What does the act of change mean to you? Change means different things to different people, whether you work in an agency, as a client or are completely unconnected to the world of marketing.

The act of change is also the theme for MercerBell’s Ideas Worth Sharing 2018. IWS is our annual event where speakers from all walks of life share their experiences and thoughts to a specially invited audience. The evening takes us out of the marketing world and into a world of inspiration that encourages us to think differently.

This year’s speakers came from a range of wildly different backgrounds, and with wildly different ideas to share, but all bound together by the theme of change. Below are some of the edited stories and highlights from an evening where emotional stories were shared, the impossible was made possible and each speaker shared what made change so personal to them.

Aminata Conteh-Biger: Making a change to give Sierra Leone’s women a voice

For Aminata Conteh-Biger, the concept of change was one that was deeply personal. The founder and CEO of The Aminata Maternal Foundation was kidnapped for sex slavery as a teenager when rebels descended on her home in Sierra Leone, before eventually being released and moving to Australia as a refugee.

It was a change Aminata initially found difficult to adjust to. “It was a struggle to make new friends, to fit in,” she told the Ideas Worth Sharing audience. “For five years I was unable to talk to anyone, because I knew when I talked, I’d be laughed at.”

And yet, after working with the UN, Aminata found her voice and started to tell her story – “a great responsibility,” as she describes it. But it was the traumatic birth of her daughter that inspired her to push for the biggest change of all.

Realising that neither her or her daughter would have survived if she had still been in Sierra Leone, Aminata set up her foundation to tackle the maternal mortality rate in her home country. Two years later, the foundation has saved over 1,000 mothers and babies.

“I can’t go back and change my story,” says Aminata. “But I can change what is happening in Sierra Leone.”

Watch more of Aminata’s story at SBS Dateline. You can find out more about her work at https://aminatamaternalfoundation.org/

Kate Toon: A personal change that doesn’t compromise your personality

Entrepreneur Kate Toon’s story of change was also personal. The copywriter had come to the realisation that agency life wasn’t for her and she wanted to change and become her own boss – but on her terms, not those of the stereotypical entrepreneur. “I wasn’t going to sacrifice my wellbeing for my business,” says Kate.

Setting up from a hut in the bottom of her garden, Kate quickly identified what her core strengths were. “I’m not David Ogilvy,” she says. “My super powers are more mundane: I’m very good at managing my time and I have boundless enthusiasm.”

Kate’s other significant change was to bring her personality to her work. This meant offering honesty to clients, sharing her highs and her lows, as well as being determined to speak in her own voice when it came to building her business.

“I didn’t want to be vanilla. Not everybody has to like you, that’s ok. That’s been my biggest change – embracing who I am.”

See more of Kate’s super powers at https://www.katetooncopywriter.com.au/

Andrew Simpson: Breaking down materials for change using industrial design

Not many people think to try and create a new product out of plastic marine waste and discarded coffee husks. But then not many people have Andrew Simpson’s eye for industrial design. Or, as the founder of Vert Design describes it, “swinging between two processes – the ergonomic and the material.”

Andrew’s interest lies in sustainable technology and how it can be implemented without compromising the design. In this particular story, he was asked if he could find a solution for creating something out of retrieved marine waste that was too expensive to send to landfill.

Andrew was determined to look at the problem differently. Where was the human element to this? How could any product fulfil a demand?

What emerged was a way to mould the plastic waste into first discs and then jewellery. From there, it was about refining the detail to make the cuffs a viable product.

Not content with turning marine waste into fashion, Andrew then decided to combine the plastic with another waste product, coffee husks, in his own words “just to see what would happen.” After several proofs of concept, a coffee cup made entirely from waste products was born.

Andrew’s change is physical, creating products out of waste. But as Andrew says, “It’s about thinking about the material differently – it’s neither good nor bad, it’s just hydrocarbons.”

Discover more of Andrew’s industrial design thinking at http://www.vertdesign.com.au/

Layne Beachley: Adapting and changing minute by minute on the waves

For seven-times world surfing champion Layne Beachley, change was something that she had to content with on a daily basis. “As a surfer, one of my greatest strengths is adaptability,” she told the audience. “My environment changes all the time. Every day I surrender to a force more powerful than me.”

In her talk, there were plenty of parallels with business strategy. As she recounted tackling the Ours wave on Kurnell beach, she described the need to survey and take in information about what was in front of her, to adapt and plan her exit strategy from the wave.

For Layne, much of what she saw in her surfing career is applicable to her life beyond the waves. This means continually releasing yourself from old ways of thinking in order to adapt to change, and to overcome the mental barriers to change.

“Change becomes more intense in our minds than it is physically to do. We overcomplicate it. The one thing we fear is the unknown.”

Discover how the Layne Beachley Foundation provides scholarships to help young Australian women change their lives at https://www.laynebeachleyfoundation.org.au/

Jennifer Vandekreeke: Finding a win-win change on a South Pacific island

As Carnival Cruise Lines Australian Vice President, Jennifer Vandekreeke is used to making decisions that inspire change on a regular basis, but the story she shared took a very human solution to a business problem.

Her company’s cruise capacity had doubled in just five years, but this meant additional pressures on the South Pacific islands in Carnival’s itinery. The most obvious solution was to ask the islands that only allowed cruise ships for 100 days a year to increase the number of tours.

The island of Lifou was one case in point but travelling to the island, the reasons for limiting the ships soon became clear. Tourism was not the only way of life for the islanders – many of them had land and animals that couldn’t be abandoned all year round. And then there was the years of tradition and culture.

Jennifer recalled a conversation with a restaurant owner, Guillaume, who pointed to a tree trunk and said: “These are my ancestors. The leaves are my children.” Or as Jennifer realised, the islanders had been on Lifou for 5,000 years. This wasn’t about earning more money, it was about protecting their culture

Any change for both sides had to be both simple and creative. “We needed to look for win-wins,” said Jennifer.

The solution was to take the best of the culture and work in harmony with the islanders. At a simple level, this involved using local guides to give tourists insight into Lifou’s way of life, respecting the natural environment, and showcasing Lifou’s culture, history and traditional dance for visitors, providing jobs that weren’t present beforehand while preserving the traditionals and nature for future generations.

“The tourism respects an honours the culture rather than trying to change it,” Jennifer told the audience. “The coral reef is even growing back. By working together, cruising is saving the culture.”

Joshua Price: Driving change through tackling unconscious bias

As Director of Innovation for inclusion and diversity consultancy Symmetra, Joshua Price sees first hand the unconscious biases that limit change in the workplace. His approach is to blend research and evidence with a human approach to tackling diversity.

Some of the facts that Joshua laid out made a starkly compelling case for diversity in the workplace, including a Goldman Sachs study that noted that if Australia achieved complete gender diversity it would increase GDP by 11%.

“There is no other area where such a strong business case is so wilfully ignored,” Joshua told the audience.

But people are harder to convince, even when the facts are in front of them. As Joshua noted, facts that you don’t agree with can be ignored, whereas facts you do agree with entrench your position. And that makes it hard to affect real change when there’s a polarisation.

So what’s the solution? Joshua talked about the needs for psychological safe spaces that reduce defensiveness, as well as developing greater levels of feedback, transparency, accountability and, importantly, self-insight.

Encouraging this self insight is particularly important if you’re to challenge the unconscious bias that can hold back change. As Joshua said, “Change is not seen as helpful when you think you’ve already got there.”

Learn more about Josh and Symmetra’s work in diversity inclusion at http://symmetra.com.au/

Tim Smith: How creative design thinking changed neighbourhood playground

Just as we started with a deeply personal story from Aminata about change, our final speaker also showed how that personal drive can lead to a completely different approach to drive change.

Along with his wife, Tim Smith co-founded Play For All Australia, an organisation that delivers sensory experience playgrounds that are inclusive for disabled children. This was born of personal necessity.

Tim and Caroline’s son Marcus is profoundly disabled and Tim described the isolating feeling of taking Marcus to a playground – either his son could reach the edge of the playground but couldn’t play or special equipment was separated from other children.

Tim and Caroline used their background in creative strategy to solve what was a complex problem. After receiving a brief from the local council to build nine playgrounds on a budget that was less than a typical standard playground, the pair went about tackling the problem differently. “We introduced design thinking and diverse minds to introduce disruption into the process,” he told the audience. “It was about asking how do we redefine the problem rather than say it can’t be done.”

By bringing together a group consisting of everybody from parents to graffiti artists and following a design-led creative process, Play For All Australia delivered nine unique, inclusive playgrounds in Sydney on budget.

The theme that ran throughout Tim’s presentation was refusing to accept that change was impossible, bringing different minds to provide fresh perspective to the challenge. Or as Tim put it, “Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

Find out more about Tim and Caroline’s work to create an inclusive world of play at https://www.playforall.com.au/

A unique, personal take on change

The stories on the night ranged from the individual to ideas that had an impact on a national level. But all started from somewhere deeply personal and grew out of a mindset that approached the problem with a different way of thinking.

Everybody had a unique story to tell that inspired a fresh way of approaching change. As the title of the evening stated, these were ideas worth sharing.

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