This week, I attended the WIRED Smarter conference at Kings Cross in London.

After adjusting to remote working through the pandemic and the continued hybrid approach, it was refreshing to get out for an in-person event, free of the typical distractions at home. I was also looking forward to some inspirational talks from industry leaders. Whilst not all topics were relevant to what I do or interested in, I often find they’re the curveballs that open up imagination and new areas to consider.

I took notes throughout the day so here are my thoughts and observations across the sessions I attended.

Common themes

  • Passionate charismatic presenters who fundamentally believe in their individual topics
  • Diverse variety of people from around the UK and globe, quite a few from USA
  • Undertone theme seemed to be around selling their own products – with it being a commercial event directed at business leaders, it’s hardly surprising
  • Shorter 20-25 minute sessions encourage more succinct message but lacked detail at points

The Impact of Web 3.0 with Tim Berners-Lee and John Bruce from Inrupt

All about owning your data in Solid Pods which other services can access under your control
Solid is not Web3 and Blockchain (as currently hyped)
“The Web as we know it is broken”
Consider it as “zero party data”, no vendor locking
“What’s the business plan for this?” “We’ll work that out later”

Overall, this feels like an early concept with ideal goals but no real world application yet.

The Matter of Everything with Suzie Sheehy

One of the designers behind the Large Hadron Collider and 12 other experiments at CERN
Particle physics often not recognised as fundamental in cancer treatment
“We can create serendipity”
Most common feedback from CERN colleagues: Collaboration is key

Fascinating woman with such a wealth of knowledge and experience – get her book!

Innovation Across Three Dimensions with Werner Vogels, Amazon CTO

Think about how the customer experience is currently limited to two dimensions, how can it evolve to 3D
References to John Lennon, 3D glasses, VR, AR and all that.
O3DE open source engine available from Amazon

Another loose concept that’s not really made much progress when it could have.

Squiggly Careers with Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis

Popular podcast and book on a new way of thinking about career development
Impressive presentation style with Sarah live sketching on iPad
Career ladder analogy is limiting and archaic way of thinking
Career Safari with other teams and places (aka secondments)
Job swap should ideally be 3-9 months long

Love the idea of this concept, must check out the book and podcast to think about how it can be applied personally and with my direct reports.

Cyber security with Parisa Tabriz, Google Security Princess (and Google Chrome VP)

Cybersecurity incidents in Europe increased more than 10x between 2018 and 2021
Nearly half of workers spend the majority of their day working in the browser (Forrester)
Project Zero team at Google publish known vulnerabilities
Hacking Google 6-part docuseries available on YouTube
Project Shield protecting 200+ Ukrainian websites
Automatically protect 5bn devices by Google Safe Browsing in Chrome

Parisa knows her stuff about Chrome and security – worth following online for further insights

Panel discussion for empowering founders

Taavet Hinrikus – Cofounder Plural, formerly Transferwise (Wise)
Karl Lokko – Chairman, Black Seed
Check Warner – Partner, Ada Ventures
Omi Bell – CEO, Black Girl Ventures
Natasha Bernell – Business editor, Wired

Shocking 0.02% VC funds go to black women entrepreneurs!
Pandemic challenged investment. Upcoming financial crisis likely to be even worse. Rich always get richer – finance system needs addressing (Omi)
Founders always had to be scrappy, exploring creative ways to succeed, so could stand out and flourish (Check)
Tech giants will be laying off over coming years. What does that talent do? How do they fund efforts? Look back at last Web crash circa 2008 to learn (Taavet)
Resilience is key through tumultuous times – entrepreneurs are best at demonstrating this (Karl)
Mental health will be pushed through difficult times. VCs specifically provide capital and guidance to support entrepreneurs US still culturally not ready. Women’s health also neglected, not just mental health. Shake the taboo systemically integrated in masculine history (Check and Omi)
Network and community build to get started, not just seed capital but emotional and knowledge capital (Karl)
“People fund people” (Omi)
90% black founders are self funded (Karl)

Engaging panel with intelligent and diverse contributors highlight serious issues in startup culture.

How The Future Works with Sheela Subramanian, VP Slack and Cofounder Future Forum

Author of How The Future Works
“How does my job fit into my life?” not ”how does my life fit into my job?”
Pandemic, Women leavers, YOLO economy, great resignation
94% want flex in when they work, 79% in where

Focus Friday time – no meetings
Only use 4 D’s for meetings
Calendar bankruptcy – clear out and rebuild every 6 month
Async text-based whiteboard for discussions instead of physical world whiteboard and table (loudest voice wins, uninspiring environment)
Establish principles and guardrails, set team level agreements, celebrate outcomes rather than activity
Team level agreement refreshed on quarterly basis
Vocal and presence != productive and valuable
Use office to build team camaraderie
Lead with transparency
Stronger self of belonging

Slack (and Teams) are the future of hybrid working but don’t neglect the importance of people’s time and focus.

The Truth About The Metaverse with Herman Narula – CEO, Improbable

Written a book about it
“Ignore Facebook’s poisonous distraction”
Platform provides 2bn operations per second (WhatsApp only 10,000 OPS by comparison)
M Squared is a metaverse protocol – for other vendors to adopt for distribution
Virtual careers possible, either in the metaverse or as consultant
Provide experience to customers – experiment with existing communities to understand demand (available from Improbable)
Blockchain and digital assets are foundation – hardware and headsets secondary

Metaverse has plenty potential but, like AR/VR, needs a killer solution to work.

Social Commerce: The Future of Digital Retail with Patrick Nommensen

1bn users on TikTok
#TiktokMadeMeBuyIt viral campaign
Short form video and live shopping are pushing the boundaries of what consumers expect from commerce

Bit of a publicity stunt for TikTok but worth recognising the power of the platform for retail

From D2C to Connect to Customer with Deann Evans, Shopify

Structural shifts affecting the retails landscape (state of economy, the internet, privacy)
Apple’s shift to opt out of tracking hampers lead generation
More expensive to acquire customers now
C2C provides many pathways to consumers
The United Stand – unofficial Man Utd store with million followers
Starbucks Web3 loyalty programme

Can Binance Save Crypto with Jonathan Farnell, formerly eToro

Binance mission to increase regulatory footprint
Binance been stable through volatile market and BTC crash
Work close with policy makers and compliance partners
Customer focus and money education
How is UK comparing globally? “Buoyant”
Biggest exchange in the world, 5 years old (is it bigger than Coinbase?)

Surviving To Thriving panel

Jon Dixon @ Taggstar
Tina Chen @ Humanitea (dairy free tea)
David Rawaf @ Inovus Medical (surgical education)
Heinin Zhang @ yhangry – 500 chefs like Deliveroo
Jemma Waters @ Lloyds Bank (host)
(Deliberately selected diverse panel)

Lean startup – zero budget
Listen to customers, know the product and customer base first hand
Growth commonly on i18n
Heinin bought her own horse recently – success!
Aim to double revenue YoY
Nurturing talent as next generation
It’s ok to take stock rather than react – “let me think about it”
Don’t hesitate to get things done – get to market ASAP. As side hustle, it can take TOO long due to capacity. Keep lean!
Social Enterprise UK community, positive social purpose
Important to take time for yourself, burnout is huge risk and impact.
Have good people around you. Support, advice, balance, inspiration. Team work!

Another brilliant panel of experienced success stories, could’ve had longer to share knowledge.