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Brave and businesslike, audacious and actionable

Kev Chesters reviews our Brave Get Together 2020

2020 has been the weirdest year of my life. And your life too, I bet. And the lives of our colleagues, clients and consumers. That was the context for this week’s Marketing Society Conference. And like everything else this year, it was a virtual thing.


But that was the only real change from previous years. The speakers will still awesome, the content was still thought-provoking & the lessons were still numerous for our day-to-day work lives.

It was nine hours of content split across 25+ sessions - all expertly marshalled by brilliant broadcaster Mishal Husain - amidst the nail-biting backdrop of the US Elections results (that I was desperately trying to avoid getting distracted by). Far too much content to summarise in these few hundred words so I’ll just give you the main take outs and a few highlights for me.

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Professor Amy Edmondson from Harvard introduced us to the fascinating concept of creating “Psychological Safety” in the workplace to foster higher performance.

Lesson? Humility, Empathy and curiosity are the keys to highly functioning teams. Create a culture of permission and then great things will happen. Get everyone in the “learning zone”.

Ellie Norman (F1) was fascinating talking us through the incredible collaboration at the start of the pandemic between seven different competing F1 teams to create the ventilators that Europe needed to meet the acute threat of Covid-19.

Lesson? Kindness, generosity and community meets excellence and talent. I loved this. It was part of our lesson in the Harbour Collective of lockdown – be helpful, be useful, be nice. What a story of inspiration and innovation. Chapeau.

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My next highlight was Dame (don’t call me Dame) Eliza Manningham-Buller, ex-MI5 and outgoing DG of Wellcome Trust. This was an absolute masterclass of what makes for great leadership in times of uncertainty and threat. There were so many lessons that it would take a book to detail them all but I especially took out that “all change is just trying to do our jobs better”.

Lesson? Optimism & humility were two important leadership traits – I loved the suggested question for all projects – “what are we NOT doing?”

It’s always a delight to get to share in the wisdom of Jan Gooding. I have been lucky enough to work with her and for her in my career and ten minutes with her is normally worth a week of anyone else’s time. Lots of useful lessons from her work with a shared client of ours, John Lewis. I was especially taken by her view of purpose and the lesson that in the future we should all have a “To Be” list as well as a “To Do” list. Interesting and thought-provoking stuff as ever.

Other highlights?

The amazing story of the building of the Nightingale hospital in days from Ged Couser from BDP. A sobering and humbling talk through his new “Letter to Zion” initiative from the man behind 56 Black Men campaign, Cephas Williams. I also really liked the talk by the creators of the Naked Podcast, Jenny Eells and Kat Harbourne. I enjoyed Ken Meuch (Yum Foods) talking through the lessons of how his team responded in Wuhan at the start of the pandemic.

Less strategy, more empathy was the lesson we learnt in the early days of the pandemic with our clients too – just be helpful and nice. “Do the right thing” and “do the right now thing” were the two main take-outs for me from that talk. Like my gran always said, it’s better to be useful than smart. You should also check out Jamal Edwards from SBTV, great discussion with Sophie Devonshire. Worth a cup of tea and a listen.

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But what were my overall take outs of the day?

Bravery is basically about being prepared to be wrong & creating the conditions for that to happen. The F1 talk showed that when we throw away the rule book and we are faced with entirely original challenges we can actually massively out-perform our own expectations of ourselves.

Covid was and is a test. It’s a test we’re still taking. But today showed that many organisations and marketers are passing that test with flying colours. By applying optimism and humility, empathy with expertise, we can maybe emerge from the madness of 2020 in a better place than we entered it.

Congrats to Sophie and all the team. Despite it being “virtual” it was a brilliant and inspirational day.