Big wave riders, violin virtuosos, refugee film-makers, Saudi lady mountaineers, healthcare pioneers and the odd CMO. Now I expect to find the last lot at a Marketing Society Conference but those first bunch were something of a surprise and a genuine delight.
The title and theme of the 2017 Marketing Society Conference was “Brave” and the speaker programme delivered on this in spades; expertly marshalled by the BBC's Tina Deheley and thoughtfully curated by Gemma Greaves.
I have to confess that I thought yada yada, blah blah when I first saw the title of the conference.
I expected to get fed the usual marketing examples and an endless stream of case study videos. As usual, my first thought was totally and utterly wrong.
So, to the day. It started with Emma Barrett, author and psychologist, giving us great lessons in “What is Bravery” based upon Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s polar expedition of 1911. It was from this point that I realised that this wasn’t going to be your usual conference fare. My take-outs were that bravery is largely a consequence of good planning (phew) and the reduction of uncertainty. Raha Moharrak, the first Saudi woman to climb Everest (and the 6 other highest continental peaks), taught us all what true bravery is - and how to stand up for what you want to achieve in life. The ever-brilliant Syl Saller then extolled all leaders to make bravery contagious in our organisations. Oh, and the amazing tip to “don’t think about it too much” (always good advice).
Frances O’Grady from the TUC talked about how we can all be brave(r) at work and what that really means when it really matters to you. Finally, for the morning, Hassan Akkad, the refugee film-maker who made the incredible “Exodus” for the BBC, was the high point of the day for me. He made everyone who has a heart wet-eyed as he talked through his love of his homeland and busted some of the myths around asylum seekers to the UK. He was truly brilliant – and perhaps set a context for the fact that bravery is a bit more than pushing your client to do a 30” cut over a 20”.
The afternoon was equally amazing. The hauntingly talented Min Kym talking us through her personal journey back from the brink, Dr Ali Parsa being his usual brilliant self as he talked through Babylonhealth’s vision for affordable, accessible healthcare for everyone on earth through smartphone technology and AI. Mark Thompson from New York Times then talked about what it is like to defend truth and journalism in the age of Trump. What quote stuck in my head? “This is not normal”. The day ended with the impossibly charming, Garrett McNamara, regaling us all with talk of big wave riding and the lessons we can all learn from it.
So many great speakers, so much good advice but here were some key lessons for me.
1. Bravery can be taught or acquired
2. You can choose to be brave
3. In hard times or mad times, bravery is the less risky option
4. Bravery is actually about eliminating risk and preparing well (this is what separates being brave from being reckless)
5. In the modern era, bravery isn’t a choice. It’s necessity.
Final mention goes to the brilliant gender balance of the speakers. If only every conference were this brave then there’d be more ones worth attending. Bravo.
This piece was written by Kevin Chesters, follow him @hairychesters