Tag Archives: Thomas Dillon

The Big Debate: taking people out of their comfort zones

On Monday I attended The Big Debate, an event organised by Birmingham City University with The NEC Group and the Birmingham Post that tasked itself with the question “Can the Midlands’ creative industries revolutionise the UK economy?”

The question itself became less interesting to me than the reaction to the debate from the social media scene in Birmingham. That Twitter stream of reaction is stored for posterity here, and to me the themes running through it appeared to run along the lines of ‘Same old stuff’; ‘Stop talking about it and just do it already’; and ‘You don’t get it’.

I’ve experienced the same frustration myself at many media conferences. As Pete Ashton put it so well: JFDI.

But this was not a media conference: it was a conference for the people in industry who don’t get it, who can’t do it already, and to whom this is still very new stuff indeed.

Beyond the echo chamber

Listen, for example, to Thomas Dillon the “Chairman of Creative Advantage Fund, Europe’s first public venture capital fund for the creative industries,” as he says that “one of my proudest achievements was when The Pirate Bay defendents were convicted in April this year”.

As we say on the Internet: WTF?

Then look, for example, at one of the list of actions that came out of the conference itself: ‘more networking events please’.

“More?” We can’t move for meetups and unconferences in this city. Or is that just us?

The Big Debate was about moving people out of their comfort zones and mixing them up with people from other fields – and maybe exposing parts of the region’s creative industry that we aren’t used to seeing, like the Jewellery Quarter, like the industries where Facebook is banned at work.

So yes, there are people in this region who do think that the 3 Strikes concept is a good one; and clearly there are people who are not so plugged in as to be spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing which social media networking event to attend that week.

There are also, I discovered, people who feel excluded from the ‘Birmingham clique’.

And there are people in the room who have not read We Think. And there are people who think social media is a “channel” to sell things. (And if the history of Web 1.0 is any guide, it may well become that).

So getting them to listen to Charles Leadbeater (who, by the way, was a great speaker and a credit to the ambition of the organisers) say that they should make Birmingham “a home for pirates” is important.

Likewise, understanding why they might disagree with Leadbeater is important too, because if you want to persuade these people to do the right things to support creative media, then you have to make the most effective argument, which means listening.

Ultimately the whole event is an exercise of power. Use your vote – have a voice – because if you don’t, and let ignorance exercise power unchallenged, then you can’t complain when the other side does something you don’t like.


Because ultimately action will come out of The Big Debate – glacier-like, not at the pace we would like, but hopefully in the right direction. The results of the conversations, I’m told, will be used with external funding agencies to review priorities moving forward; within Birmingham City University to inform what it does; it will be used with research centres; and with meetings with Birmingham City Council.

The organisers could have been better at communicating all of this – it wasn’t clear during the event – but there it is.

Likewise, the event could have been more porous: have a Twitterfall on the big screen so those participating from afar could do so genuinely. Use facilitators to show the people on the tables who don’t use Twitter how it can be genuinely conversational and productive rather than just another channel or waste of time. Have a genuinely conversational web presence.

(That said, I got to speak to people who weren’t on Twitter, which is always useful. And a physical meeting space can be just as levelling as social media, when done right.)

That’s all for next year. For now, we throw in our opinions, and we wait for the lumbering behemoths to squint and read what has been written, and then we go off and JFDI anyway.

UPDATE: Dave Harte has written a wonderful post busting the myths propagated at the event (I particularly like no.2).