Crowd shot from Meaning Conference, by Clive Andrews / Meaning
Ways of working

Meaning Conference – what it meant to us

Psychologist Karen Pine told us from the stage at Meaning Conference 2014 that, three weeks on, we were unlikely to retain more than three per cent of what we’ve we’d heard. Or five per cent. Something like that.

Four of us at Neo went to Meaning, and we all came back wanting to remember as much as possible, from what was an unusually moving and challenging day of talks, workshops and reflection.

The day began with some breakneck boggling of the mind from futurologist/businessman/comedian Mark Stevenson. His take on the future is bright, and dizzying. So much is coming our way – self-replicating 3D printers, driverless cars, ultra-personalised medicine – how can we possibly understand now what that will all mean? Which leaves room for optimism and action to shape the outcomes we’d prefer to see.

“By the time your kids are your age, they’ll be able to print their own drugs – there’s a parenting challenge” – Mark Stevenson

No-one would have envied Positive Money‘s Ben Dyson for having to follow that opening, but still he delivered one of the day’s most powerful presentations.

It’s the stupid economy

Dyson argues that the UK’s current economic system is ‘an accident of history’, and outlines with shocking clarity how it came to be that we’re locked in to creating more debt in order to grow our economy. Nothing fundamental has been fixed since the financial crisis.

Sounds a little bleak. But some of the possible answers are easy enough to grasp. Such as: take the power to create money away from private banks, and put it in the hands of an accountable body that’s looking out for the common good.

Lead yourself

The nature of taking responsibility and ‘being the change’ surfaced repeatedly through the day.

Bob Doak joined us from W. L . Gore & Associates – the global firm behind Gore-Tex among many other things. They have a famously inventive company culture, which we’re given a glimpse of.

Much of it is based on the notion of ‘leading yourself’, as exemplified in some advice quoted from Dee Hock, Founder and CEO of Visa:

“If you seek to lead, invest at least 50% of your time in leading yourself — your own purpose, ethics, principles, motivation, conduct. Invest at least 20% leading those with authority over you and 15% leading your peers.”

What’s money anyway?

The four of us found ourselves, along with half the rest of the conference, in a crowded workshop with Charlie Davies, taking a left-field exploration of the themes we bring to our conversations about it. The main takeaway? There are a lot of stories we tell about money, and they often reflect more of our own hopes and fears than they describe any fundamental qualities of money itself.

Meaning there’s room to settle on stories we feel better about.

Be present

Mindfulness goes well with meaningfulness, and it was another thread throughout the day.

Lauri Fiensod talked on the importance of being fully present in everything you do: “don’t just be here; be Superhere”.  Which reminded Emmie of one of her favourite quotes on the same topic:

“This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realise it is play” – Alan Watts

The future’s open

But Meaning isn’t all about the mind. It’s about the heart too.  In that spirit, Iain Chambers gave us an emotional update on the Exeter Street Hall campaign, which had kicked off with an unplanned appeal to the conference floor two years ago.  The hall’s been saved from private development, and is now a thriving community space.

And Sun Tui introduced us to the Dare To Live programme – a therapy that provides the opportunity for veterans with mental health problems to work with horses – reducing at least one unnamed member of the Neo team to tears in the process.

A Soldiers Story from ralph hodgson on Vimeo.


The day began and ended with comedians, and that’s not a bad formula. Comedy Store founder Neil Mullarkey‘s closing session on improv in business got several hundred people collaborating with the strangers around them. He made us all consider the importance of listening when others speak, rather that using the time to ‘reload’. And not forget:

“‘Do you mind if I give you some feedback?’ is as stressful as walking at night and hearing footsteps behind you.”

Woman standing in front of chalk board at Meaning Conference  - photo by Clive Andrews / Meaning

Thanks to NixonMcInnes for organising Meaning 2014. For more videos from the day, visit

Images by Clive Andrews / Meaning, reproduced under Creative Commons licence from Meaning Conference on Flickr.