This isn’t a blog about books. It’s a blog about ideas. A festival of ideas, to be specific. I spent two days last week at Brisbane’s Ideas Festival and, frankly, my mind is still reeling from all I saw and heard there.
It reminded me that I in some ways can’t wait to be a retiree who can attend all the writers’ and ideas festivals she can possibly fit into her calendar and hours her butt can stand sitting on hard, fold-up seats. I mean, there’s something so incredibly inspiring sitting in a room listening to someone who’s an expert in their field and whose ideas turn my own on their head.
For this reason I’m breaking out of my usual books-focused blog mould and giving you a small sense of what I encountered there. The first session I lobbed into was McMansion to Micro Mansion: How do you challenge the Great Australian Dream? I can’t recount the session’s brilliance in full, but some highlights include:
- the inverted sentiment that I want my next house to be more modest than my last one (do I hear an environmental sigh of relief?)
- our new houses are the largest in the world—even larger than the US’s new houses (I actually emitted an audible sound of shame at hearing this one)
- we have on average houses that allocate a whopping 83 sqm per person (enough to swing more than a few proverbial cats without touching each other or the walls)
- by 2026, 60% of Queensland households will comprise just one or two people
- we have given over an inordinate amount of space to roads and freeways
- we seem to crave big, spacious homes, but when we’re on holidays we happily camp in cosier, more cramped tents, caravans, and the like (does this tell us that we’re actually good in and enjoy small, warm spaces?)
- we’re having a ‘Katrina moment’ (as in, a rethink of our homes and practices post-natural disaster)
- many famous writers wrote in really small, modest spaces, including Martin Heidegger, Roald Dahl, and George Bernard Shaw.
The second session saw me go from not knowing who the speaker was to wanting to finding out as much as is humanly possible about him. Anthony Ryan has carved out an impressive (if that’s the most apt description) career working with homeless and marginalised people, and is known particularly for setting up Eddie’s Street Van. His insights?
- The key to working with the disempowered is presence: making it clear that when you’re with them, there’s no place you’d rather be.
- Stereotypes are wrong. We need to get past the romanticism of the poor.
- We need to develop that sense of carpe diem. All of us are going to be dead in the next 100 years. What are we going to leave as our legacy?
There were more points worthy of coverage, but I didn’t write them down—Ryan reduced everyone in the room to tears with some knock-out stories and I, well, I was kind of distracted ferreting around in my bag for tissues and dabbing my eyes.
What followed him were two inspiring sessions with the creative directors of Ideo, a kind of design slash consulting agency that’s doing some pretty mind-blowing work with regards to social change.
One session focused on crowdsourcing (although the Ideao guys said they hated that term—it sounds too much like a one-way transaction, when the reality of this action is that you too give something back). The second was on the theme that small multiplied by many equates something really large.
I have too many notes on these ones to include them all, but here’s a wee snapshot:
- Netflix crowdsourced an improvement to their ‘you might like this’ algorithm by offering $1 million to the person who could improve it by just 10%. The entry that won merged everyone else’s suggestions, effectively.
- Microsoft thought they had the market sewn up with Encarta ’97. Then came Wikipedia, a crowdsourced site that doesn’t pay its contributors. The result is that Microsoft went from being the cat who got the cream to the company plagued by the blank response: ‘Encarta who?’
- Crowdsourcing and social media recently helped create a revolution in Iran.
- Companies have historically used a sort of one-way monologue to communicate with fans and users. These days it’s a two-way conversation.
- Valuing the journey is as important as valuing the destination—sounds guffy, I know, but their point was that they learnt as much during their research as at the end of it.
- Everyone has access to ideas—the value is in the execution (said in response to the thousandth ‘Oh I had that idea’).
- Don’t worry about the world ending today—it’s already tomorrow in Australia (teehee, especially in light of the supposed rapture).
- Never waste a crisis (might have been espoused by Winston Churchill).
- The future can’t be designed in Excel. In short: spreadsheets are the enemy.
- Small x many = big/(simple + tomorrow) = answer.
- The key is: how small and how quickly can you start?
- People need simple ways to engage. This could be as small and straightforward as applying a sticker that says ‘fix this’ in their neighbourhood.
- Connect the littles to become bigs.
- Somebody has to start leading a different conversation so everyone can point at it and say: ‘That’s what I want’.
- We’re too often sticking together feathers and hoping to get a duck—you need to have a strategy; you need to know what the answer is.
- If you care about the solution, you don’t care who comes up with it.
This wasn’t a blog about books, but it was a randomly assembled blog about ideas that inspire books. The Ideas Festival has definitely given me plenty to think about in recent days as well as next year’s festival to look forward to. I think this warrants attending as many festivals in the interim as possible, and commencing my hard-seat-sitting training now…