Max Park, our Creative Access intern at Film Four, reports on the Huffington Post’s Future of Work Conference
You know you’re in for something special when the President and Editor-in-Chief of a Pulitzer-Prize winning blog and one of the most influential women in the world walks in to the room. Arianna Huffington instantly lit up the foyer of Lancaster House last Thursday, as co-host of the Future of Work conference, which marked the first anniversary of the World Post, a joint venture with Huffington and billionaire financier Nicolas Berggruen. The conference’s agenda was to not only explore the impact of a rapidly changing world on the workforce, but to create solutions to its potential problems.
Since she published her book Thrive last year, Huffington has been doing the rounds promoting her manifesto – what she calls the ‘third metric’ of success. Her wake-up call came in 2007 when she collapsed and hit her head on her desk, due to fatigue and exhaustion. As she was lying on the floor of her home office in a pool of her own blood, she asked herself what success was. By society’s definition, success meant being rich and powerful and she certainly ticked those boxes. However, by any ‘sane’ definition of success, as she calls it, she was failing – hard.
So the two-day conference focused on the reconfiguration of contemporary work life. Instead of being proud of working late at the office or feeling guilty of taking days off, putting our personal health and wellbeing first was emphasised. Huffington stressed the importance of sleep – she frequently tells women to ‘sleep their way to the top’ – and meditation. Now this is probably the point that would raise most eyebrows. I wasn’t so convinced at first. Or rather, I was aware of its benefits but questioned the realistic feasibility of finding even thirty minutes a day to essentially just close your eyes and sit still. But Huffington assured the audience that meditation wasn’t some ‘New Age, California thing’.
The New York Times reporter, David Gelles, in particular stressed that meditation could be easily incorporated into everyday life. The commute to work for most Londoners, for example, could be spent meditating. Having renowned scientists in the field, such as Mark Williams, Professor of Clinical Psychology at Oxford, provided a scientific basis for the other panellist’s experiences.
The general feeling during the conference was that we, as a workforce and as a society, should lean back, countering Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s movement to ‘lean in’, which encourages women to adopt traditionally masculine traits at work – outspokenness, aggression, and credit-taking. Instead, mindful leadership was the order of the day. That quality of being measured, introspective, reflective, and compassionate. Mindfulness and switching technology off after a certain point during the day seemed to be the answer to the tech-fuelled, hyper-busy, anxiety-filled world that we now live in and the wider debate of the conference – is technology a force for good or evil?
The executive chairman of Google thinks that technology is great of course. Eric Schmidt argued that society’s most pressing issues could not be solved without technology, citing Google’s plan to train one million Europeans in digital services by 2016, alleviating the continent’s unemployment problem. The most salient point of the conference was that mankind was at a critical crossroad in terms of defining the future role of technology. We can allow it to take over our lives one unanswered email or job displaced by automation at a time or exploit technology to enrich our lives.
The conference was a forum for the most prolific opinion leaders, politicians, and scientists of our time. The illustrious guest list included Eric Schmidt, Walter Isaacson, David Gergen, Ed Vaizy, and the French Minister of Digital Affairs, Axelle Lemaire – a testament to Arianna Huffington’s unofficial title as the world’s best connected woman. However, one glaring omission was the severe lack of BAME panellists, which of course the World Post isn’t necessarily to blame.
It’s a wider, deeply entrenched issue that most of the English-speaking world’s most powerful movers and shakers are white. Professor Ngaire Woods, Dean of the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford, stressed the importance of diversity in the workforce and for elected officials to be truly representative of society. So it was actually a fantastic opportunity for us at Creative Access as (hopefully) the next generation of opinion leaders to have access to this intellectually stimulating display of knowledge and debate.