Ethos X Meaning 2017

Now in its sixth year, Meaning is a conference that connects and inspires the people who believe in better business. This year's conference, which is held annually in Brighton, is being curated by author and broadcaster Mark Stevenson, and Ethos Magazine is the official media partner. Lucy Chesters spoke to Meaning conference director, Louise Ash to find out more about this year's event...

Ethos X Meaning 2017

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Take us back to the beginning – where did the idea for Meaning come from? And how did you put together the first conference?

Meaning was created by business transformation consultancy NixonMcInnes, a democratically run business with radically transparent practices like open board seats and open-book accounting. At NixonMcInnes, we were constantly testing out new ways of working and operating. Meaning conference was born out of a need to create a community around progressive business thinking and to share stories of what happens when business is brave enough to act differently. We invited entrepreneurs, innovators, artists and politicians to confront us with bold visions and new ways of working that weren’t afraid to disrupt the status quo.

With 2017’s conference being Meaning’s sixth, what do you hope to achieve with this year’s edition compared to previous years?

Under the guest directorship of our friend Mark Stevenson, the 2017 edition will bring a much-needed injection of optimism. The guests and stories that we’re bringing together this year are the proof that our vision goes way beyond theory or wishful thinking. Brilliant stuff is happening! For example, there’s Fairphone, with its bold challenge to the consumer electronics industry to consider humanity and planet above profit. We’re super excited to have Tessa Wernink – one of Fairphone’s founders – speaking this year.

From a business point of view, how much stock do you place in a physical conference compared to web seminars, Skype seminars etc.?

Meaning exists to create a community of purpose-driven people so they can learn from each other, inspire each other and make magic happen together. Social tools and virtual events have their place for sure – but nothing beats sitting down and breaking bread together over a challenging concept or the discussion of a new idea.

Of course there’s a carbon impact of bringing people together from all over the world, and that’s something we take very seriously at Meaning. We track participant travel, keep waste to an absolute minimum, and offset what we can’t avoid. On balance, we think the special atmosphere and opportunity that’s created is worth it.

What are the most rewarding things about hosting the Meaning?

We always get great feedback when we ask people about their experience of the event; but for me it’s the personal stories of change that make it all worthwhile. So many attendees have gone on to do important work together and many cite Meaning as having changed the course of their careers. I think that’s really cool!

Are there plans to eventually host Meaning conferences or additional talks outside of Brighton?

Well without wanting to spoil the surprise, we are looking at venues for a Bristol event next year and possibly Edinburgh too. Watch this space…

Year on year, what seems to be the most popular aspect of the Meaning conference itself?

I think participants thrive on the bold ideas that they hear; ideas that aren’t necessarily being discussed in the mainstream. Ideas like self-management, platform co-operativism and universal basic income. They hear from pioneers who are making bold moves and it provokes them to think differently about their own work or organisation.

Which speakers have had a lasting impression on you? And who was been the most well-received by the Meaning conference attendees?

I’ve got so many favourites but Mark Stevenson really stands out, which is why we’ve asked him back to help curate and host this year’s event. His talk in 2014 blew all our minds. I think it was because of the clarity with which he gets you to see what fundamental systemic shifts will come because of new technology. The way he looks at the future makes me feel frightened, hopeful and excited in equal measure.

And a couple of years back we were fortunate enough to hear from Jos de Blok, the founder of Buurtzorg, which is a Dutch community healthcare provider. The way it is organised around the principles of empowerment, trust and quality with virtually no management structure is truly inspiring and encouraging. His talk really highlighted for me the personal attributes that are required to work collaboratively for a better world.

Who would you like to have speak at Meaning in the future? Either individuals, or representatives of certain sectors.

That’s easy. Ricardo Semler is my progressive business hero. His company is one of the largest in Brazil and is run on democratic employee-centric principles. He literally wrote the book on corporate re-engineering! And more recently he’s turning his attention to the school system which is really exciting. Schools are still geared up for the industrial age and desperately need reinventing, it would be amazing to have him as a guest director. (If any of your readers have a connection there I’d love to hear from them!)

Who or what could you not successfully host Meaning without?

The brilliant community of passionate people who come back year after year and help spread the word through their networks! Meaning is a break-even project so selling tickets is essential for making it happen. We’re so grateful that people value Meaning and enable us to keep going and increasing the impact.

What are you most looking forward to with this year’s event?

This year we’ll be meeting Jurriën Mentink. He’s a resident of a Humanitas care home for the elderly in Utrecht in The Netherlands. Except he’s not elderly, he’s only 23 years old. At Humanitas care homes, students live in for free in exchange for spending time with the elderly residents. Jurriën’s experience of living in this way has had a huge impact on him and changed the course of his life. It’s going to be wonderful to learn more about that and the whole idea of slowing down to take a new perspective.

Going forward, what are the hopes for Meaning in years to come?

I suppose the ultimate hope is that the world of business helps create a more humane and sustainable society for all, and that Meaning doesn’t really need to happen anymore. Then we can just turn it into a celebration event with more time for cocktails and laughs! But until then we need to keep highlighting the successes and the innovations and show people that a different way is possible – and almost certainly better.


Meaning takes place in Brighton on Thursday 16 November 2017. Early-bird tickets are on sale now at £190 +VAT. Find out more about Meaning 2017, and how to get tickets at

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