My five takeaways from Thinking Digital 2015

by Tim Brazier
Posted on 01 June 2015
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Step away from your desk

Thinking Digital brings together speakers from across the world to discuss how technology is shaping our future. What attracted me most to the conference was that it packs a really diverse range of speakers and subjects into its two and half days. The programme also provides opportunities for stepping back from the day-to-day detail of your job. You get to learn and think about how other people in the digital industries are creatively thinking and solving problems.

My head came away bursting with questions, ideas and possibilities for shaping Yoomee's future work and applying this new-found learning to wider aspects of my life and others'.

I could write for hours about all the amazing things I learned, but that would literally take hours! So instead, I've challenged myself to identify the five key things I've taken away from the conference and will subsequently focus on.

On day one, Andy and I attended a session on 'A Lean and Agile Workplace' with Fred Pernet of ProAgile.

As a project manager, I've known for a long time that one of the biggest threats to productivity is context switching. It can take a long time to get back 'in the zone' once you've been distracted.

But I'd never actually calculated just how much of an impact this jumping around has.

This very simple exercise will show (you'll need a stopwatch):

The focus exercise

  • Step 1 – Think of six names at random (Richard, Carrie, Amy, Chad, Greg and Edward come to mind, as I work with them every day).
  • Step 2 – Now write down each name on a piece of paper. But rather than writing each name in full, start with just the first letter of each name first, then the second of each and so on until you've got all of the names down. Make a note of how long it took to complete the six names.
  • Step 3 – On the other side of the paper, write down the names again, this time writing each name in full before moving on to the next. Note the time it took to complete all the names.
  • Step 4 – Take the first time and divide it by the second. You'll probably have a number between 2 and 5. This shows you can be 2, 3, 4 or even 5 times more efficient when you focus on one thing at a time.

Genius! So, I'll be managing my work in progress much more closely now and I'll definitely be thinking twice before interrupting other people when they're working.

Russell Davies of Government Digital Service (GDS) took to the stage on day one to explain how GDS is developing 'Government as a platform' and in particular his approach of 'the strategy is delivery'.

I think it's testament to the amazing job GDS is doing in sharing its work, that I've heard and read a lot about it previously. But this talk particularly struck a chord with me.

At Yoomee, our vision is to deliver 'digital innovation for social good'. Innovation is a key part of what we do and how we work with our clients. However, Russell talked about his mantra of 'no new ideas' which sounds like innovation isn't welcome at GDS.

That's not actually the case, instead, what this mantra does is focus them on working to improve and refine existing services to make them work really well, instead of constantly launching new projects and apps. Or put more simply the mantra is: 'no innovation until everything works'.

As with most things, this approach depends on the project and client in question, but it's definitely something I'll be thinking about with some of my projects.

Day two saw Ian Wharton of AKQA talking about 'youthful thinking' the subject of his book Spark for the Fire.

Ian spoke about how when we're young, we don't let anything get in the way of our imaginations and we often put all sorts of crazy ideas into practice.

Sadly, for most of us as adults this is no longer the case. Too often we work within constraints which we find it almost impossible to break free from in order to think more creatively. We're afraid of trying new things, conditioned by thoughts such as the 10,000-hour rule. This claims the key to achieving world-class expertise in any skill, is, to a large extent, a matter of practising the correct way, for a total of around 10,000 hours. It's exactly this type of thinking which makes us slaves to external constraints and stifles our creativity.

Ian was incredibly inspiring and talked passionately about his many experiences of youthful thinking giving him some of his proudest achievements. None more so than the short animated film Solar he and his best friend created having had no previous experience of film-making.

Spark for the Fire is definitely my next read.

Jennifer Morone gave a fascinating talk about her project on extreme capitalism which resulted in her becoming an incorporated person.

This project is about determining the value of an individual relative to society and to the data they create.

The Jennifer Lyn Morone™ website gives a great insight into the project, including a video introducing the project, for those who want to know more.

The one thing that struck with me from the talk was a short phrase: 'maximise your output, minimise your input' or 'do more, consume less'. This is something I'd really like to measure my life by in the future.

Both this and the 10,000-hour rule Ian talked about often stop me from starting things or acting on an idea. My default is so often that I need to learn more first, which in turn requires me to consume more, which delays an idea so it eventually drops off the bottom of my to-do list.

My final takeaway isn't related to any one talk in particular, but feels like an underlying theme running through a number of the talks.

Technology, but not as we know it

  • Luciano Floridi talked about how it's up to our generation to define the human journey we're wanting to build on top of ever-advancing technology and how we need to understand its impact on society.
  • Holly Goodier from BBC Future explained how they're having to be more in tune with their audiences' emotional journeys.
  • Tony Hey briefly introduced us to the potential dangers of handing over parts of our lives to technology.
  • Ken Banks who edited 'The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator' asked us 'how will you change the world?'
  • And Patrick Meier provided a great insight into how we can all be digital humanitarians.

At Yoomee, some of our most inspiring projects are those for which we really have to think about the people using the services we develop. This is definitely a thought we need to keep with us in all our work.

Before I go, I have to mention two other amazing talks that showed how you can use seemingly simple technology to create art.

  • Seb Lee-Delisle showed off his live coding skills to create the basic code he's adapted to create some award-winning digital art. Be sure to check out his Pixel Pyros show.
  • Sam Aaron turned coding into a live performance using Sonic Pi.
Posted on 01 June 2015 - By Tim Brazier
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