Have you ever experienced discussing a job with an eager, potential client, only for them to backpedal when they realise you want to work from home? I have and it’s so frustrating. My partner thinks there is an issue of trust or possibly they would love to hire somebody for the job but they can’t, so the inhouse freelancer is the best their budget can allow!
But back to the Cambridge TEDxGranta conference, where freethinking and bold ideas were not frowned upon! To recap, we had Session one with some amazing speakers and videos, a short conversation break (a bit too short as I was having fun talking to other attendees) then we went back to tiered seats to hear more inspiring, if not revolutionary ideas. I followed the advice given and sat near somebody different, so there was a mini-conversation before it all started again. The theme of the session was Let go and the contributions included:
- world-breaking ocean rower S. Outen talked about her experience of rowing across the Indian Ocean in 124 days, including the highs and lows. She didn't gloss over the two Fs (failure and fear) and was quite modest about her achievements, which was endearing and made me hope I could do it one day (my sarcastic side gleefully whispered: "Dream on, you are not in your 20s and the closest you will ever come to rowing is hiring a punt"). Still, I wrote down her ABC: A for attitude, B for belief and C for courage. Which was very fitting because I need courage, something I discussed with the woman I was sitting close to when I requested a picture of the Lion from The Wizard of Oz. If you wonder how fairytales come into play, click here.
- a video of J. Blakeley on how social media can dispel gender myths. Research shows that women dominate social media, which is surprising to hear, but thinking about it, I can see it’s not. Women tend to communicate more than men and the internet is a great tool for those who feel isolated or want to chat to like-minded individuals – I can think of groups like Mummy Bloggers, a website like Mumsnet and professional organisations and networks like Women in Publishing, Women in journalism and Women in Technology, which sponsored two free places at TED (thanks!). Social media is also proving that the use of demographic data for marketing and advertising campaigns is old hat. On the aptly named World Wide Web, age, sex and even nationality are irrelevant - what joins people are interests. Blakeley mentioned the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which boasts fans of all ages and walks of life. Yet, if you do a market research survey, you are still classed by age, income, which newspapers or magazine you read... So getting to know what people love and dig is the key to digital marketing, not stale aggregates!
- a talk by Anne Miller, a successful female inventor, whose message was: Give creativity a chance when you need change. It is historically true that in times of economic troubles, the totalitarian approach surfaces in politics - history can tell us that and what is happening today too. Creativity can be a valid alternative but not it’s just about thinking outside the box (that trite business-speak expression), as it requires: a clarity of purpose, structures for partnership and freedom, and democratised creativity. In three words, the aim is to be purposeful, involving and fun! What really resonated with me is the bit where Anne mentioned the importance of balancing individuality and conformity, which is something I have grappled with all my life. People have labelled me as mad, weird and eccentric.
- Halla Thomadottir talked about her experience of founding a financial company in financially-challenged Iceland with a colleague to inject feminine values in finance. She acknowledged that the reason her company is doing well is because it’s based on Risk Awareness, Straight Talking, Emotional Capital and Profit with Principles. She argued that women are not better than men or viceversa, they are different and we should celebrate this diversity and use it in a business context, which could do with more balance!
- a talk by Ian Price, a business psychologist who argues against the cult of busyness. In corporate culture, employees at all levels (but especially executives) are expected to work all the time, even at weekends. It all boils down to: you look busy, you look important. Another factor is the availability of addictive remote technology that doesn’t allow you to switch off and have time for reflection and relaxation. It seems our brain rewards activity with a release of dopamine, which makes me a dopamine fiend, as I cannot switch off. If you are interested in the medical aspect of this, click here. So that’s why drugs never attracted me as a teenager, I had my own stash! I do love keeping busy but my motives are not those advocated by Ian Price, for me being busy is feeling useful and alive, so it could be work, crafting, volunteering or reading a book. I have depressive tendencies and I have finally located the source of them, it’s not being busy! Which explains a lot about my teenage unhappiness - in hindsight it was due to living in a small place where my ideas and ambitions were stifled. And that’s why I was buried in books, it was the only way to escape! So now I know I need to keep busy. Volunteering must be one of the best ways as there is no better reward than supporting people and being involved in your community. So overall, I understand the message here, but it’s not for me! Being busy is necessary for a homeworker like me – if I were working in an office I wouldn’t like having to work overtime - in my modest experience it’s either because the workload is not well organised or the company is understaffed, which are both really frustrating. Homeworking enables me to see my daughter, volunteer for good causes, work, follow my hobbies and be happy! Of course there might be a time when I have to go back working inhouse, but I will surely stay freelance! Only a truly flexible working pattern can tempt me again to join the corporate ranks.
- a video on the culture of availability by R. Gleeson, who talked about antisocial phone tricks. I hate mobile phones so I didn't learn to text at speed. I touch-type so the keyboard is my friend, not itsy-bitty phone buttons. I have a basic mobile phone with no internet. I don’t know why I hate phones so much, I inherited this from my dad, I just dislike phones, which is ironic since I started my career in market research (of the phone variety) and then went into journalism. I am OK on the phone, I just don’t like it and would rather type an email any day! But then I tell myself I’m a writer, if I were a compulsive chatter, I’d be a salesperson. So down with phones and up with the net!
- Rowan Harvey brought woman suffrage into the 21st century with her talk about women and politics, supported by intriguing facts and figures. Amazingly, Rwanda has more female MPs than the UK! Rowan believes that women are more motivated by single issues while men want to make a contribution to society in general, so they are more attracted to politics where you deal with multiple issues. This rings true, I know of many women who volunteer to improve services in their area and who are always up for fighting cutbacks in family services or education. On March 8 it’s the 100th anniversary of Women’s Day and I agree with Rowan, we need to make more of this day in this country! Click here to see my blog post about last year’s women’s day in Cambridge.
- a video of P. Jagessar Chaffer on her movie Toxic Baby, which is about the pesticides and other poisons we pass on to the next generations. What made it really poignant is that Penelope was pregnant and I was sitting next to a pregnant lady, who was shifting uneasily in her seat. My daughter is four so my pregnancy is not too far away - I shared her unease. All these poisons that contaminate our food and water cause anomalies, birth defects and increase risks of scary conditions such as autism, asthma, leukemia and even affect male fertility. When we saw pictures of male frogs acquiring female attributes because of water contamination, the men in the audience were shifting uneasily in their seat too.
- a talk by Anne Dobrée on seed funds - how a small initial investment grew into 700 millions of follow-up funding. I’m no financial whizz, but it was quite interesting to follow. I’m not equipped to comment further but it was truly inspirational. Yet investment in companies and organisations has been down at rock bottom, which makes me wonder: How are we going to get out of this economy crisis? Cutbacks and tightening our belt are safe measures but don't necessarily foster enterprise.
- a video by J. Williams on redefining the concept of Peace. She won the Nobel Peace Prize for her battle to eradicate landmines and empowers women to fight violence, injustice and inequality. The talk ended with the rousing message of “Get off your butt and volunteer”. Indeed, hear, hear! And if you want to volunteer for a local parenting charity, get in touch with me...
- a talk by J. Rubin from RAND about crime and how we can deal with it using creative thinking and techniques from other disciplines. I really enjoyed witnessing how the techniques for monitoring red and grey squirrels can help find traces of illicit markets, such as drug trafficking.
- a video on the meaning of procrastination by J. Kelly. I am not a procrastinator per se as a reaction to procrastinating parents, but I did find a procrastinating streak in me. I love watering plants, I jump from idea to idea, I interrupt work to check emails and I overcomplicate things. So procrastination is not only about watching daytime TV, playing computer Solitaire, burying your head in the sand and hoping your problems will go away or daydreaming...
The second session over, we trooped towards the toilets and then upstairs. As expected there was no queue for the men’s toilet. This is not only because women were in the majority. My partner, who has been to the venue many times, says the Moller conference centre is more geared for male attendee - the men’s toilet has urinals, so it's a quick business if you are male. As there were only two cubicles in the women’s toilet on each level, I can see why there were queues on the day.
Eventually I made it upstairs and had interesting chats over delicious and diverse food offerings. I cannot fault the Moller for catering, there was a rather yummy king prawn curry and tasty bean salad, not to forget the chocolate cake. There was a comedy moment when somebody briefly mistook me for a member of the catering staff while I was picking up a tea mug... my fault I suppose for wearing a white shirt and a black waistcoat! The other 'funny' (and very English) thing was that at coffee breaks everybody initially queued to use the same urns and coffee jugs by the door, which was silly as there were more urns across the table standing unused until people realised it was OK to jump the queue.
I know these are minor points but not having a quick access to toilet and refreshments cut into the time I wanted to use for conversation and networking. I met a few women I had spoken to earlier on but made an effort to talk to other attendees (men and women) and sound them on homeworking or simply asking them what they did. Some occupations were less conventional than others. Due to my journo background (I worked for consumer publications, trade journals, you name it), I tend to be interested in anything so it was an eye opener to see so many different professions represented at the conference. Stay tuned for my last blog about the third session!