Thinking BIG with ThinkNation 2016

The stage at the Gulbenkian

This year Ideas Test was one of the sponsors of ThinkNation’s 2016 event. Jon Pratty, our Creative Network Producer, attended the event and our intern Jade went to review the day.

2016 has been an eventful year so it was no surprise that ThinkNation’s BIG Questions were both incredibly topical and relevant. The programme of events, hosted by Rick Edwards, had a loose structure of five sessions sandwiched between an opening performance from Mark Murphy and a wrap up from Rick. Session One focused on artificial intelligence; Session two delved into the debate on extraterrestrial life; Session Three reasoned with radical life extension; Session Four dealt with the development of drones and Session Five finished with an interactive and in-depth discussion on hackers. The day ended with closing comments from organiser Lizzie Hodgson and a celebratory photo of all the incredible people involved.

Group of people on the stage
Photo by Jon Pratty

Audience questions were encouraged at the end of each session, either vocally, on twitter (via the hashtag #TN2016) or through the WhatsApp group set up for the event. ThinkNation thrives on the increasing influence of the digital sector, weaving impressive technology into all parts of the programme. Under the guidance of Howard Griffin, The Kent School of Architecture had developed a digitised set for the event using some incredibly impressive projection mapping. Primarily the event encourages young people, thought leaders and creatives to come together to delve into deep discussions. It’s an inclusive space that hopes to encourage and inspire others, further cementing ThinkNation’s position as a pioneer in providing a platform for different perspectives.

Mark Murphy’s opening performance “From Shed to Space” was an early crowdpleaser. For one, his presentation included multiple photos of his dog Meg in a variety of cute, comical costumes. (This obviously was not the most important point of his talk but it was certainly a talking point). However the real highlight, quite literally, was Mark’s volunteer safely soaring skyward – a moment captured clearest in the images below!

Woman in harness suspended in the air

Woman in harness and her silhouette
Photos by Jon Pratty

Aerial tricks aside, Mark Murphy’s talk demonstrated the need to focus on the small steps in order to actually achieve the bigger feats later. Having a place to work – whether that’s a desk, a room or in his case a shed – is important and while big dreams are delightful, never underestimate the benefit of completing small challenges first. Mark left us with this advice: focus on the process, not the prize.

Since the sessions were all filmed fantastically by Spark Film Production, it seems a little unnecessary to write a detailed review of each talk when you’ll be able to watch them all on ThinkNation’s website soon. There were a huge number of highlights however, including a surprisingly emotive Emoji Poem by the ever eloquent Dan Simpson and Dr Alan Penny’s abundance of knowledge on aliens, which was eclipsed only by the things he didn’t know (namely next week’s lottery numbers). The most electrifying talk arguably came from Session Five – Hackers: Heroes or Zeroes – in which Jake Davis gave a brilliant talk followed by a live hacking demonstration. Jake’s talk might even have been the auditorium’s favourite talk of the day had Kent Police’s Superintendent Mat Newton (who looks a little disapproving in the photo below!) not been present.

Man on stage presenting to an audience

Slideshow presentation on stage Photos by Jon Pratty

Nevertheless, having young people like Jake Davis, Billie Sequeira, Chih Yu, Hollie-Mae Simmonds, Wenna Pei, Alejandra Traspas, Brandon Relph and Poets vs MCs sharing the stage with more experienced speakers might seem risky on paper, but in reality it was a testament to how hard everyone worked on both the preparation and deliverance of their talk. To be on par with speakers as confident, as intelligent and as experienced as Kenneth Cukier and Ruth Blakeley is a real feat, and each and every young person held their own. Rick Edwards graciously posed questions to each of the speakers equally and was on hand to add in some much welcomed brevity in between. It is hard to imagine anyone else moderating the event as well as Rick does, although if Session One speaker Calum Chace is correct, there’ll be robots after Rick’s job before we know it.

As one of the sponsors of the event, Ideas Test already had a vested interest in ThinkNation this year but it was equally important for us to support the three special guest speakers, all of whom were young people already involved in working Ideas Test. Patrick Cantellow, Ash Peters and Dani Osoba gave three very different speeches but the unifying undercurrent was their assertion that being involved, being represented is important. It’s always rewarding to hear about the positive influence Ideas Test has, but to see the incredibly emotive impact the final three speakers imparted was a worthwhile way to end the day. It’s difficult to adequately sum up an event as thought-provoking as ThinkNation was, but if there’s one take away message, perhaps it’s this:

Discussions are important. How we talk about young people, how we talk about the marginalised or the majority – all of this shapes the way the we view the world. The more we discuss topics and talk about the tough stuff, the greater we can develop our understanding. Definitions aren’t definitive but they can give us direction.

The best legacy ThinkNation 2016 can create is conversation. The conversations that started at this event need to continue and they will do, thanks to all the young people involved with ThinkNation both on and off the stage. A prime example of this is Dani Osoba who not only gave a tremendous talk on the importance of female representation in technology, but is also one of Ideas Test’s Young Reviewers. Her review of the ThinkNation process, from planning to performance, can be found here!

If you’re interested in what ThinkNation does, be sure to check out their website and find them on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube too.