TEDxGlasgow – Enlightened Economy Roundup

OK folks, here’s the last of my posts on the excellent TEDxGlasgow day – and the roundup of the third section: Enlightened Economy. For details of the other two parts of the day, check out Education and Health & Wellbeing.

Nic Marks – The happy planet index

After a tasty buffet and discussion time, we came back to the theatre to watch this interesting video by Nic Marks:

It’s an interesting idea to measure a nation’s “success” by the happiness of its people… what do you think about it?

David Erdal – Employee-owners do it better

Our next live speaker was David Erdal, who wanted to talk to us about employee ownership of companies. David came from a business background, and worked to change his company from family ownership to employee ownership. I was interested in this because I have several friends who work for an employee-owned paper mill, and I wanted to understand more about how that works.

David proposed that, for many people, work is a cross between being forced to do it and being paid to do it. That is, they don’t really want to do it. What if work could become a partnership, though, where all parties worked for their mutual benefit? That’s the key of employee ownership: since the employees own the company, and derive their income from that same company, they are motivated to make the company as successful as possible. It’s different from the traditional “work hard or I’ll fire you” scenario, and more of a “we’re all in this together” affair.

Studies have apparently shown that employee ownership has never made a company worse, but rather brings great benefits including much better employee retention rates.

Joe Tree – Creating a collective human history

Joe Tree is the founder of Blipfoto – an online photo journalling site. He started out taking a photo a day, and as interest grew in what he was doing it evolved into Blipfoto. Joe asked us to consider, for a moment, the sheer number of cameras available nowadays, and the number of photographs being taken.

Around 6 billion photographs are uploaded just to Facebook each month. Getty Images, on the other hand, advertises that they have “millions” of photographs available, while the US Library of Congress has around 14 million photographs in their archive. Joe contends that we are inadvertently creating the largest visual and photographic archive in history.

The problem is, that archive is not too useful from a historical perspective. It’s not open… I can’t search the entire archive because not everyone on Facebook is my friend (thank goodness), it’s poorly indexed, and it’s just too big! How can I find something specific in a messy archive that grows by 6 billion photos per month?

Our children will curse us, according to Joe, because we have the opportunity to create something useful and we are wasting it.

So what’s the solution? We need to find ways to constrain ourselves… pick the most meaningful images rather than keeping every single photo from that drunken night out. We need to openly share the images we have, and need to add metadata by annotating and indexing those photos. If we do this, we create a useful historical archive from our own perspective, rather than leaving it to the historians.

As an example of how we can create our own histories through photographs, Joe spoke about a Blipfoto user who worked in a brickworks. He, naturally, took photos of his working life for his photo journal, and added information about what was happening in the pictures, where it was happening, and so on. But eventually he was tasked with closing down the various brickwork sites, and that comes out in the photos. Pictures of work taking place that now doesn’t, stories of what it was like on the last day on a site, and so on. These are valuable pieces of information that would have been lost otherwise, or would have been written about by someone who wasn’t actually there.

If we want to turn our huge store of digital photos into something useful, we need to:

  • self-curate (and constrain)
  • openly share
  • annotate & index

Mike Small – The local food revolution

Mike presented us with some fascinating statistics on the import and export of food… like the fact that the UK bot imports and exports butter in roughly equal amounts. I’m sure there must be some economic reason for this, but it seems insane. So Mike came up with an idea, called the Fife Diet, to only eat locally produced foods. You’ve guessed it, Mike is from Fife… hence the diet’s name.

The funny thing is that most people who heard about this thought Mike and his colleagues would struggle to find enough healthy foods to eat from Fife. Not so, he says – there is plenty of healthy and seasonal produce to be found.

Eating locally both reduces the carbon footprint of getting food on our plates, and stimulates the local economy.

The key skill Mike says is required is to move away from “endless choice” to “enough”. That is, knowing that you can’t have everything you want all the time, but that you can have enough to live on, and can actually enjoy it.

Mick Jackson – Is social business the evolution of capitalism?

Mick rounded off with a talk about micro finance. Interestingly, this all felt a little controversial as he was also talking about capitalism and how it can be sculpted to serve mankind.

Capitalism gets a bad reputation, but what if we could take the principles of making money and use them for good purposes? Take the idea of money lending, for example – Mick’s organisation “Wild Hearts” makes loans to people to enable them to set up their own companies. Wild Hearts has a number of clients in Ghana, and these clients have been helped to set up companies ranging from clothes manufacture to producing food to sell at the local market. At its heart, this is about providing capital for business, but it also improves people’s lives.

As a counterpoint, Mick also told us these things:

  • wellbeing, progress and happiness are not about money
  • money and true wealth are not the same thing

But at the same time, if you don’t have enough money to live on, it’s very hard to enjoy the beautiful things in life. It’s hard to enjoy spending time with your children when you’re thinking you can’t afford to feed them that evening.

A very interesting and mind-bending talk at times… I’d love to know what you think about this one.

And that’s it. TEDxGlasgow in three posts. If you have the opportunity to attend a TED or TEDx event, I’d highly recommend it. Even if you don’t agree with all the speakers (and I didn’t agree with everything at this event) it’s well worth going for a listen to expand your horizons and exercise your mind. As ever, if you have anything you want to add, please feel free to do so in the comments.

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