This year we welcome back three very special speakers and thinkers from FFF 2018: entrepreneur Dhiraj Mukherjee, author and technologist Pete Trainor and marketer and innovator Matteo Atti.
Dhiraj Mukherjee (UK)
Dhiraj Mukherjee (UK)
Dhiraj Mukherjee is an experienced digital business executive and entrepreneur with a proven track record in both corporate and start-up environments.
Recognised by the Financial Times as one of Europe’s Top 50 technology entrepreneurs in 2015, he was previously Head of Banking Innovation at Virgin Money. In 2000, Dhiraj co-founded Shazam Entertainment, the world’s first mobile phone-based music recognition service (sold to Apple for a reported $400M).
Over the course of his career, he has held senior roles in media & entertainment, consulting and the charity sector. Dhiraj is also an active angel investor, and speaks regularly at conferences on innovation, entrepreneurship and emerging technology.
About a year ago I was contacted by the organisers of the Fast Forward Forum, to see if I wanted to speak at their inaugural event in St Tropez. It was ambiguous, to say the least—many unanswered questions, and no clearly defined brief—nothing in terms of a theme or objectives. Just a request to come out to France and talk about something I’m professionally passionate about. It made me nervous. I’m a control-freak. I like to know what I’m signing up for when I’m invited to speak at an event, not to be awkward or complicated, but because I want to do the very best job possible for organisers.
‘Fast Forward’ 5 months since the event, and after agreeing to go on the journey, I’m looking back fondly on an experience that helped me grow not just as a speaker, but as a person. The whole adventure and the people I met on the way made me realise that it’s the times when I am far outside my comfort zone that I experience myself the most. The further I get away from myself, the more challenging it is. It turns out that not being in your comfort zone is actually great fun. It wasn’t that there was no structure to the event, it was that it wants to be something new, something different, something more akin to a festival-of-thinking than a conference of presentations.
I’ve never really a lot of value on my unstructured thinking, I always assumed people were buying my structure, so stepping outside of my comfort zone, taking those unsure steps, and throwing myself at this new challenge, I discovered a smile I didn't know I had and uncovered feelings that I didn't realise existed… It’s been and continues to be an enriching experience.
At its heart, Fast Forward Forum is all about people. People using the power of communication in a myriad of ways, both simple and extraordinary. This can be a combination of many things — to help redistribute power, give agency to people, help people make more informed decisions, create ways for people to connect, participate, address issues like health or creativity. It’s a bridge between different modes of thinking from all the various attendees, who on the surface conflict in many ways, but underneath all share the same drive to leave the world in a slightly better place than when they found it.
At the end of each session there is an opportunity for everyone to input, discuss, feedback, even criticise what has been said. It reminded me that contained within every effort, every step, and every so-called failure draws us all closer to our goal — to broaden our knowledge and keep progressing forward. Nothing is wasted. No attempt has been in vain. Even when the feedback comes (and trust me it can be brutally honest), it’s done in the spirit of progress. Building these connections with people, feedback, discussion and candour is the heartbeat of the Forum and something that works in surprising ways.
I spent a lot of time sitting on my own, thinking about each session, and also on the feedback I received from my session. This quote by Lao Tzu kept popping into my head on many of those occasions as a reminder to allow the process of life to unfold: “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them — that only creates sorrow. Let reality be a reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” Which is to say, if you do decide to come into this experience at the Fast Forward Forum, the only way to do it is to accept that this is not something you have never done before, regardless of age, seniority, or perceived wisdom, and embrace that uncertainty. Wear it like a blanket.
Heimo reminded us that it is our responses to life are paramount to the level of personal growth we undertake. Words so wise when applied in the context of this event. Most people thrive in ideal situations, although this does not test one’s character. Over those few days in a safe environment, with good food, good scenery, and outstanding people, something profound started to occur— I began to let go, and embrace a situation that I had perceived to be unideal. As it all unfolds you begin to trust in that process of uncertainty. To realise that actually, chaos can be a beautiful thing. Like any journey, we all have the intention to reach one’s destination, which is typically heralded by a goal or a plan, and I think we’re all smart enough to realise that you can’t anticipate the rough waters ahead. That is, we know we might have to sail our boat in uncharted waters to reach your final destination.
Of course, you could go to one of the many other conferences across the world, and sit in a room with a really fantastic presenter, talking about how they conquered adversity or discovered a new formula for success. But sometimes familiarity keeps you safe and frequently stuck and stagnant. Most people are quite content to sail through life impervious to their potential. They would instead not take risks in the event the outcome does not emerge as they hoped for. If you are one of those people, then perhaps a trip to the Fast Forward Forum is not for you. But if you are someone willing to embrace change, do something unexpected, then it’s possible that these few days will give you much more than you’ve experienced before.
Oh, and before I forget, you’ll laugh a lot -- you have to laugh in these awkward, unusual situations, it’s part of the coping mechanism, and we definitely had a lot of fun.
What the Fast Forward experience gives you is a group of like-minded people who understand you’ll need support one day, and are all there to be that support when you get lost, but also upon leaving the event itself, you start to understand that we’re all on the same uncharted journey and that we’ve all experienced uncertainty. It just gets more comfortable when it’s done together.
That’s why I’m proud to be an Ambassador for the Forum. Because I’m proud of what we achieved last year, and I’m confident the next Fast Forward Forum will only be more significant, better, more uncomfortable and more rewarding. I’m so pleased to be one of the many pillars that hold up the roof for all the attendees to shelter under in the future. See you in Venice.
What do you ask yourself when you look for innovation? Where to start to do things you have never done before?
Ask people you don’t know. People you trust are the best in their fields. Listen to their ideas. Listen to their thoughts. Their concerns. Their hopes.
Distil it and bring it into a new scenario – what does it look like now, under a different light, a different paradigm?
The Fast Forward Forum is a place for the ideas you were not looking for, and that would have not happened otherwise. It is a moment to open your ears and let your brain roam free into a pool of colourful, floating thoughts, that mix incessantly.
Meet people hand-picked for their energy and their willingness to look at the world with fresh eyes to change it for the better.
Be ready to expose your opinions, don’t play it safe.
Take back your time’s worth in ideas, and a new network of peopelt o develop them after the forum ends.
And why not – splash in a real pool, enjoy a glass and listen to opera while you’re there!