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I genuinely don’t know where to start. Google Zeitgeist is simply the premier event on the Calendar bar none. It is a collection of amazing brains and characters (me excluded of course) and hugely influential businessmen, politicians and this year revolutionists!
We started with Politics and Niall Ferguson who painted very eloquently and fluently a view of the economic crisis we are in. He basically highlighted a few key issues about our current financial issues in the Eurozone. Click Here to watch
1. We have complete financial inter-dependencies but very few political
2. The politicians have chosen procrastination as a strategy
3. None of the major financial leaders have learnt from the crashes of the past
4. The Germans work the least of everyone in the Eurozone and are always on holiday
As an aside he was an amazing speaker and everyone in the crowd was raptured by what he had to say, but the end result of it was that we are in some trouble but at a point where we could move towards recovery but not without some decisive action and he fears that not enough of that is actually occurring.
Greece – George Papandreu – Ex Prime Minister of Greece
See the whole video here
George was both positive about what Greece held and yet concerned about the mis-management of the country. I believe that he was overly positive about the mindset of the population when it comes to work, claiming Greece is the hardest working country in the Eurozone – ummm not so sure. I have Cypriot inlaws and they dont describe a country being run with sweat, blood and tears!
Sir Martin Sorrell had us all reconsidering everything we had just heard by saying that everything in life was cyclical and that we should basically ‘get over it and move on!’ He explained that the world had changed and that growth was no longer from the usual suspects and we had to look to RApple Russia and China with the example that Apple was selling 20% of its products to China.
Enough about politics – lets talk about the fact that 100 thick people working together is better than 100 clever people not working together! The afternoon was an amazing demonstration of clever people talking and inspiring you to think. Matt Ridley explained that to make a mouse we have thousand of people working together from the oil to the plastic to the factory and yet no one knows how to make a mouse, they know only their bit.
Dan Ariely talked about cheating and the complex inter relations between how we act and our moral code. They noted that people who had been asked to remember the ten commandments and then given a cheating experiment, almost no one did! Click here for the whole video however he explains that the world has a few big cheaters, many many little cheaters. He discovered that when people were given the opportunity to cheat for something one step removed from cash ie for a token you then change for a dollar, people were a lot more comfortable lying. He used the analogy of taking a pencil from work – you would take a pencil but would you take 50cents from the petty cash? Fascinating examples based around how we justify actions.
He was such a truly inspiring speaker – definitely watch the video on this one. The final suggestion is that we should confess regularly as it resets our moral compass!
My favourite presentation of the whole event was Ranulph Fiennes, truly brilliant presentation that showed what a legend the man is, how he has overcome so many problems, health challenges and pushing his body to the extreme. Watch his video here, it is worth 20 minutes of your life. Click here to watch it. He showed incredible courage and tenacity and that age should not slow us down, he was about to head off on another expedition and deliver yet another record ( and beat the Norwegians!). The class line of the presentation was when he described them listening to the radio one minute a day and they heard that Britain had gone to war. When he asked his colleague with who – ‘Charlie replied – Oh I did not catch that – he goes on to say that in the following week when the radio refused to work they argued about who we could have gone to war with..’of course we assumed it was the French!’
This is what I love about Zeitgeist the variety of thoughts and personalities. Steve Redgrave and his achievements or the man who ran 350 miles in one go or 50 marathons across 50 states, these people simply inspire.
That evening we all mingled and discussed the days events. Music from Paloma Faith, Maria Aragon and Ed Sheeran created a spectacular show for us all that evening.
The night ended with a small group in a back room at The Grove. It reminded me of The Breakfast Club as it became a very open and revealing emotional roller coaster of a conversation, I think we all felt that it was a very particular evening and I felt like I got to know a few people that much better than usual. That said it kept us up until 4am which was not ideal although par for the course!
The second day started with a run along the canal, a beautiful and peaceful 30 minutes of sweating, dying and swearing not to drink again! The day contained some seriously interesting tech presentations, my favourite was from Boston technologies and their Big Dog. You want to see something pretty scary then watch this video. One of the lead scientists talked us through the work they are doing on robotic intelligence. Watch here.
The incredible power of robots was a theme that afternoon with the leap forwards in medical robotic surgery being highlighted alongside the above. It does leave you wondering where this all leads, the Google self drive car, robots etc show us a society that is moving towards a world of cyber beings and I believe sooner than anyone thinks. As if we did not need more evidence then Google demonstrated their new Google Glasses where basically a simple device worn like glasses becomes your entire technical needs for photos, email, maps, etc. Larry kindly presented those for us!
Take a look at this video here.
Larry talked about how he sees the world with Eric Schmidt and took questions from the audience. He is a hugely smart guy if not the all round entertainer when it comes to these stage events and so although very interesting I think we were really by now all waiting for the final act. Bill Clinton.
Bill came on and the first thing that struck me was how much older he was in the flesh or perhaps than I remember him, still tall and big but nt quite the force you might imagine. He started slowly, talking about his work and foundation in a very measured and thoughtful way but he started to wind up in the last ten minutes or so. You started to get glimpses of that steal and energy he was famous for and a passion that clearly is still there. It was an incredible stage, to have watched this man on television and then have him just a few feet away was a privilege and one only Google is able to deliver in this special annual event.
The whole event was as ever slick, well organised and inspiring. I thought this year it was more serious but it had depth and made you think hard about the world we live in, that is what made this one of the most interesting I have been to. The event is unsurpassed by anything else around and I am grateful to have been invited.
There was more passion from the speakers and less from the audience compared to the EMEA version, that was my overriding impression. I expected more whooping but instead found a very reserved audience.
So I missed the first day, by all accounts a roller coaster of a day where the economists depressed everyone and Ted Turner inspired everyone. I arrived in time for dinner and Cirque de Soleil. I was surprised how little enthusiasm there was for the show, people were clapping politely when they should have been going crazy, the Europeans were far more excitable, I thought it was meant to be the other way round! That theme of restraint continued into the next day except for Geoffrey Canada – anyone heard of this guy? No probably not in EMEA, he is a US inspiration, he is a social activist and educator who campaigns for better education for the ethnic minorities with a focus on Harlem.
Geoffrey was one of the best speakers, most entertaining, intelligent and passionate speakers I have seen for some time. I have been to 5 zeitgeist and it was the first time there was a standing ovation, it felt strange for me, a bit like the judges getting up and down for X factor but he deserved it, look him up, there are not many presenters like him.
The crowd did not ask questions, there were limited interactions, in europe they are queuing up, to be fair mainly spanish, Italian opinionated people happy to tackle anything, perhaps the Americans are more respectful and don’t want to challenge everything, the Europeans love it! This was what surprised me the most.
Geoffrey was great. Later in the day Lance Armstrong was on stage, he clearly is an inspiration, I found him a little dull if I am honest, he sparked up when he talked about cycling, part from that it all felt a little emotionless for me, it’s a personal thing but I can’t help but feel when i see famous sportsmen that i want to hear about amazing anecdotes about their sport not their website, albeit a worthy cause. By the way he reconfirmed that he never took performance enhancing drugs, I believe him.
One man who was very impressive was the CEO of Verizon. He runs a company of 120billion dollars and employs 220k people! That is a staggering number of people to be responsible for, he was impressive, very impressive. The shame of the session was he was subjected to banal questions that came from a very subjective perspective. One man stood up and recounted how his wife waded through bills and would it not be easier to simplify the process? To be fair to him, he answered diligently. He was clearly a man who ran a serious business, he joked with Eric Schmidt of Google with a kind of ‘ I know you are big and powerful and Google, but my company is big stuff even against your operation, kind of way.’ That session ended with one man banging on about his contract and how T-mobile did it differently. At last his patience ran out and he tersely replied – we are not T-mobile and shut him down like the annoying man that he was. There is only so much of that shit you need to listen to. I was amazed at how low level, subjective, experience led the questions were, there was not a single weighty question asked of him..strange. By the way 4g is coming in a serious way for Verizon by end of year.
Will.I.am was brilliant. Simply brilliant, these musicians are now so talented in so many other ways, business people, innovators, entrepreneurs. He was very funny, but clearly was leading the way in how to change the music industry. This is a guy who would be happy to shut out the music label industry. He was joined on stage by the CMO from coke which made it feel a little more dirty to me, he was talking a very purist story, it felt diluted by her intervention.
I have gone on for a while now. I want to end on a more serious note. The CEO of Canter Fitzgerald, Howard Lutnick was invited to talk about he coped with 9/11 and the impact it had on his business. Let’s hear the facts. Honestly I can’t remember them all it was too shocking but roughly it was something like this..650 of 900 members of his team were killed. Because he had always encouraged family and friends to be employed by existing employees it was something like 17 sets of brothers and sisters were killed, he lost his own brother..9 years after the event he was still struggling to deliver his speech without tears. The story was unbelievable, his clients rallied to them, the LA office gave up profits to pay for the families of the dead, he ran the business at cost and gave the rest to the families of the dead. It brought tears to everyone’s eyes, it was incredible. I am glad I was there just for that. Read more here
There were no questions after that session.
I found the content and speakers far more inspirational and interesting than the UK this year, they appeared to come with more passion than in the UK and I found myself addicted to what was going on, the only thing that let things down was the audience.
Finally I found the relentless and ruthless networking quite distasteful, the thousand mile stare as they try to see your badge and decide if you are important or not. One thing you realise is just say you have a UK or EMEA role and they switch off, oh, that little island , no, you are not worth anything to me..it’s painfully transparent.
I think I am one of a few people lucky enough to go to both Zeitgeist conferences. I always enjoy the UK experience but to get to go to the US version is a treat. I was only let into the holy experience because I was in the same hotel anyway for a Board meeting of The Vivaki Nerve Center but it does mean I intend to follow very carefully what goes on.
I find myself working with the US more and more in my role, we do truly live in a global world and in many areas they do indeed lead the digital world, not by far but they do, the sheer number of companies operating means there will be faster development in all things technology. Look at the data space, the number of companies that saw the opportunity in the US vs the UK or Europe is significant, even now EMEA is playing a huge catch up game in that space.
So it is with this background that I am excited to be in the heart of thought leadership in the US and will be tweeting and writing up what I see, albeit just one of the two days. Come back for more as I go through the day.