In a bid to immerse myself in the worlds of HMA’s clients, I find myself attending a lot of digital health events but I’ve recently been making an extra effort to keep abreast of the digital landscape outside of the Health, Science & Technology sectors we operate in order to seek inspiration and not become too insular.

So, I found myself at Thinking Digital this week – a Manchester-based conference focussing on all things digital.  Now in its 9th year, Thinking Digital Manchester brought together over 500 ‘digital thinkers’ to listen to a series of hand-picked presenters of the highest calibre.

As a Thinking Digital virgin (so to speak), I wasn’t sure what to expect but as the day progressed, we were treated to an agenda planned to perfection from ethical hacking, VR and vlogging to blockchain, calm technology and live coding.  I came away with a fresh perspective on the art of the possible proving that a day out of the office is sometimes all you need to inject that extra bit of creativity into your life – in the words of Thinking Digital organiser Herb Kim – taking time to ‘zoom out’ with a bit of serendipitous learning is definitely a good thing.

And these were my highlights…

Matt Lucas of IBM kicked off the day with an overview of blockchain and how the enablement of this technology provides the scope for serious societal change. I’ve recently been hearing quite a bit about blockchain, (particularly its potential use within digital health) and as a non-developer, it’s been interesting but this presentation helped contextualise the potential use cases for this technology using real-world examples for aid, insurance and dispute resolution.

Sarah Drinkwater, Head of Google’s London Campus took to the stage in her lovely pink dress and wowed us with some of the great initiatives in its space including café’s, events, partnerships and programmes such as the baby friendly start up school.  As an SME, we can but dream of having the flexibility to do wonderfully creative and socially impactful stuff like this but I love that we live in a world where these initiatives are being offered nevertheless.  There were several takeaways from this presentation in terms of creating a community that resonated with me…

  • Galvanise what’s already there – don’t try and start from scratch
  • You don’t’ OWN a community or a culture
  • Design for circles, not triangles
  • Earn the right to be a safe space
  • Keep delighting
  • Be flexible but focussed – it’s good to accept a tiny bit of chaos!
  • Keep human
Clara Gaggero Thinking Digital Manchester | HMA

Here’s a banana, now design your ideal phone!

One of the most inspiring presentations of the day (in my humble opinion) came from Clara Gaggero from Special Projects who presented some wonderfully creative co-creation strategies to develop solutions, digital and otherwise, that delivered on an unmet need, not just a corporate brief.  My favourite had to be providing project participants with a banana and asking them to create their ideal phone! There was a reoccurring theme through the projects presented that to achieve meaningful innovation, you must have context, empathy and a little bit of magic. And without a doubt, the Bit Planner Lego calendar has to be one of the most innovative ways of team project management I’ve ever seen!

In comparison, Sam Aaron, creator of Sonic Pi was keen to demystify technology and take the ‘magic’ away – why should only a privileged few get to create and code?  If we simplify and make technology more accessible then the possibilities are endless.  Sam likened the explanation of technology to a conversation with his daughter – “If you can’t explain technology to a two year old, what hope do you have of explaining it to a business executive?!”.  Now you would hope that a business executive has more life experience and intellectualism than a two year old but unfortunately that doesn’t always translate to digital prowess so I think Sam has a point!  What I wasn’t expecting at the conference was a live coded mini rave! You can see Sam’s live coding to create music using Sonic Pi here

Other presenters on the day included:

  • Amber Case on ‘Calm Technology’ and her belief that technological innovations should amplify the best of technology and the best of humanity.
  • Ian Forrester  of the BBC R&D team introducing the visual perception research project that outputted smart shows which adapt to your taste and personality by using everyday data from your devices (in an ethical way)
  • Myles Dyer on how vlogging on YouTube has led to a wonderfully exciting digital career as well as being able to broadcast views on values systems and mental health and wellbeing issues.
  • Ed Barton of Curiscope who introduced us to his educational VR world created from the belief that curiosity leads to passion which ultimately exists when three or more things you really care about collide.
  • The whirlwind that is Jennifer Arcuri  from Hacker House trying her best to scare us with tales of DDoS attacks but reassuring to know there are people ‘ethically hacking’ to try and identify vulnerabilities before they get into the wrong hands.
  • Amy Zima introduced us to the world of product management at Twitter and how to prioritise projects based on the potential size of impact and usage.
  • Dave Asprey of bulletproofexec skyped into the conference from the US to share his experiences coming from silicon valley to now hacking into the human body and helping people understand how both food and environmental factors can significantly affect our health.

The day was rounded off by the hilarious James Veitch who has spent the last four years relentlessly responding to spammers in a bid to play them at their own game and waste their time!  Some of the anecdotes he shared were side splitting and the fact that spammers were questioning his authenticity by the end of the dialogue beggars belief!

All in all, a thought provoking day and I have no doubt that we’ll be attending next year’s conference based on this years’ experience!

To see all the snippets (including mine – @nicolatiffany) from the day, search for #TDCMCR on Twitter.