

The “Disrupting Crowdfunding” panel featuring Robert Bardunias of GetSwift, Dusty Granite of Digital Bridge Partners, and moderated by Paul Monsen, was the most entertaining panel I have come across in my 16 years of conference going. Offering an initial coin offering (ICO) provides the crowdfunding model with a new pool of liquidity. However, globalization does not pair up with domestic regulation. In the U.S., our rules and regulations put us at a bit of a disadvantage for ICO, and leave us lagging behind Asia. For example, you cannot trade your token for 12 months in the U.S., while in Asia you can sell your equity quicker.

Learning outcomes: Gone is the day you can raise $20 million by sending 800 email messages. Today you need to do more to get your fundraising campaign seen. You could probably call tokenization “Crowdfunding 2.0.” You have to make sure your company, company agents, and front men stand behind it. As the panelists said, you cannot have your CEO go off to Burning Man and expect your equity to rise. (That drew a big laugh.)

Involve the crowd, or in this case the audience, by having fun, unlocking better questions, and pushing core assumptions to the edge. Laughter helps the learner by creating relaxed, safe spaces.

4. It’s OK to stretch convention

“We are really ready, so just go for it,” said Roz Stengle of Badger Blockchain, in her “How to get a job in blockchain” panel. “But don’t expect to be paid in dollars, but rather a random token.”

The rules of applying, interviewing, and selection are trumped by what Derek Urben from Coingy suggests: “Just put yourself out there via Twitter and have the assessed risk. Twitter is an underutilized resource. If you tweet them [blockchain startups], they will probably tweet you back.”

Alex Mortberg of JST Systems suggests a more traditional approach: “Write letters and thank-you letters after meeting a blockchain leader. It’s gotten me every job so far.”

Learning outcome: We all agree that the best way to obtain a job in blockchain is to show up, follow up, and make yourself stand out. “Prove you have ambition and show that you want it,” noted Mortberg. “Be passionate and able to demonstrate your abilities.”

There is no right or wrong, but the status quo is out. Taking risks in learning, growth, and getting a job is “in.”

5. Mix it up during networking and breaks, and do something different — preferably live and inclusive

We’re meant to be learning, innovative, and creative. Live podcasting from a conference is currently on trend, but very rarely does the audience get to watch and be involved. Richie Burke of the GoGedders podcast did just that with his guest, Davis Marklin of, James Hischke of Northwestern Mutual, and Paul Monsen of Digital Asset Advisors in LA.

What existed in every session that I attended was the understanding that everyone was candid and authentic. While they didn’t have all the answers, part of their job as experts on the stage was to immerse themselves in the audience’s questions and be their guides, rather than be authorities on topics or solely on stage to sell their business. Part of learning is creating a space where big questions can be asked.

Kudos to the team behind the Milwaukee Blockchain Conference for making it a distinctive educational opportunity, inclusive to all who attended, and a place where all cross-functional professions could meet and learn from each other.

As a final bit of food for thought, here’s an excerpt from a recent Fast Company article by Vivian Giang, How America’s dying rust belt town can transform into “smart cities” of the future, that looks closely at Madison and other south-central Wisconsin cities: “Getting cities to adapt and be ‘smarter’ isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. Cities are complex, living ecosystems that can only thrive if they look toward the future, rather than getting dragged down by the past. At the same time, cities can’t truly transform if they’re only focused on inviting new talent and new economies without preparing workers from the old economies on how to foster and thrive. What will happen when 50 percent of U.S. jobs are lost to automation? How will cities and organizations prepare then?”

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