Meaning 2012

This week I attended Meaning Conference 2012 in Brighton. There are lots of great reviews of the event drawing out the headlines. And if you check out #meaningconf on Twitter, it’s pretty much all there! Instead, I wanted to share a personal take on why the event itself had meaning for me.

A few years back, I left the UK and went to Milan to learn Italian. I ended up promoting music events, which was a complete departure from my previous job. But it was great, because I got to design the concept (oltrepassare i confini) and I got to book and play alongside some of the artists I admired. So it was something of a childhood dream that I was living out. I had a whole lot of fun, learnt a lot about the events business and extended my network.

This is why I had some empathy for Will Mcinnes and the team that organised this event.

In the lead up to the day, it was fun following their personal excitement on Twitter. Here’s a couple of examples.

Given the inevitable tension of putting on an event like this it was a pleasure to be greeted in the foyer by Will like an old friend (it was the first time we had met). I thought Will’s opening speech set the scene brilliantly. What came across to me was genuine, articulate passion and excitement. Taking to the stage in socks – thanks to a foot injury – just added humility, humour and some “against-the-odds-grit” to the  mix.

Talking to some of the delegates and speakers during and after the event there was a general sense of positivity, mixed with a certain amount of ‘grappling’ with the overall concept. The varied combination of speakers and content seemed hard, for some, to immediately reconcile. More typically, business events tend to be focused on technology or a traditional market sector / business niche. For me, that was one of the great things about Meaning: the fact that it crossed so many boundaries.

Whilst some may have been trying to figure out how the lessons from the day could be used to grow business and make money, I think that there was a bigger point being made. In fact, there was an interesting contrast in messages early on. Caroline Lucas questioned the sustainability and validity of economic growth. Then in the following presentation, David Hieatt talked about the need for business growth.

Talks spanned the range of perspectives: macro views from Caroline Lucas, Vinay Gupta, Stowe Boyd and Indy Johar; organisational and team perspectives from David Hieatt, Pamela Warhurst and Margaret Elliott; and some personal insights from Karen Pine, Alex Kjerulf and Luis Suarez.  We moved from global environmental issues through workplace cooperatives right down to simply taking a walk or setting aside 1 minute to close your eyes and breathe.

I find thinking about the global context of working life both essential and daunting. But spending too long dwelling on the big picture can make you feel quite small and powerless. So it was great to have plenty of real and practical examples of individuals making a difference.

And this is why one of my enduring memories from the event were the glimpses of the organising team’s experience. It was an object lesson in doing something at work with personal meaning. Towards the end of the day, at the post-event party in a local pub, I noticed Will and the team gathered round a table to eat, drink and talk. It would have been easy not to stop, and keep focusing 100% on the delegates and speakers. But it felt like a much more grounded way to wind down from the day for those closest to it, and I can imagine that it must have been a sweet moment.

I’d just like to say thanks to Will and the whole Meaning team for putting this event on and bringing speakers and guests from across the World, right to our doorstep.

Looking forward to next year!

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