Last week I attended the Future London conference, a collaborative event held by WIRED and London First. It aimed to celebrate Britain’s capital as a world-leading, future-forward city. The event featured a packed programme of very high quality speakers, mostly from the tech sector and other influential Londoners, renowned in their fields and at the forefront of change.
Overall it was very interesting and information packed day. Most real value came from the speakers who outlined a vision for future societal and consumer developments in technology and how these may or may not change our way of life and how we do business. If their predictions are to come to fruition the future of our capital will be an equally exciting and turbulent place. Here are my highlights from the day.
The conference was opened with an eye catching talk by Rohan Silver, Senior Policy Advisor to the Prime Minister. Rohan gave three examples of historical events in the capital (the rebuild of the City of London following the Great Fire of 1666, Leo Slizard’s neutron eureka moment on Southampton Row and Whitechapel’s anti-fascist protesters in 1936) and used these to illustrate three key features of London’s culture, bottom-up innovation, openness to outside ideas and solidarity / community.
London’s culture is one of bottom-up innovation, openness to outside ideas and solidarity / community
Building on this idea of historical characteristics and their relevance to today, IDEO’s Design Director, Tom Hulme identified the Great Exhibition of 1851 as being a signifier of London’s long history of being ahead of the game in the arena of technological development. Pinpointing the foreign influence in The Great Exhibition he He talked of London’s unique cultural diversity and showcased Twitter Tongues an app that calculated upwards of 66 languages in common use in London during the summer of 2012.
Secondly he highlighted tools / building blocks as being crucial to any development. He used examples of how children in Ethiopia have been doing amazing things with laptops (with absolutely no training) as a result of the One Laptop Per Child initiative.
Finally he spoke of how craft was integral also. He showed examples of silly and funny websites built by kids but explained how these, albeit on the face of it, of little use, were muscle building exercises and those same kids are going on to use those skills to create innovative products that will benefit society. He finished by illustrating how London’s approach to this is on the right track. A Google trend analysis of the word “Make” showed the word’s use has been steadily on the rise since 2010.
The next session was on planning and development in Future London. This was kicked off by Ian Lindsay, Land and Property Director at Crossrail who posited that property development and transportation are inextricably linked in modern cities with Crossrail promising to be the next chapter in London’s development story. He set about this by providing glossy examples of how Crossrail is being designed to both integrate with and catalyse new property development in and around it’s stations. He stated that this will be achieved through development planning as part of the station building projects and financial stimulus to promote development projects around the new links.
Next up was talk from Christopher Johnson, Managing Principle, Gensler. Christopher’s presentation was entitled “How to transform a crisis into a triumph” and was essentially his company’s pitch for a Thames Estuary airport project.
Sometimes it is best to start again and think outside of the box
His main pitch was that sometimes it is best to start again and think outside of the box. He claimed Heathrow loses £15 billion in potential income each year due to lack of capacity and a building project of this scale could easily be recouped within a generation as a result of that additional income. Also by using innovative architecture and design techniques the whole thing could be the most efficient and profitable airport the world has ever seen and the building project could potentiality revitalize Britain’s maritime and ship building infrastructure. He then finished by positing an alternative future for the old Heahtrow location as an Eco-City, a regeneration project to rival the scale of development the East of London (Canary Wharf) has seen in recent decades.
One that will be pivotal to the future of the city is the security of it’s inhabitants. First up was Martin Hewitt, Deputy Assistant Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police who identified the challenges faced in maintaining London’s security in the coming decades. He started by highlighting the shallow nature of opinions around security using the example of how in 2011 London’s policing was seen as at an all time low following the phone hacking scandal and the riots, and then in 2012 following a successful Olympics it had a moment of glory. He outlined how this black and white approach to the security services could be unhelpful.
The rate of change in technological developments presents enormous challenges for security in the capital
He then went on to describe how the rate of change in technological developments presents enormous challenges for security in the capital. Cyber enabled serious and organised criminality is fast paced and hard to police adequately. But developments were being made, particularly in relation to terrorism and the new prevent agenda where tech is being used to identify and prevent the radicalization on potential terrorists at source.
Dovetailing nicely with this was the presentation of Facewatch an initiative set up in 2010 by Simon Gordon as an attempt to reduce petty crime in his family’s London wine bar – the famous Gordon’s Wine Bar. Facewatch attempts to provide a technological platform to enable community driven assitance to police in both the reporting of and resolution of crime incidence report. It utilises the Internet to bridge the gap between CCTV and the Police by facilitating the provision of a complete online evidential pack including images, moving CCTV footage and witness statements. By empowering individuals to take greater responsibility for reporting their crime incidence and joining up communities and information sharing it has the potential to improve conviction rates, improve victim support, speed reporting and reduce overheads on the Police.
There is of course no security without society and the next session proved to be the highlight of the morning session with fascinating presentations from both Nigel Jacob, Cofounder of the Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics and Russell Davies, Creative Lead of the Government Digital Service (a Government Department I once came very close to working within).
Nigel used his own City’s case study to outline some ways London can utilise community initiatives and technological developments to enable and empower engaged citizens to take more ownership of and share data about their built environment. He cited a pilot project launched by Ne Urban Mechanic’s to develop an iPhone app that through motion detection automatically identified and reported pot hole occurrences and locations to the city authority.
He stated that to foster the development of these kinds of initiatives organisations will need to, create a safe space to innovate, focus on people’s needs, engage party’s to manage risk and increase resources, pilot quickly and manage the projects like you would product development.
Russell started by speaking generally about cities and then onto showcase how the GDS is transforming the way Government engages with UK citizens through its improved use of digital platforms.
He stated that cities are about densely packed diversity and that to get ahead London needed to focus on its structural and cultural edge. He used a nice example of how young designers will always grow up and try to create the things they were inspired by as children. In America it was The Jetsons, and everyone there is obsessed with screens. But in Britain we had Thunderbirds, models, and so we have developed a culture of making things. That is something that sets us apart and we can use to our advantage.
He then showcased the new Gov.uk website, a new project led by the GDI which is about simplifying the point of contact between citizens and their Government services. It is about bringing learning’s from the UX industry into the Government’s digital presence, creating simpler transactional service offerings digitally and equally about learning how to integrate agile design and development methodologies in the context of a large beurocratic system. And about time too!
The morning session drew to a close with a series of presentations by UK based company’s responsible for some of the best innovations happening in the realms of product development currently. The stand out one here was absolutely Sugru, a new self-setting rubber invented by the sickeningly young and talented Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh while she was at university. Sugru can be used for fixing, modifying and improving just about anything you can imagine and I have already put some to use in my home!
The afternoon session was dominated by sessions on the growth of the start up community in East London, now commonly known as Tech City.
First up was a panel on Incubators and Accelerators which was largely an opportunity for many of the current players in this space (Google, Microsoft etc.) to wax lyrical about the number and quality of accelerators now to be found in Tech City and the uptake of young entrepreneurs in these schemes. The panel was hosted by Olivia Solon, Associate Editor, WIRED.co.uk and featured Eze Vidra, Head of Campus, Google, Bindi Karia – VC/Emerging Business Lead, Microsoft UK, Stefan Glaenzer – Cofounder, White Bear Yard and Simon Devonshire, Director, Wayra Europe. There were some words of caution though with some doubts raised regarding the similarities to the .com bubble (which of course mightily burst). These were largely dismissed however with panel members highlighting that it was many of the same people involved now who were involved in that crash and had learnt form those prior mistakes. In addition whereas previously it was seen as a business opportunity to cash in on, now the tech companies are seeing it a loss making exercise purely with the intention of increasing platform innovation, take-up and skills development. All responsibility for investment and survival is on the entrepreneurs and there is an awareness and acceptance that many will fail during the process. The aim is to find and harness the success stories not make a quick buck.
In a similar vein more panel sessions followed on the rise and provision of shred working spaces in London and a session on why a start up would choose London as its base over other cities for its start up location. Interesting themes about the value of shared working in fostering learning and creativity and the advantages London has due to it’s infrastructure and diversity.
Ben’s presentation was frenetic and an extremely interesting vision of how the city will develop and be mapped in the future. He spoke of the features of cities and what they are made up. He outlined how all of the changes that happened to the physical nature of the city (e.g. the industrial revolution) are now happening in the software level of the city. These are creating new perspectives on the identity of the city the result of which is that the cloud will maintain a data model of the city, fed by sensors and citizen input. Citizens will be able to change this model and write it back into the physical city through the use of technological tools such as, sensor networks, dynamic infrastructural services (e.g. adaptive redistribution of resources) and collaborative modeling. The logical conclusion of which is that we will observe and alter our environment through the use of instruments (means of communication and identification / dynamic configurations of network provisioned software), which will enable the computational comprehension of and alteration of the environment.
The conference was concluded with a parting shot by writer and technologist, Ben Hammersley. He offered a sobering warning of the impending apocalypse facing all of humanity.
He started by speaking of how capitalist society worships the lone hero. At each turning point we wait for the Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg to come with a big idea and guide us all into the light. But this is outdated. Those in the tech sector are currently living in a bubble, a bubble of wealth and progress. But we live in a society of great equality. Literally sandwiched between the financial and tech districts is the poorest borough in the UK. Those who have wealth will say that is the natural order of things, those who are without will say it is because of politics, but like climate change, the argument of why is now irrelevant, the question of what to do is the only one that matters.
The crunch on natural resources and spiraling inequality means it is going to get crazy soon. And it is only by abandoning our faith in the lone hero and acknowledging our connected nature that we will survive.
So at the end of a day of talk of startups and tech development he asks us to remember that entrepreneurship is not about solo endeavor, not one person in the room made their own fortune, everything anyone does is dependent on the support of their community and civilized system around them. It is not about being better than anyone else, but it is about coming together to develop solutions for the good of all, for the good of our neighbours and it is only if we keep this in mind that we will stand any chance of coming through the turbulent times ahead.
A talk, which for this blogger, was a fitting end to the day’s proceedings.
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As some of you may know one of my many day jobs is managing the digital presence of think tank and strategic advisory firm SustainAbility. Earlier in the year I designed and built the website for their flagship project – The Regeneration Roadmap - the aim of which is to provide a way forward for achieving sustainable development within the next generation, focusing in particular on ways the private sector can improve sustainability strategy, increase credibility and deliver results at greater speed and scale.
It is a huge ambition and engaging the right people in the right way will be key to it’s success. Online platforms can play a significant role here: today there are fewer barriers than ever in mobilising people from all backgrounds and geographies to shape and get behind a campaign. From video blogging and social discussion forums to idea generation and crowd sourcing websites, the options available are seemingly endless. But where do you start?
I reviewed a wide range of recent and ongoing web campaigns, and discovered some great examples of online engagement which others may find useful. I’ve picked five to share with you here: some are from the sustainability field and others are not, but hopefully they will all serve as a source of inspiration for your own sustainability initiatives.
Counterspill was set up to act as a counter balance to what the site’s founders perceived to be one-sided reporting of energy news and disasters – but this goes far beyond a reactionary blog.
The website utilises an intuitive and interactive geographic map and timeline to highlight the location and frequency of energy disasters and events. These visualisations employ mixed media content (video, imagery, text) and beautifully-crafted infographics to really bring the stories to life. Visitors to the site are invited to take action by sharing the resource across their networks, and signing up to be kept abreast of news stories as they break.
The end result is a site that goes a step beyond just reporting an alternative point of view. A simple architecture and clever presentation offer visitors an at-a-glance understanding of the big picture complemented by highly detailed source material.
- Visualisations / infographics
- Video diaries
Visit the CounterSpill website.
Time Warner Cable’s Connect a Million Minds is a five-year philanthropic initiative to address America’s declining proficiency in science, technology, engineering and math.
The website blends pledging and proximity networking to engage users effectively. A “fulfilment wall” showcases examples of community projects, and users are invited to post their own experiences. There is a “connectory” which allows users to search for facilities and resources in their local area to help them organise their own projects, and eligible applicants can request support. The campaign is given life through a series of relevant blog articles, and users are invited to pledge their support and involvement in campaigns across their social networks.
By connecting visitors to local resources and information this project succeeds in making its campaign relevant and accessible.
- Offline events supported by online toolkits
- Online pledging
Visit the Connect A Million Minds website.
Climates Dots is an initiative by 350.org created to highlight how seemingly-unconnected natural disasters are all linked to climate change, by literally ‘connecting the dots’. The campaign called on communities across the globe to hold rallies on 5th May 2012, with a focus on those areas most affected by climate change. At each rally someone would hold up a large physical dot enabling the campaigners to create a physical map of climate change effects globally.
The website is inviting, intuitive and engaging, offering a host of different ways for people to get involved. Visitors are invited to hold their own “Dot” events, and the website provides an event toolkit and online support resource containing activity ideas, printable materials, media guides, and presentations to get organisers started.
This call to action is supported by visual infographics, video diaries from current organisers, and blogs from past events, which together help build up a compelling picture of the community and the campaign.
Climate Dots is a great example of how the digital sharing of tools, resources and support can be used to mobilise otherwise passive visitors to take action in the ‘real’ world, and to build truly global communities.
- Visualisations / infographics
- Offline events supported by online toolkits
- Video diaries
Visit the Climate Dots website.
ItGetsBetter.org is a place where young people who are lesbian, gay, bi, or trans can see how love and happiness can be a reality in their future. Set up as a response to a number of teens taking their own lives after being bullied at school, it’s a place where people can share their stories and connect with a support network of others facing the same life challenges.
The main aspect of the site is a series of highly personal video diaries of teens sharing their own experiences, and friends and families pledging their support. This video content is user generated, and anyone can upload their own video diary for showcase on the site. Site visitors are also invited to “Take the Pledge” that they will respect others’ individuality and speak out against intolerance where they find it. The site is a model example of successful social media integration with communities active across Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and more.
The It Gets Better project is a best practice example of how video content can be harnessed to provide a deeply online personal experience. Through user generated content and social networking the project has empowered its visitors to connect and get access to valuable support and guidance.
- Video diaries
- Social networking
- Online pledging
Visit the It Gets Better website.
Greenpeace has launched an innovative crowdsourcing campaign to fund the construction of its new Rainbow Warrior. The campaign centres around an immersive experiential website which allows users to explore the new ship’s blueprints and gain an understanding of the make-up and functionality of its component parts. This is further brought to life through video diaries of campaigners detailing their experiences on the old Rainbow Warrior, together with a time-lapse film of construction on the new build.
Users are encouraged to contribute by buying a component for the ship through an online shop. Contributors receive a certificate of ownership for the component they purchase, and their name will appear on a dedication wall to be installed on the ship.
Greenpeace have leveraged the concept of crowd sourcing in a pitch-perfect way, giving supporters a sense of involvement and ownership over the input they have in fundraising for the new venture.
- Crowd sourcing
- Immersive online environments
- Video diaries
Visit the New Rainbow Warrior website.
In October I’ll be writing a follow-up to this post, where I’ll be looking at lessons we can learn about effective online engagement strategy from campaigns like these. In the meantime if you come across any other great examples please leave a comment below.
This post originally appeared (in edited form) on SustainAbility.com
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Today has a been a day of strange coincidence.
For one reason or another I spent a large portion of last night discussing the differences between introverts and extraverts (myself being an introvert). I won’t go into huge detail but suffice to say it is a topic that has been on the mind.
So this morning I take my seat at my desk in the usual way and commence my ritual trawl of Twitter and Google Reader looking for interesting twitbits (see what I did there!) to facilitate my procrastination from doing any real work. It is a familiar and regular pattern. One blog I have been finding particular enjoyment from of late is Fast Co.Design, a design and innovation blog that is essentially everything I want this blog to be but a million times better (I guess that’s what you get when you have proper curators of content being generated by invited bloggers who are top names in their field, ahem). I must confess to it being possibly the single biggest generator of tweet content from myself of late.
Anyway, I digress, this morning while mining it for inspiration I found this article from Daniel Sobol about the corporate penchant for generating ideas from brainstorming sessions. The main thrust of the article being that brainstorming might not be the ideal way of going about extracting ideas from a team as there will be introverted members of the team who do not engage well in this process for fear of setting themselves up to social rejection. The article then goes on to put forward an alternative technique known as ‘deliberative discourse’, or argue, discuss, argue, discuss. It is an interesting premise, and an article I recommend giving a read.
However it was not so much Sobol’s suggestions that interested me, more the inspiration for it being the recognition that aspects of modern, especially corporate, life are set up in a way that undervalues introverts.
This notion has come to the fore due to the recent publication of the book ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’ by Susan Cain and it is the topic of her book that inspired Mr Sobol’s post and is catalysing a range of thinking around the subject currently. Susan Cain is hot property right now following her highly celebrated talk to promote the book and it’s theory at this month’s Ted Lectures (you can see her talk above).
In short her book deals with how society dramatically undervalues introverts and how it loses out in doing so. It highlights the extravert favouring dominant values of business culture, how forced collaboration can stand in the way of innovation, and where the leadership potential of introverts is often overlooked. All fascinating stuff which I vowed to delve further into.
So as is often the case when I stumble across something I find interesting I decided to share it, both publicly on Twitter and Linked In etc. and also across my company’s internal social network Yammer.
For those who don’t know Yammer is like Facebook for business basically. It’s a closed network, with a user interface so close to that of Facebook it’s lawsuit worthy and at SustainAbility we use it for sharing knowledge, gathering opinion and engaging in general banter. It really is a great idea and I would advise any company that wanted to foster an environment of collaborative thought and information exchange to try it.
But anyway again I’m going off track… The important factor is how this led to the next coincidence… my colleague Heather replied to my post saying that she had tickets to a talk at promoting the launch of Quiet by Susan Cain at the RSA, today and would I like to go! Hell yes!
So there I find myself within 12 hours of my previous nights debate on the nature of extraverts and introverts and their relationships in the modern world, trotting off to watch a talk by the world’s current thought leader on the subject.
Well suffice to say I was captivated. Miss Cain really has hit upon one of those mystical things that once you are alerted too seems so obvious yet were completely oblivious to until this point. I was most impressed by how even handed and well researched her ideas are. Far from being a piece simply bigging up introverts her points are admirably well handled taking into account all angles and the affects the current social settings have on all personality types. The talk and surrounding discussions were both insightful and challenging and I must say I left feeling a renewed sense of energy and optimism with my approach to work and my wider social life.
So there it is, my short little story of the introvert and his coincidence. Sometimes things are meant to be and today it feels like this introvert was meant to be in the right place at the right time.
You can subscribe to Fast Co.Design here.
And buy a copy of Quiet here.
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27 March 2012, 9:59 pm
Filed under: Business, Innovation, Random, Sustainability and tagged Brainstorming, Coincidence, Daniel Sobol, Extraverts, Fast Co.Design, Innovation, Introverts, Susan Cain