What Does Meaning Mean to You?

I was at Meaning 2014 in Brighton yesterday, along with around 299 other curious folk. This was my second time at the conference, I enjoyed my previous visit and had booked for this year immediately after the 2013 conference finished, something I’ve never done before. I couldn’t stay for the whole day this time, and at one point I’d been dithering over whether or not to attend. I’m glad I stopped dithering, here’s why.

On my way to the event I bumped into Andy Swann and his friend Ed. Turns out I’d been walking in completely the wrong direction so as we corrected my approach, we enjoyed a brief conversation on life, the universe and everything. On arrival – I went straight to the badge stand. Last week the conference organisers tweeted requests for badge slogans and I had responded with a couple of ideas…thanks for listening :)

Meaning Conference BadgesAs people milled around chatting and having coffee I was fortunate to share a few minutes with Neil Mullarkey. Among other things, Neil co-founded The Comedy Store Players so the art of improvisation is something he has lots of experience in. I was fortunate to experiment with improv with Joe Gerstandt and an enthusiastic crowd in Illinois recently, and I am keen to learn more.

A friend had recommended Neil to me so having the opportunity to meet and talk with him was lovely. A key element of improv is accepting the offer of someone’s words, and building on them, something referred to as ‘yes, and’. As we parted, I offered Neil my ‘I don’t have to be perfect’ badge from last year’s event, he kindly accepted. I then enjoyed a few brief conversations with friends, before Kev Wyke and I joined the throng filing into the theatre for the start.

Meaning Conference currently revolves around short ish talks – around 20-25 minutes a piece. A good format, as you are either left wanting more, or you know you’ve not got long to wait until something else comes along. After warm introductions from Tom Nixon, who came on stage to the most dramatic opening music I’ve ever heard, we were off. 

First up was Mark Stevenson who promised us ‘the future in 20 minutes’. He was fast and funny, and as well as humour and speed he told tales of DNA sequencing and how that is now being used experimentally for cancer reduction. Mark suggested that technology falls into three categories. The stuff that existed before you were born, sewers, textiles, cars – you take this stuff for granted. Then there’s the stuff that appears before you reach the age of 35. This stuff is exciting and useful and you get to grips with it. Lastly, there’s everything that appears affect you are 35, and all this stuff just serves to make you grumpy. He told of solar power becoming rapidly affordable – and the tension between green energy, the utility companies and government. He spoke of 3D printers printing 3D printers and much more besides. Through the lens of the classroom he showed us how little some things have changed, and argued that we are educating people to be fit for the past, not the future. This was a barnstorming opening session which for me, almost went too fast. I hung on – just.

Ben Dyson was up next, to talk about Positive Money. Positive Money is:

‘a movement for a money and banking system that works for society and not against it. We’re campaigning for the power to create money to be used in the public interest, in a democratic, transparent and accountable way, rather than by the same banks that caused the financial crisis.’

I’ve been following the campaign for a while now and whilst I am not in any way an economics expert, I do know a little about fairness and I think what Ben and his team are progressing is important for us all. Ben shared with us that economics as it is currently taught is underpinned by rational choices – and we all know we don’t always make those. Only 3% of all money is cash, the rest is simply electronic exchanges, it isn’t real. Banks create this money out of loans and they are incentivised to do so. Here are a few more of the startling stats that Ben shared.

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For the first time in 170 years Parliament is holding a debate about money creation. On Thursday 20th November a backbench debate hosted by Steve Baker (Con), Michael Meacher (Lab), Caroline Lucas (Green), Douglas Carswell (UKIP) and David Davis (Con) is going to take place. If you are based in the UK and are reading this, and you think a fairer, more transparent money system matters, please drop your MP a line and encourage them to take part in this debate.

We then heard from Stefania Druga. Stefania is the founder of HacKIDemia, an international organisation that supports learning by doing and playing. She was here to tell us a little about a fascinating project called AfriMakers. AfriMakers ‘enable makers in Africa to develop sustainable projects and use making to solve local challenges and create an exchange of best practices between locals.’ Here are a few lines Stefania spoke which resonated powerfully for me:

Afrimakers- necessity = creativity and improvisation
Making stuff – in Africa it’s a necessity
Connect through values – everything else works
15 stones in the room – Zen Buddhism you can’t see all 15 – they are there you can’t see it all so question stuff
Change = Time*(work/people) Equation – time is the key – give it to people.
Let’s play together – recognise difference don’t impose yourself on others
Our desire to help is not always helping

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I enjoyed good conversations in the breaks and over lunch, and then I had to depart, so I didn’t see the rest of the day unfold in real life. Looking at Twitter, it seemed to unfold in all manner of interesting ways. An enjoyable event – well done to everyone who helped make it happen.

One last thing for now – I am curious, what does meaning mean to you? I invited people to respond to this question and I added their thoughts and ideas to a rough sketch note. The note grew through my time at the conference and on the train home. Here’s where this cocreated thinking got to, and if you’d like to add something about what meaning means to you in the comments, I’d love to hear from you.

What does meaning mean to you

PS – I bought my ticket for the 2015 event last night ;)

 

Do You Have A Best Friend At Work?

Hand

Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend. – Albert Camus

A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out. – Walter Winchell

I’m heading to the Meaning Conference in Brighton this morning. I can only stay for a few hours and the two main reasons I’m going are: the anticipation of being provoked and challenged, and to catch up with friends.

Do you have a best friend at work? So asks question number 10 of the famous (or infamous depending on your point of view) Gallup 12. Gallup go so far as to stay that when it comes to ‘employee engagement’ their questions are the only questions you need. Seeing as their question set doesn’t include ‘How much do you love cake?’, I don’t agree with their assertion, but I do like question number 10.

I know people who like to snigger at this notion of friendship at work, and I also know from my own experience that the people I consider friends, are the ones who I enjoy spending time with, and who I can be of use to, at least some of the time. I know from the work I do that people who can develop a sense of friendship, and of getting to know one another better, do better work together. Yet somehow the notion of friendship at work is something that we often don’t readily compute. I can relate to that, and often when I’m struggling to apply something which feels unfamiliar to its surroundings, I first try and think of it in a more ‘natural’ state.

I recently joined a new cycling club, and the club gets a few requests to respond to the media about our interests in the sport. Over the weekend I was asked to consider and briefly write about the benefits of being a member of a cycling club for a feature on a sports website. Here’s the essence of what I submitted:

The people I rode with on Saturday think a good cycling club should be an encouraging place to be, and it should be a nurturing place to be. For example – when we are out for a ride, we regroup often, to wait for the slowest group member, we don’t leave people behind.

Variety is important, so we try and encourage different people to lead rides to different places. We have a few members in our club with an excellent knowledge of great places to ride, so we perhaps are a little spoiled for choice, but we think there’s nothing more boring than cycling to and from the same place every week – so mix it up.

We enjoy a lot of laughs when we’re out together – our sense of humour isn’t for everyone but we think spending time together should be good fun, so don’t take yourselves too seriously.

These brief thoughts – by themselves they aren’t the magic ingredients for great work. Unlike Gallup I don’t profess to have found the answer, or even twelve answers for that matter – and if there is such a thing as culture at work, I think it would be helpful if it were nurturing, varied and fun – among other things. How about you?

photo credit : Jlhopgood

Sometimes I Just Forget To Look

Burnt Crumpets

Tuesday morning started in a less than ideal fashion. I got up early to attend a breakfast meeting in London and thought I’d make some fruit smoothie to share at the meeting. I was in a rush, long story short, I completely ruined our smoothie maker (more haste less speed). Next I burned the breakfast crumpets (pay attention 007) before checking online to find out that trains into London were delayed and cancelled because of local electrical supply problems. I was frustrated (putting it politely).

Once I knew the London thing wasn’t going to happen I offered to take Keira to the train station for her journey to school (heading away from London). The delays there were just as bad, so I gave Keira a lift to school.

On the way to school we talked, sang and laughed, and agreed that the silver lining of these minor morning misfortunes, was some excellent time together. The smile Keira gave me as we parted stayed with me all day, a day which turned out to be great fun and very productive.

You choose your own attitude, and I often forget to look in the right place before choosing.

Thanks Keira.

Wednesday evening after dinner we each opened a fortune cookie – they were leftover from a recent trip to the Chinatown district in Manchester.

Carole’s read: Each failure takes you closer to success
Keira’s read: You have an important new business development shaping up
Mine read: Bless others with kindness and you shall be blessed.

Later that night, just before I went to bed I received an email from The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) rejecting my proposal to speak at their 2015 conference in Las Vegas:

Dear Doug:

Thank you for submitting a presentation proposal for the SHRM® Annual Conference & Exposition being held June 28 – July 1, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Each proposal was given careful and deliberate consideration. We strive to offer a balanced program of educational sessions at the conference and select the proposals that best fit the overall programming framework of the conference. Please understand that we receive many proposals with several on the same topic. Exceptional proposals are turned away each year for the simple reason that we have limited speaking slots. Your proposal for The Art of Collaboration was not selected this year. However, your interest in offering your skills, background and knowledge is greatly appreciated.

Once again, thank you for your submission.
Sincerely,

Letty Kluttz, SPHR, MBA
Director, Conference Programming and Development

Truthfully – although I was a little disappointed to get the Dear John – on reflection I was more frustrated about the crumpets than I was about getting this note. Maybe Tuesday morning’s breakfast hunger was stronger than the hunger to speak at SHRM National? I don’t know – but I do know that this Thursday morning brings another day full of failure and success, business development and blessing. Today I’m looking in the right place – I hope you are too. Have a great day.