Dennis Yordanov & Annina Claesson
Digital Interns, This is Milk
Our take on volunteering at TEDx Glasgow's 2016 event, A Disruptive World.
Two of our team, Annina Claesson and Denis Yordanov, had the chance to volunteer for and attend the 5th annual TEDx Glasgow Conference on the 3rd of June. We asked them a few questions about what it was like.
How did you get involved with TEDx Glasgow?
Denis: I was offered to be a volunteer for TEDx through This is Milk, which meant that I would be able to attend the event as well. I had never been to a TED event before but I have seen lots of the talks online so this was an opportunity that I didn't want to pass up!
My role was to help with the setup of the TEDx stage, I was one of the people who put together, shaped, and hoisted those white pieces of fabric that you could see all over the stage. It was an interesting change of pace from the work I have been doing for This is Milk. In This is Milk the labour is entirely cognitive, while the volunteering was mostly good old manual work. As a volunteer I met and worked with very interesting and helpful people. At the end of the day I would say that sore legs were a small price to pay for the whole TEDx experience.
Annina: I also helped out with the stage prep. It was a lot of moving things around mostly, but I also did a fair bit of painting, including the big TED letters that stood behind every speaker. I found volunteering to be an incredibly rewarding experience, mainly because of the astoundingly creative people who were running everything backstage. They were so nice and welcoming and I found I had a lot in common with some of them. Of course, it was also very satisfying to see our hard work on stage the next day. I definitely agree with Denis about the sore muscles – stage weights are very heavy!
What were your favourite TEDx talks and why?
Annina: As a politics student, I found Mark Muller Stuart QC’s talk 'The Power of Small Nation and Non-State Diplomacy in the 21st Century' to be really captivating. It was something I’d never even considered as a possibility before. It was a great example of how all the traditional categories and assigned roles are being eroded and becoming more flexible in our rapidly changing world, even in a field such as ‘high politics’.
Perhaps surprisingly, Brianna Robertson-Kirkland’s talk 'The Castrated Opera Singer' about how castrati opera singers have influenced modern opera was also a personal favourite. I’m interested in classical singing but it was more that the way she presented her topic felt so engaging.
Denis: There were so many amazing TED talks that it is hard to pick just one or two. I really liked James Lyne’s talk 'Hacking with Words and Smiles' because it was extremely insightful in terms of what hacking actually is and how many people fall prey to it without even realising. Hacking has moved away from obviously fake emails from a Nigerian prince into more sophisticated and subtle methods, such as opening a plain text document.
Dr. Ravinder Dahiya’s talk 'Animating the Inanimate World' on robotics and touch sensing was also really innovative and educating. It showed me a glimpse into the not-so-distant future of robots that many would consider the stuff of movies. Before the talk I don’t think a lot of people were aware of how far robotics have come and how much potential there is for development and deployment.
There were many other great talks, for example the really motivating one by Ellis Watson of Dundee based media group, DC Thomson, 'Disrupt Yourself or Die Trying', but those two, in particular, really stuck with me.
What were the key takeaways for This is Milk?
Denis: Personally I think the most relevant talk to This is Milk was from one of the founders of Scottish craft beer company BrewDog, James Watt, who talked about organisational culture in his talk 'Internal=External'.
As a University of Strathclyde student I was previously involved in delivering a project about This is Milk’s unique organisational culture and James Watt’s talk was a really relevant and interesting take on that subject. In my experience, most people think about organisational culture as something mostly internal to the organisation, quite often described as ‘the way an organisation does things’. To paraphrase Mr. Watt ‘organisational culture is what your company does when no one is looking’. But here's the trick - in today’s globalised and digitised world everyone is looking, especially your customers. So instead, companies should think about their culture not as internal but as an external aspect that is always on display for everyone to see.
This unprecedented transparency means that it is paramount for organisations to have a culture that they are proud of, that they can show to the world without any reservations, and ultimately that is appealing to their customers. I thought that this notion was quite radical and disruptive in itself since most organisations would be very reluctant to reveal their inner workings - just take Apple’s top-secret organisational culture as an example. I was even more surprised by how BrewDog have achieved this. In the crowded market that is beer brewing, BrewDog have made their beer recipes, essentially their trade secrets, available online to anyone, free of charge. I’m sure some people will consider something like this to be unorthodox but it clearly works for BrewDog and ties-in perfectly with their culture. Since having the right culture is a cornerstone for This is Milk, I found this talk to be very relevant to us.
Annina: Dr. Mark Payton’s talk ‘Successful Startups: What's Luck Got to do With It' was very informative and highly relevant for This is Milk. The gist of his talk was that for startups, ‘luck’ is mostly about keeping focus about your vision and place in the market, as well as surrounding yourself with the right people. I found we as a company could relate to that quite a lot. Our success in these early stages has definitely come down to those two things. I found his talk to be really motivating for any startup, showing that they are much more in control of their own destiny than they might believe. Entrepreneurship is not easy, but he very clearly explained what the typical variables are that can make or break the success of a startup. We can always use a reminder that we make our own luck.
On the same note, Steve McCreadie’s talk 'Intrapreneurship: More Than Just a Spelling Mistake' also struck a chord with This is Milk’s values and methods. The Scottish startup scene is an exciting place and we definitely see the benefits of collaborating in what he called an ‘intrapreneurial ecosystem’, helping other organisations recognise the drive and talent within their teams just as we do with our own.
What were your key learnings from the day and how can we change in the workplace?
Annina: An event like TEDx Glasgow serves as a good reminder of how the stories and experiences of people practically next door can be powerful enough to inspire great change. Obviously, all the speakers gave you the usual TED-style boost of motivation, but I met a lot of really interesting people during my time as a volunteer and on the day of the event itself. Exciting stuff happens when forward-thinking minds meet. I think this links back to the idea of intrapreneurship and making sure that you’re not missing out on the ideas of the person by the desk next to yours – they could be the ones that will really make a positive change.
Denis: Given that the theme of TEDx Glasgow was disruption, I think the key thing from the day was that disruption is inevitable and should be embraced and used to make a positive impact rather than trying to resist. It is very important to foster this attitude in the workplace so that it breeds intrapreneurship rather than anxiety.
Following the TEDx example
Being involved with events such as TEDx Glasgow is critical for us. We believe in sharing insights, collaboration, conversation, and thought to lead our way in a constantly changing world.
This is why we've set up a MeetUp Group - The Milk Bar. We bring together speakers and facilitators on topics fuelling Business Transformation in Scotland.
Keep an eye out for our next Milk Bar and other events!
(Blog first published 29/06/2016)