Chair's Eye View

Martin E

Writing an account of the history of Intersection from a Board viewpoint is an almost impossible thing to do. Intersection took about eight years from initial idea to the convention and during that time it went through many stages and several different types of organisation.

The British Prime Minister Harold McMillan was once asked what was the the most difficult thing about running the country. He replied "Events, dear boy, Events".

The events we had to deal with ranged from postal delays to irate publishers to the death of a much valued writer. It is difficult to try to cover all these by any kind of coherent approach. In this piece I will not cover any of the financial aspects of the convention because those were the areas handled by Vince, working with other people in the finance Division.

>From the bid stage we tried to lessons learned from the game "If I ran the Zoocon" from NESFA. I would unhesitatingly recommend this to anyone thinking of running a large convention.

For those unfamilair withn the game its underlying premise is that you must balance getting support (Goodwill points) from fandom against the effort (People points) and money (Finance points) you need to expend. The first lesson of the game is that a convention involves a positive feedback amongst these factors. If you make mistakes then your goodwill drops so that people are less likely to become members (so you get less goodwill points) or to volunteer to work for you (so you get fewer people points). Of course if you get things right then both improve but this happens a lot less often than you would like.

One of the interesting things about Intersection was that we could see this relationship being seperately acted out in the fandoms of North America, the UK and Europe. Unexpectedly, to us at least, we were less successful in the UK than in the other two areas.

This was partly due to our taking our own fandom too much for granted and partly due to any mistakes we might make as an inexperienced committee being much more visible in the UK. In retrospect we should have done much more to explain ourselves at UK conventions and I think we should have targeted Novacon in particular. It did not help that the UK's last experience of a Worldcon had not been a particularly happy one and had involved a lot of people being very overworked. This did not encourage people to volunteer to work for us since they could forsee the same thing happening to them. This very quickly becomes a self fulfilling prophecy that it is difficult to overcome.

Our initial approach had been to try to build a large organisation where no individual would be overworked. It soon became apparent that we did not have enough volunteers to do this and that it was an approach which was too beaurocratic for many fans.

When this became apparent we turned toward a model that was much more similar to standard American practice. Division heads were given more autonomy in running their Divisions and we started to actively seek out people whose individual determination and sometimes sheer cussedness would make this work.

By this time by far the most frequent question coming up at Board level was "Who ?". For every job there was a desperate search for the best person to do it. Often there was a search for anyone to do it.

E-mail emerged as a way to cast our net much wider in the search for volunteers and as a way to cut down on the number of meetings needed to run the convention. The number of meetings involved had been the main complaint against the original organisational structure and had reached a point where some people who were working on both Intersection and Helicon (the UK national convention that year) found themselves with a meeting taking place on every weekend of some months.

E-mail proved to be something of a three edged sword. For those who it suited it, especially myself, it became vital. For those who felt excluded by it it made Intersection seem even more off putting and for those who found themselves in the midst of it it often felt like a conversation of fifty people, full of a lot of noise but little information.

I feel somewhat responsible for this. At the time I became co- chair it was not at all clear to me what a lot of people felt about the convention. The stream of e-mail messages from so many people in so many parts of the convention provided the easiest way to get a lot of feedback quickly.

I now believe that this is not the correct way to use e-mail. It should be treated much more like an ordinary meeting and 'chaired' in the same way so that discussion is more relevant and there ius a better 'signal to noise' ratio. This is a topic which deserves a complete article to itself as the technology has already moved quote a bit further on than that we used and I believe this will make major changes in the way future Worldcons are run.

We also came to adopt the 'supertanker theory' of Worldcons. Supertankers are so big they must start turning miles before the turn begins to take effect. In the same way when we identified a problem and did something about it it often took six months for the results to become apparent.

Throughout the preparations for the convention I had a clear, if somewhat bizarre, mental picture of what I was trying to do. After the experience of the many at Con problems which prevented Conspiracy being as successful as it might have been I wanted us to be prepared for anything that might happen 'at con'. That mental model was of getting all of the Divisions to the convention as prepared as possible for anything that might happen. I even went so far as to illustrate the idea at a staff meeting by using clips from the film of the Battle of Waterloo to try to demonstrate how a Napoleonic era army could be successfull if its different elements supported each other at critical moments and draw a parallel to a Worldcon. (There were also several situations from the historical battle that I thought applied to us). I thought the success or failure of the Convention would revolve around our ability to make the rather difficult area of hall 4 work as the Fan Faire, as the historical battle had pivoted around the central farm house. I also felt that the historical disasters which befell both the British and French cavalry when not supported by infantry mirrored the problems of conventions which did not have the correct balance between programme and operations. Finally the arrival of the Prussians to save the British reflected the way we would need help from US and European fans.

While this model may be a symptom of the lunacy involved when running a Worldcon I don't think it is an incorrect one. Anyone who goes into the convention without their adrenaline flowing and without being prepared for the unexpected is probably in for an unpleasant experience. However it isn't the model I would recommend.

They way I think we should have looked at things is that the Board should see themselves, to a great extent as a committee which is organising a convention, and a series of other events, for the more extended committee. Their responsibility is to give the wider committee the best environment possible to use their own creative talents on the convention, and to enjoy using those talents. That includes dealing with much of the legal and financial which can make a Worldcon more like a Company than a fan activity but also making more of an effort to encourage people to regard a Worldcon as a challenge to develop their skills rather than an ordeal to be survived.