An invigorating return to Inspirefest – Our 2018 top takeaways, Part Two
If you aren’t familiar with Inspirefest it’s a two-day event packed with incredible speakers from the worlds of science, technology, engineering, art and maths and one of the most stimulating places you could be; we recently shared some of our thoughts from day one of Inspirefest 2018.
In our last piece about the festival, we touched on some of the speakers we loved and today we’re going to share a few more. You can read part one of our Inspirefest experience here but before you do that we’re going to share some of our highlights from day two.
Using your experience to help others
Sheree Atcheson is the UK expansion director of Women Who Code. Her work ethic and drive have seen her excel in moving Women Who Code forward in the UK and she is consistently invited to speak at tech conferences. We were already impressed with Sheree and her accomplishments but when she told her story, from being adopted from Sri Lanka into a Northern Irish family at a few weeks old to her rise as a person to watch in the tech industry, to visiting Sri Lanka and finding out that many of the facts she had been given about her adoption were false, honestly – we were on the edge of our seats throughout her talk!
Sheree did, in fact, find her biological family, in a story that sounds like it could be the plot of a movie; we’ll let you watch her tell the story herself here. As a result of spending time in Sri Lanka looking for her family, Sheree was inspired to set up an organisation called I Am Lanka, highlighting Sri Lanka’s local and global role models who have accomplished great things in their lives and careers. Sheree is the epitome of one person making huge changes for the benefit of other people.
Giants of technology and art
Noeline Kavanagh is the artistic director and CEO of Macnas and gave the most energetic presentation of the festival. If you’ve never seen the work that Macnas do you won’t have experienced the sense of awe that comes with their productions, from the sheer scale of their giants to the creativity that brings them to life but Noeline’s talk comes close to that level of excitement.
As Noeline puts it, Macnas tell epic stories and make giants. They are engineers of imagination, from the very low tech abstract ideas all the way up to enormous animatronic creations that take teams of people to be brought to life.
Macnas are a shining example of how well art and tech can work together and how creativity in the arts can work hand in hand with developments in the tech industries. We touched on driverless cars in part one of our highlights – now imagine a connected, autonomous giant. We’d definitely go to see that!
The art and science of listening
Thaler Pekar founder and CEO of Thaler Pekar & Partner gave a talk about communication and how we’re still craving human interaction, even in a hyper-connected online world. At the beginning of her talk, Thaler asked the audience to turn to someone they didn’t know and talk for 90 seconds about something they were wearing or had with them that was important to them.
The exercise was to remind us how important it is to listen to other peoples’ stories and not always focus on our own points of view. By asking for these stories, listening to them, and allowing people to share with us we have the opportunity to discover what Thaler calls great unanticipated truths.
Instead of trying to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes but having that clouded by our own internal biases, Thaler recommends just listening to what a person is saying to you about their experience; even if we think it’s the same as ours the details and the context will be different. By being open to other peoples experiences we build greater communication and this, in turn, can create a clear path to better collaboration and innovation.
From Disney to HR disruptor
We were intrigued by Rajeev’s work history and how he went from managing a team of 85 people at Disney to setting up his own company specialising in HR and performance review software. Rajeev’s dive into the world of HR software brought some interesting insights, including the idea that instead of humans being treated as a resource, in the traditional way of approaching HR, that resources should be for the benefit of humans. This readjustment of viewpoints led to him setting up his business and its success is a testament to the power of seeing the world in a different way to others.
Changing the conversation around work life balance
Katie Burke is the chief people officer at HubSpot; her talk was part of the Future of Work section of the festival and focused heavily on inspiring women to reach for high-level positions in the tech world.
Looking at some of the ways that we can set women up for success includes reinforcing confidence in young women, both in their education and as they progress through their careers. Katie gave the example of setting women challenges in the form of micro risks, by taking small risks and having a positive outcome we can gradually build up a person’s confidence, which can only be a good thing.
Another way to build up women’s confidence is to change the conversation around men and women in work. A common thread when talking to women in tech, and many other industries, is that they are asked how they manage to balance both work and home life, a question that is less commonly asked to men.
Katie made the suggestion that we change the questions for both, we can learn to ask women what their plans are for their job and for their company, and to ask men how they manage the delicate balance of work and home life. While the talk focused on women in the tech industry it applies just as much to women in other industries too.
The importance of taking a chance
Ranjani Kearsley is the head of HR at Fidelity International and to see her speak confidently about her career and how she got where she is today is like watching an underdog story come to life in front of us.
One thing that the people behind Inspirefest excel at is finding people who are leaders in their fields who are willing to share the real human side of how they got to where they are. In Ranjani’s case, she could have chosen to just speak about her education at a top London college and how her drive to succeed led her to a job at Citi, which it did. What Ranjani also talked about was growing up in a slum in India, where neither safety nor education was guaranteed.
In telling her story she talked about how both the unexpected kindness of strangers and the openness of educational institutions to her persuasive nature made a huge difference to her life. Something that Ranjani took away from her experiences was the impact that one person taking a chance on you can make, and she encouraged everyone in the audience to use our positions of privilege to try to be the person who makes those changes for other people.
How art and tech can communicate with a mass audience
Liza Donnelly, the renowned cartoonist for The New Yorker and CBS News, gave an interactive presentation on how she uses her work as an illustrator to make social and political commentary for both herself and for major news organisations.
Beginning her talk by drawing members of the front row of the audience, we saw first-hand some of Liza’s creative process come to life. Her talk was a perfect example of blending tech and art to create something accessible to many people, from using digital tools to draw, to sharing her work on her website, in addition to the news sites she works for, and reaching a global audience.
Liza’s work ranges from political observations on women’s rights around the world, to the Arab spring, to the current political and social climate in the US, right up to drawing what she sees on a day to day basis. Her use of drawing has allowed her to open lines of communication across the globe and allowed her access to events as diverse as the Democratic National Convention, the Oscars and of course, Inspirefest.
Liza uses her cartoons as visual journalism in a way that drives conversations, creates a dialogue around current events and drives progress in how we listen to each other and share our experiences. We’ve included some of our favourite cartoons from her talk below and definitely recommend following her work.
The importance of learning from your mistakes
From an idea that began in high school in 2006, to its current form where it helps 17,000 people across 19 different countries, Eden talked through the various iterations of the SunSaluter. In essence, it’s a way to capture solar energy via solar panels in the most efficient way possible but it’s been through a number of prototypes before becoming the model that’s in use today.
Eden was refreshingly honest about how her preconceptions of how the device would work didn’t match up to the reality of how it was used in the field. Rather than let that discourage her she went back to the drawing board and simplified the device, taking care to listen to the feedback from those who would actually need to use it.
It took between 60 – 70 iterations of the SunSaluter before Eden and her team were confident that the product would work in the way in needed to. In addition to finding a solution to their original problem, they found a way to use their solution to help tackle another issue – how to purify water in areas where water was contaminated.
By combining both problems, they were able to provide a simple to set up, and use, system that integrated a water purification system with an efficient solar panel. They’ve also chosen not to patent the device, rather, they’ve made it open source and anyone can make one if they choose to.
Eden’s passion from her idea, her honesty in how it came about, and how it can help others is remarkable. We can easily see why she’s received numerous accolades, from being named as one of the 30 under 30 in Forbes’ Energy category three years in a row, to one of the US Chamber of Commerce’s IP Champions and Ashoka’s Youth Social Entrepreneur of the Year.
Each of the speakers we’ve highlighted made a big impression on us but we’d be remiss if we didn’t tell you that Inspirefest has an excellent resource in their YouTube channel. You can watch most of the talks we’ve featured in part one and part two of our blog posts and talks from some of our other favourites from this year, as well as talks from previous years.