What Does Meaning Mean to You?

A review of my experience at the 2014 Meaning Conference in Brighton, November 18th 2014.

I was at Meaning 2014 in Brighton yesterday, along with around 299 other curious folk. This was my second time at the conference, I enjoyed my previous visit and had booked for this year immediately after the 2013 conference finished, something I’ve never done before. I couldn’t stay for the whole day this time, and at one point I’d been dithering over whether or not to attend. I’m glad I stopped dithering, here’s why.

On my way to the event I bumped into Andy Swann and his friend Ed. Turns out I’d been walking in completely the wrong direction so as we corrected my approach, we enjoyed a brief conversation on life, the universe and everything. On arrival – I went straight to the badge stand. Last week the conference organisers tweeted requests for badge slogans and I had responded with a couple of ideas…thanks for listening 🙂

Meaning Conference BadgesAs people milled around chatting and having coffee I was fortunate to share a few minutes with Neil Mullarkey. Among other things, Neil co-founded The Comedy Store Players so the art of improvisation is something he has lots of experience in. I was fortunate to experiment with improv with Joe Gerstandt and an enthusiastic crowd in Illinois recently, and I am keen to learn more.

A friend had recommended Neil to me so having the opportunity to meet and talk with him was lovely. A key element of improv is accepting the offer of someone’s words, and building on them, something referred to as ‘yes, and’. As we parted, I offered Neil my ‘I don’t have to be perfect’ badge from last year’s event, he kindly accepted. I then enjoyed a few brief conversations with friends, before Kev Wyke and I joined the throng filing into the theatre for the start.

Meaning Conference currently revolves around short ish talks – around 20-25 minutes a piece. A good format, as you are either left wanting more, or you know you’ve not got long to wait until something else comes along. After warm introductions from Tom Nixon, who came on stage to the most dramatic opening music I’ve ever heard, we were off. 

First up was Mark Stevenson who promised us ‘the future in 20 minutes’. He was fast and funny, and as well as humour and speed he told tales of DNA sequencing and how that is now being used experimentally for cancer reduction. Mark suggested that technology falls into three categories. The stuff that existed before you were born, sewers, textiles, cars – you take this stuff for granted. Then there’s the stuff that appears before you reach the age of 35. This stuff is exciting and useful and you get to grips with it. Lastly, there’s everything that appears affect you are 35, and all this stuff just serves to make you grumpy. He told of solar power becoming rapidly affordable – and the tension between green energy, the utility companies and government. He spoke of 3D printers printing 3D printers and much more besides. Through the lens of the classroom he showed us how little some things have changed, and argued that we are educating people to be fit for the past, not the future. This was a barnstorming opening session which for me, almost went too fast. I hung on – just.

Ben Dyson was up next, to talk about Positive Money. Positive Money is:

‘a movement for a money and banking system that works for society and not against it. We’re campaigning for the power to create money to be used in the public interest, in a democratic, transparent and accountable way, rather than by the same banks that caused the financial crisis.’

I’ve been following the campaign for a while now and whilst I am not in any way an economics expert, I do know a little about fairness and I think what Ben and his team are progressing is important for us all. Ben shared with us that economics as it is currently taught is underpinned by rational choices – and we all know we don’t always make those. Only 3% of all money is cash, the rest is simply electronic exchanges, it isn’t real. Banks create this money out of loans and they are incentivised to do so. Here are a few more of the startling stats that Ben shared.

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For the first time in 170 years Parliament is holding a debate about money creation. On Thursday 20th November a backbench debate hosted by Steve Baker (Con), Michael Meacher (Lab), Caroline Lucas (Green), Douglas Carswell (UKIP) and David Davis (Con) is going to take place. If you are based in the UK and are reading this, and you think a fairer, more transparent money system matters, please drop your MP a line and encourage them to take part in this debate.

We then heard from Stefania Druga. Stefania is the founder of HacKIDemia, an international organisation that supports learning by doing and playing. She was here to tell us a little about a fascinating project called AfriMakers. AfriMakers ‘enable makers in Africa to develop sustainable projects and use making to solve local challenges and create an exchange of best practices between locals.’ Here are a few lines Stefania spoke which resonated powerfully for me:

Afrimakers – necessity = creativity and improvisation
Making stuff – in Africa it’s a necessity
Connect through values – everything else works
15 stones in the room – Zen Buddhism you can’t see all 15 – they are there you can’t see it all so question stuff
Change = Time*(work/people) Equation – time is the key – give it to people.
Let’s play together – recognise difference don’t impose yourself on others
Our desire to help is not always helping


I enjoyed good conversations in the breaks and over lunch, and then I had to depart, so I didn’t see the rest of the day unfold in real life. Looking at Twitter, it seemed to unfold in all manner of interesting ways. An enjoyable event – well done to everyone who helped make it happen.

One last thing for now – I am curious, what does meaning mean to you? I invited people to respond to this question and I added their thoughts and ideas to a rough sketch note. The note grew through my time at the conference and on the train home. Here’s where this cocreated thinking got to, and if you’d like to add something about what meaning means to you in the comments, I’d love to hear from you.

What does meaning mean to you

PS – I bought my ticket for the 2015 event last night 😉


Pay Day

Do you work for a living? If you answered yes to that question, then typically at the end of the month, the money comes in – pay in exchange for your labours for the past few weeks. And all too often your finances are planned so that within the next day or two, most of your major monthly bills are settled. So how would it work for you if your pay were a few days late? How about a few weeks, or even months? Do you think your suppliers, the phone company, the mortgage company etc would be OK just to wait for your pay to come along before you settled with them each month? I doubt it. While we’re on the subject, how about the relationship between you and your employer? How might that be affected if the money you are due to receive in exchange for your labours just didn’t show up? I’m guessing that would suck. Badly.

Yet this kind of thing goes on between companies all the time, and often late payment just seems to be accepted as ‘the norm’. Chasing late payments is inefficient, it wastes time on all sides. It’s bad for your (the late payer’s) reputation, and in particular when it’s a bigger company holding out on a smaller company, it’s just plain wrong. By way of an example, I wonder how Sainsbury’s would feel if you the shopper decided to wait almost three months before paying for your goods? Sounds remarkably like shoplifting to me, but in this Daily Telegraph article you can read about how Sainsbury’s has changed its payment terms so that suppliers now have to wait 75 days before their invoices are settled.

Typically at What Goes Around we pay our suppliers immediately on receipt of the invoice although recently we forgot to pay one of our suppliers and they chased us up a month later. I was embarrassed about the situation, albeit this was a very rare occurrence – it is not the way we want to do business. As an employee you expect to get paid on time, and I think it should be the same for a company too.

Many companies talk a lot about ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ (CSR). Many see it as a competitive differentiator, as a way to engage employees, and as a way to show off their sustainability credentials. Often, a key part of the CSR plan will include some kind of supply chain audit, so that as far as possible, the company can be assured that its suppliers are reputable. Sainsbury’s say that by 2020 ‘our suppliers will also be leaders in meeting or exceeding our social and environmental standards’. I’m using Sainsbury as an example, but this could apply equally well to a large number of other household brands too, and as far as I know, these companies don’t currently include their own payment terms in such a policy. I think they should. I think swift, prompt payment of suppliers should be an integral part of every CSR plan.

The UK Government has its own ‘red tape‘ challenge which is supposed to remove unnecessary bureaucracy in order to make lives easier, and they’ve also recently set up a taskforce to help identify how EU regulation holds back growth. I’d suggest our government could look a lot closer to home in the first instance and apply pressure in order to improve payment terms. If money makes the world go round, then get it moving faster please.

It would be easy at this point to get into more mud slinging and name calling around bad payers, and if you want to, you’re welcome. What I’d really like to hear about though, is any positive experiences you are willing to share. I’ll kick off with three brands who have demonstrated the power of prompt payment to us. hibu (formerly know as Yell), National Employment Savings Trust, and Rio Tinto. If you have any other examples of prompt payment, please share them.


This post was inspired by two things. A talk given by Luke Johnson at the RSA this evening, and Adam Murby, who invited me along to listen and learn.

Entrepreneurship. It’s not about the money.

It’s about the creativity, the flexibility and the suffering, or passion if you must call it that.

And for me, it’s also about the encouragement.

Entrepreneurship. The money is a by product.

What can the world of work learn from entrepreneurs?