Thinking Digital 2011: Touching the emotions

May is a strange time… It seems to be the start of a series of conferences in the North of England including Future Everything. In this case it was time to head up to Newcastle/Gateshead for the inspiring and always fantastic Thinking Digital conference.

Herb Kim

Like Future Everything, I missed last year due to the bleed on the brain. Herb Kim last year gave me a shout out, live on stage (of course I wasn’t there) but this year he did the same in between a couple of speakers. It was very touching and later on Adrian pointed out that there was something in the conference booklet too. So thank you again to Thinking Digital and Herb Kim.

Generally the conference was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, lots of people I kind of remember and lots of people who remember me from previous years. It was very noticeable to me, how badly I forgot peoples names but hey I have a great excuse… 🙂 It was also great seeing Marissa Mulvena, Kate Norman and Emilia Flockhart along side all the other lovely people.

The Workshop – The Practice of Happiness – Bobby Paterson


I attended and enjoyed the practice of happiness with Bobby. I didn’t quite know what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised. Bobby ran through a whole lot of inspirational books that he had read and would recommend.

Its fair to say it was a decent summary without touching any of the religious or overall self help stuff. Bobby quoted Jim Rohn saying Happiness is not a accident nor is it something you aspire to, its actually something you design or even architect. Quite fitting with the talk from Bill Thompson at Future Everything about designing your future.

Some interesting facts. We have roughly 60,000 thoughts a day and 95% of them are the same as yesterday and 80% of those are negative in nature.

Then following that Bobby directed the questioning to work. Does your companies attitudes and values align with your own personal values? Luckily I would say indeed it does. He then went on to talk about Tony Heish from Zappos as a great example of what can be done in work. Bobby also hit the point about being more transparent and what that could mean for happiness.

He then talked about the social network (aptly named he was setting up off the back of his research into happiness. There’s 7 happy habits as Bobby called them running through the network. Those habits are…

  • Wisdom
  • Gratitude
  • Getting Active
  • Journaling
  • Eating Healthy
  • Mantra
  • Meditation

To be honest and I did say this to Bobby, its a nice idea but I’m concerned about the social networking aspect of it. I think for it to be truly useful it needs to be more fluid than yet another social network. I understand there’s the ability to send stuff into other social networks but honestly its needs to be something more transparent. I was thinking about a microformat for wellbeing and good habits could be interesting. Of course Bobby could keep the social network too, but aggregate stuff outside of it.

Highly valued characters

End of the day, it was a good talk and I am intrigued specially with my own shift (still not sure how I feel about this movie) or lifestyle change.

And that was just the workshop…

The conference was even more fantastic. Like Future Everything I’ll just run through the highlights of the conference but I wanted to also wanted to discuss a few of the conference things. You can think of it as feedback to the Thinking Digital committee.

  • I loved the idea of having a smoke machine go off when the speaker went well over the time. It was used a bit at the start but I didn’t see it again. What happened there?
  • I really wanted to ask questions, but there was never a chance. According to Jas, something changed in 2010 and so there was no more questions. Anyway, no worries, I got to speak to everyone afterwards.
  • It wasn’t just me who had a quite sore behind from the seats in the conference venue. Could really have done with a pillow or something. Not a big problem because there were the right amount of breaks and even better they were just about the right length.
  • The meals were pretty good, very healthy but I wouldn’t have minded a little more variety. Good idea having bags which you can shift around with and having the sweets upstairs.
  • The Wifi was a problem but got better, I do wish there wasn’t the webpage authentication because its a real pain on a non-laptop device like my kindle.
  • Power wasn’t a problem for me because I was on the Kindle, but I heard a few people say they wished there was a secure place to charge laptops between sessions.
  • The dinners are still excellent in Thinking Digital. The combination of food and drink means everyone stays till the very end and goes no where. Don’t ever loose that part of thinking digital.

Right time for the best talks of the conference

Erin McKean from Wordnik

Erin McKean

Erin McKean likes to call herself a Dictionary Evangelist. She is the CEO of the new online dictionary Wordnik and prior to that she was the Editor in Chief of the New Oxford American Dictionary. She is the author of ‘Weird and Wonderful Words’, ‘More Weird and Wonderful Words’, ‘Totally Weird and Wonderful Words’, and ‘That’s Amore’ (also about words).

Erin from Wordnik gave a great presentation about building the largest Dictionary. The presentation was pretty straight forward but fascinating. The new developer API sounds like tons of fun.

Wordnik fits really well with my thoughts around the way language evolves at a fascinating pace. Hopefully we can help Wordnik in some way in the near future.

Conrad Wolfram, Wolfram Research

Conrad Wolfram

Conrad Wolfram is European founder and CEO of Wolfram Research and its worldwide strategic director. Since 1988, the Wolfram group has built the Mathematica computational software and since 2009, the spin-off Wolfram|Alpha knowledge engine.

Another great talk with some useful examples on Interestingly Wolfram have launched a computational document format (CDF)

CDF—the computable document format—is a way that we’ll be releasing soon of very easily creating dynamic, interactive, documents that immediately build on all the algorithms and automation that we’ve been setting up in Mathematica for the past 24 years.

I assumed it would be XML based but its unfortunately not. Anyhow, the reason seems to be sound due in part to the Mathematica engine being embedded in part in the document.

Sam Martin, Manspaces

Thinking Digital - Sam Martin

Author Sam Martin shares photos of a quirky world hobby that’s trending with the XY set: the “manspace.” (They’re custom-built hangouts where a man can claim a bit of his own territory to work, relax, be himself.) Grab a cold one and enjoy.

Just as Herb Kim said in his intro, you kind of don’t really want to like the talk but honestly it was an insight into how people get away and use there own spaces. Some would have liked to ask questions about the notion that its man spaces instead of just work spaces? Oh well I guess they could twitter him, if they were that upset. Good talk and plenty to think about

Nancy Duarte, Duarte Design

Nancy Duarte

Nancy Duarte is one of the world’s foremost authorities on presentation development and design. She is the founder of Duarte Design, who specialise in presentation mastery and visual communications. Duarte design is also one of Silicon Valley’s most successful and largest woman-owned businesses.

I had the pleasure of sitting next to Nancy at the speakers Dinner before the conference and I was already a fan when we talked about Prezi (which Matthew Postgate used in his presentation and I’ve written about before) and she said it can be useful in a very small number of cases but generally it distracts from the core messages and the flow of the presentation. And after listening to her talk, shes totally right, can you ever imagine Steve Jobs or Martin Luther King, using Prezi? Not a chance in hell…

The analysis of the flow of the best presentations is killer information. Once you know and understand it, its really obvious but very powerful. Thank you Nancy… I’ll hopefully improve my presentations forever more.

Dr Vincent W. Li, Angiogenesis Foundation

Thinking Digital - Vincent Li

Li tackles a common denominator of disease called angiogenesis, or new blood vessel growth. He created the Foundation in 1994 and currently oversees the Eat to Defeat initiative and ENABLE project, a global system that integrates patients, medical experts and healthcare professionals and democratises the spread and implementation of knowledge about angiogenesis-based medicines, diet and lifestyle.

Vincent gave an emotional but very smart talk about the research he and his brother have been working on. Angiogenesis is the process of growing new blood vessels from pre-existing blood vessels. This process is also how tumors go from dormant to a state of malignant. Some foods can give the effect of a Angiogenesis inhibitor or Anti-Angiogenesis.

Yes if you understood correctly (videos should helps), we might be able to prevent Cancer by eating more of certain types of food. Which types of food, I bet your wondering? Which ones? Well here’s the full list and I’ve picked out the surprising ones…

  • Dark Chocolate
  • Green Tea
  • Maple Syrup

But its not just cancer… Angiogenesis is a major factor in other medical conditions such as Obesity and Stress.

Its a lot to take in at first and to be fair I really need to do some more research into these claims but honestly if eating more fruit and vegetables helps to defeat cancer and other problems, then I’m there. I’ve already made huge changes in my lifestyle, if this works or even if it doesn’t I’ll certainly be stacking up my shopping trolley with more things from the list.

I did get a chance to talk to Vincent about the whole thing and he was very open to hearing the good and negative comments. The problem seems to be the lack of a clinical/scientific trial over a wide group of people. He said they have trials over 100,000 people but they were not clinical due to the nature of the subject. It was expressed that trying to do a mass clinical/scientific trial would never really be achievable because there’s far too many factors to consider.

Its important to remember this is all preventive not a cure.

Anyway… Something to check out for sure.

Mary Anne Hobbs, XFM

Thinking Digital - Mary Ann Hobbs

I have to admit I had not heard any of the back story of why she had left the BBC, and she wasn’t actually on the schedule but with all the craziness of the ash cloud and speakers stranded in different locations. Herb convinced her to stand in for someone else and tell her side of the story.

The interview was done by herb and felt like he had planned it from the very start. Very professional but with hints of friendliness. It was a excellent interview and one of those pinnacle moments in Thinking Digital which defines the 2011 conference…

The Others

Thinking Digital - Tom Scott

Its also worth mentioning Steven Bathiche, Walter de Brouwer, Paul Smith, Matthew Postgate, Carlos Ulloa, Casper Berry, Tan Lee, Gred Leonhard, Jer Thorp, Atau Tanaka, Heather Knight, Ewan McIntosh and finally Tom Scott. All added equally good talks and worth mentioning. Musical interludes by Badaia was certainly interesting but after the 3rd time got a little tiresome.

Would I say Thinking Digital 2011 was better that 2009? Well I would say they were about the same, both had tiny things you could groan about but on the whole they were amazing and a truly inspiring.

Excellent work again, Herb and the Thinking Digital team, can’t wait for 2012…