Meaning Conference 2013

I received a survey request from Nixon McInnes asking for feedback on Meaning Conference 2013, held at the Corn Exchange in Brighton last Friday.

I wanted to share my thoughts on the event and since the survey is so well structured I’m publishing my responses here.

What did we do well?

Just about everything I would say.

I admit that I find the school dinners concept something quite a painful experience. I had a similar scenario talking at UX Cambridge this year.

It can all too easily result in you sat with the people you work with and staying within your boundaries, which is good for some people but then it hinders those who want to actively talk to those they don’t know particularly well, if at all.

What could we have done better?

The balloons for talking points during the open lunch session just didn’t work. There needed to be facilitators attached to them. If you had provided workshop specialists to take the persons primary idea and build the discussion it would have been quite successful.

What are your greatest takeaways from Meaning 2013?


Honestly it is. I absolutely loved the event, all the talks were of an excellent standard and I think the curation of the whole thing was marvellous. But get anyone to stand in front of a group of people and tell a story there will be parts missing.

Rick Falkvinge cannot be denied the merit of starting the pirate party movement and proving that determination can achieve something. But it’s very easy to miss the real points why he got so far – a single driven focus on a subject that appealed to his audience and that, that audience was already captivated by his voice. “1 message in a chatroom”. Yes but what chatroom? Look further and it’s easy to let cynicism seep in.

The other was the story of Mondragon. Mikel Lezamiz did an incredible job of explaining how a giant cooperative works using words which may have terrified some people. What he didn’t really highlight, understandably, as it’s not interesting to the story is that the reason why Mondragon has been successful for so long is that it was founded in a region which has a culture so rich that its people have fought for independence from the landmass it is within. This culture is what has made the cooperative successful – the desire for self sufficiency.

Now try and do that anywhere that has not got that drive or desperate need for independence and it will be harder to form.

What should a ticket to Meaning 2014 cost and why?

I believe in education being accessible to everyone. The greatest failure for all conferences is pricing because ultimately they outcast anyone who doesn’t have a supportive company behind them.

We’ve all worked for companies who are reluctant to pay for their members to attend conference events of any type regardless of how close or seemingly removed they may be from day-to-day job roles. But those are the very people, the ones eager to learn, who will either be capable of changing those negative cultures from the bottom up, or leave a toxic environment in search of something better, something, good.

When I was a freelancer I couldn’t afford anything, when I was employed I could just about afford going to a single conference a year, paying with a credit card and worrying about paying it back later. This meant I was always picking the ones which I felt would give me direct practical instruction at the end which can be immediately applied to whatever I was working on at the time.

But those skills do not enable you to grow.

The current £60 marker for pre-orders makes this accessible to anyone I feel. Double that and you’ve just knocked out anyone who has to pay for themselves, double it again and you’re further limiting.

I sat in several different places during the day and I have to tell you, there were a lot of jerks in that audience who were only interested in how to better sell their company and make money

We want Meaning to have real impact – how do you think it could do that? What more would you like from it?

Put on a rock concert.

By that I mean consider something like Live Aid. Everyone focusses on the music part and forgets the work that it is trying to do. Both Bob Geldof and Midge Ure have said in recent years the reality of it was a failure for the cause. But it penetrated millions across the world and maybe just for that brief moment, everyone was focussed on a single issue with the potential to eradicate it.

Now I am not saying Meaning is the business equivalent to Live Aid. But why not? Isn’t that the point? To do something with meaning?

This year, the speakers were powerful in their presence, I don’t think there was anyone who didn’t take total command of the stage and the subject was primarily around doing something and being successful in business, I get that. But there was only one person who really hit home how much they have tried to do something which makes others lives better; Dr Sue Black.

Dr Black took us through her thoughts and journey of wanting to improve the support for the future generations to be skilled with technology and that a realisation that their home environments could affect this, turned her hand to helping improve the skills and awareness of mums – our real teachers in life. In a wonderful turn, she has not only helped children get support at home, but improved the skills and lives of mums and I hope by proxy begun the process for bringing the UK to the forefront of technological advances of the future. These peoples lives have been enriched by the good work of another, not for personal gain, but from the desire to help.

So why not take this conference as being a termination point to a campaign for change?

Why not make meaning more than just a conference and more a positive movement towards empowering and inspiring people to do wonderful things?

I sat in several different places during the day and I have to tell you, there were a lot of jerks in that audience who were only interested in how to better sell their company and make money. I accept they need to exist (these people) but I’d argue you didn’t change their mindset, just gave them ammunition to manipulate and abuse good intent for their own gain.

Don’t let the idea fizzle out after 24hrs keep the fire burning for a long time to come.