News & Views

Event Debrief / Dots

by Emily Hare
The good, the bad and the ugly sides of transformation took centre stage at Dots last week, as part of Brighton Digital Festival. The day, hosted by agency Brilliant Noise, focused on change across business, designed by people and supported by technology

Founder of eatbigfish, Adam Morgan, spoke about using constraints as a positive factor to inspire transformation. Taking time to frame questions as propelling questions and to rephrase statements from 'We can't because...' to 'We can if...' can help to find new and different solutions to problems. Morgan encouraged the audience to take an inquisitive and optimistic approach to problem solving and create abundance by thinking about resources in a different way – in terms of what we can access rather than what we control. He warned that this kind of approach will become increasingly crucial for businesses as their customers, who Morgan dubs 'Uber's children', are fundamentally unreasonable, and will no longer accept the trade-offs that used to be the foundation of business strategies. 

Tess McCleod-Smith, publishing director at Net-A-Porter, covered content and commerce while explaining the brand's publishing strategy. Porter, the Net-A-Porter's 'shoppable' magazine, publishes six issues a year, and after 18 months since launch, results include 30,000 scans of content per issue, with 80% of subscribers reporting they are inspired to shop. And once a Net-A-Porter customer becomes a subscriber, their average spend increases by 125%. 

The publishing theme continued with a talk from Christina Scott, chief product and innovation officer at the Financial Times. Scott's key point was that technology is easy to change compared to people: changing behaviour is difficult. Scott shared details about how the FT has evolved its newsroom, taken steps to empower teams and brought about a more customer-focused strategy at the company. She praised agile methodology and emphasised the importance of remembering that cultural transformation projects need to be constantly reinforced over a long period of time. 

Anthony Mayfield, CEO of Brilliant Noise, believes that transformation is the only response to disruption, reminding the audience that the future isn't defined yet, and there are a number of possible futures that we should consider. To cope with this fast pace of change, Mayfield says, it is important to stop waiting for permission, and instead use phrases like 'Unless I hear differently'. 

Paradoxical theories of change formed the centre of Steve Chapman's talk. The author of Can Scorpions Smoke's talk was based in principles of Gestalt psychology – a paradoxical theory of change based around becoming more aware of what you are rather than trying to change external factors. Chapman shared the above video of Meskel Square in Ethiopia as a metaphor for distinguishing between complicated – something man made and possible to remove – and complex – something that has intent but is able to adapt when humans interact. He encouraged the audience to embrace the very things that enable transformation - i.e. instability, the unpredictable - by following basic but often counter-intuitive practices such as being comfortable with being 'mad, bad and wrong', being obvious, avoiding self-censorship, taking small, moderate risks and saying 'yes to the mess'. 

In the afternoon, a variety of speakers shared their experiences of what is possible thanks to some smart thinking supported by technology, from 17-year-old scientist turned startup founder Ciara Judge, through to founder of Robots and Cake! and quadriplegic Stuart Turner, who has tinkered with and hacked code, electronic devices and interfaces to help create his accessible smarthome and extend his world. 

Sam Conniff, co-founder of Livity, gave an impassioned conclusion to the day, with a pitch for the role of Chief Purpose Officer to become essential in businesses. Conniff spoke of the declining business mortality rate, dropping from 60 years in 1965 to just 15 years in 2015 amongst S&P companies. He believes that companies die because their focus is on producing goods and services, rather than seeing themselves as communities. In contrast, businesses that achieve longevity will do so because they focus on purpose and innovation, not just profit. He sees the emergence of a new paradigm, with consumers increasingly demanding brands that consider ethical implications and top talent asking companies what they stand for. The shift towards social innovation that would be led by a Chief Purpose Officer would help brands have a lasting and measurable positive impact beyond profit. 

See a reading list of recommended books from Dots here