Yesterday I was fortunate to be at the first Meaning conference in Brighton, billed as ‘a Nixon McInnes thing’. I’ve always had a lot of time for social business agency Nixon McInnes, and kudos to them for organising this event, along the lines of a TedX and with international speakers of TedX calibre. I didn’t take notes, and tried not to tweet too much as tweeting means I’m not giving my attention to listening… thinking I would rely on a) my memory and b) other people’s tweets, storifies and blog posts afterwards. (Here’s a short Storify I made of the afternoon’s proceedings.)
The day was an intellectual workout, and I’m not really able to sum up what each of the ten speakers had to say in a journalistic way (especially with no notes!) But I did feel I was hearing some common themes. Here are three that stood out for me.
1) How businesses are organised is changing. The story of centres of power shifting from top-down hierarchies to ‘messy’ networks is something I’ve been hearing and telling for some years, but mostly in marketing, media and communications, the areas of business I’m immersed in. How exciting to learn that this is a larger phenomenon, and that the age of the massive, pyramidal corporation is on its way out, as flatter, networked structures prove to be more efficient in terms of collaboration, innovation, time to market, employee happiness and (yes) profitability.
I was excited to see not once but twice during the day slides showing models of what these neat, insular hierarchical companies are starting to look like, because it wasn’t so different from what I had recently drawn in preparation for a workshop. Here’s one of Stowe Boyd’s slides, a depiction of what he dubs the ‘postnormal business’ in about 2015:
And this was what I had scribbled on my whiteboard last week:
I liked Stowe’s acronym VUCA to describe what business faces in this first part of the 21st century – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. But with my trainer’s hat on I couldn’t help thinking these are difficult times for those of us looking to deliver solutions ‘at the coal face’. You only have to glance at a lot of what passes for expertise on the social web to get depressed. People want answers: simplified, tactical, short term. Not complex or nuanced advice.
Just as stimulating was Indy Johar‘s talk in which (amongst other things) he posed some big questions for business. There was so much packed into this session that I needed more time to absorb it all, if I’m honest. Here’s a video extract which gives you a taste of it.
2) Looking after employees should be an organisation’s number one priority. (Before customers or investors). Happy employees mean better (more efficient, more profitable, more sustainable) businesses. We heard from Alexander Kjerulf how ‘work happiness’ (no actual word for this in English) is nothing to do with employee satisfaction scores, salaries, perks or status. Instead it’s about two things: results (making a difference) and relationships. How we feel about our work – something that generally has no ‘business value’ in the corporate world – affects the health of both the individuals concerned and the company itself.
3) Small changes can make a big difference. We heard from Margaret Elliot, a champion of ‘mutuality’ and the co-operative business model, and Pamela Warhurst of the IncredibleEdible project demonstrated how small movements and self-organising, with no state intervention or reliance on grants, can take hold and grow into something completely unforeseen. Karen Pine echoed the fact that small changes can deliver big benefits, and encouraged us to do something different (not just think or talk about it.)
And at the end of the day, Luis Suarez of IBM told us how, after liberating himself from email completely four years ago, his work processes have become more efficient and enjoyable. Here’s a short video explaining how and why and did it: