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Powering up at OffGrid

Last week a coterie of Crafties wound their way across the causeway of the River Blackwater to Osea Island, to attend the latest instalment of OffGrid Sessions. A self-described ‘independent ideas festival,’ the event aims to bring together a diverse range of expert perspectives to explore some of the most pressing issues of our time. The latest incarnation certainly lived up to that billing, featuring talks from philosophers, journalists, designers, games-makers and barbers to name but a few.

The most popular conversational refrain of the event went something like: ‘this your first time? Yeah it’s not like anything else I’ve been to, it’s really difficult to describe to people who haven’t been before.’ A quick scan of the website however reveals a host of attempts to do just that, with reviews ranging from ‘spiritual’ to ‘spectacular.’ Perhaps the best summary is from the Creative Director of Beavertown, who described OffGrid as a “mecca for the creative mind …plus there is swimming in the sea.”

Apart from salty hair and a new religion, what else did we take away from this year’s event?

Parallel lives

One of the great benefits of learning about work from outside of your own industry is that it can lead to new ways of thinking about the problems you face in your day-to-day life. A common topic of debate within advertising, short-termism was also highlighted as a root cause of the challenges facing the worlds of business and government. The way that we articulate and evaluate value in these two systems is disconnected from the realities of value creation, and this has profound impacts for how we think about improving operations in these two fields.

While it was heartening to hear that other industries are facing challenges similar to our own, this also raises the thorny question of how to deal with a problem that is so prolific. In one session a debate sparked up around whether we should seek to reform dysfunctional systems from within, or strike out and build better ones from the ground up. Whilst the answers to such big questions were unsurprisingly not arrived at over the course of two days, it served as a reminder to keep an eye on the great work being done in other fields, as the solutions to our problems so often don’t come from within.

The best of both worlds

A recurring theme throughout was the relentless march of technology, and how this is impacting creativity. Valid concerns were raised about our approach to education focusing on the former at the expense of the latter, and even then not very effectively, and our surrendering of our uniquely human powers of imagination and ingenuity to our algorithmic overlords.

However, there were also more optimistic voices arguing that the two need not be at odds with each other, and in fact can often work in harmony. The meteoric rise of the gaming industry, from a teenage pastime to the crown jewel of the entertainment industry, is testament to the power of a marriage of the two spheres. Unlike our silicon-based brethren, we should resist the urge to think in binary. It shouldn’t be a case of ‘physical or virtual,’ ‘traditional or digital,’ ‘offline vs online,’ the brightest future surely lies in what can be achieved when the two work together.

Roll up your sleeves

What was abundantly clear listening to each talk was that change doesn't just happen by itself. Our language is full of sayings to this effect - whether you prefer to think about building Rome or journeying a thousand miles, this is something that we are perhaps guilty of passively accepting without trying to act on.

Many of the speakers at OffGrid were testament to what can be achieved from humble or haphazard beginnings. Each was at a different point in their journey, with the challenges and uncertainty of building something from the ground up all too real for some, and an amusing anecdote from the distant past for others. These experiences were a reminder that grit and determination are indispensable qualities in bringing about change. This is a challenging thought, but the pay-offs on display from this perseverance were universally inspiring.

Perhaps guilty of being overly cerebral at times, one piece of advice felt like it had agency strategists firmly in its crosshairs. To paraphrase: ‘someone is already doing the cool thing that you’re thinking about, so don’t worry about having to start from scratch, get out there, find them, and get going!’

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