Winter brings many things: holiday cheer, festivities, well-deserved time off, presents—and, for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, snow and cold.  

Over the last few years, the winter has also brought for me a long-anticipated opportunity to feel inspired: the How to Change the World Conference, organized by the How To Academy and curated in partnership with The New York Times. Each year the conference brings together influential innovators and organizations that are creating a better future for the planet, and quite literally changing the world at the cutting edge of their industries. I’ve attended for the past few years and it has never failed to amaze, to inspire, and to provide insights and ideas that make a difference. 

I believe that inspiration, in the long run, is a competitive advantage in financial services and elsewhere. So, in the spirit of the holidays, I’d like to share five of the “so what” moments from this year’s conference that truly nourished my curiosity:

  • Malcolm Gladwell—who is one of my favourite authors—introduced his new book Talking to Strangers and really challenged our notions of how we see strangers, and by extension how we see ourselves and the world. It’s a very interesting book with lots of juicy insights for anyone who deals with strangers (that is, everybody). Here’s a recorded talk from Gladwell that describes some of the themes of the book. It’s about 30 minutes long, but I promise that it’s worth your time if you are as big fan of his as I am.

  • The activist, farmer and banker Chetna Gala Sinha gave a wonderful talk about empowering women and transforming lives. This was truly a moving talk about the journey of women in rural India who turned their courage into capital. This talk was one of my favourites and ended with a standing ovation. Chetna shared her story of opening the first ever bank for women, by women, but also the story of those brave and inspiring women who encouraged her and continued to push her to come up with solutions for those denied traditional financial backing. I would really encourage you to watch this TED Talk from 2018 where Chetna ever so passionately takes you on a journey with her and those women. I guarantee you will be inspired.

  • Steve Evans, the director of research in industrial sustainability at the University of Cambridge, discussed the wall of inefficiency in our lives and how to break it. He went over what we can do using today’s existing technology to solve a number of inefficiency (waste) problems—for example, the fact that only half of all edible food produced is eaten, and only half of all processed materials reach the consumer. Evans outlined how we can repurpose existing technology to create efficiencies, decrease waste, and increase profit—all by recognising existing inefficiencies and repurposing existing technology. Here is a similar talk he gave in 2018 on how industrial sustainability can drive economic growth.
  • Ali Parsha, the founder and CEO of Babylon, a healthcare and artificial intelligence (AI) pioneer, talked about his vision of putting an accessible and affordable health service in the hands of every person on earth—an ambitious goal, to say the least. Yet, he’s well on his way by providing healthcare accessibility with the Babylon App, which lets users access a doctor within minutes, 24/7. This is a short video from 2018 that tells the fascinating story of Babylon, what have they achieved and where they are today—truly revolutionary progress!

  • Hilary Cottam, author of Radical Help, social activist and entrepreneur, talked about designing the Fifth Social Revolution by harnessing technology for social gain. In her work and approach, Hilary applies a human-centred philosophy to reimagine social systems. This approach reminded me of our FORM methodology in how we frame and reframe the problem, collaborate, and design the solution. Her five key takeaways at the end of the talk were very much aligned to design thinking and a growth-mindset outlook, and really resonated with me:
    • Re-frame the problems: what do we need now to flourish?
    • Expand the team to include people with various skills: make it cross-functional.
    • Start with abundance: use technology to underpin the new infrastructure.
    • Reinforce relationships underpinned: does it reinforce what we already have?
    • Invest in the New: in the future, and in new capabilities.

If you are interested, here is a 17-minute video from a keynote she did earlier this year on the topic where she describes her approach.

To finish up, I wanted to bring up a reminder that was shared with us during the 2018 conference: Elon Musk once said that he wanted to die on Mars—just not on impact. I would encourage you to end 2019 with a similar commitment to big and bold thinking as part of your client work, but also in your personal lives.

Happy holidays. I look forward to collaborating with you in the new year.

Elitsa Nacheva hosts Accenture’s Talking Agility podcast. You can find it here or on your favourite podcasting platform.

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