Brown bags and the power of listening Posted at 0:00, Mon, 17 August 2015 in Industry Insights

MitchelLake has always hosted interesting events. In fact, we nurture our ecosystem perhaps a little too much at times. Where our competitors are stalking through LinkedIn or cold calling their clients, we’re much more likely to be kicking back with a beer at our Beertech event or tucking into a breakfast wrap in the crowd while we listen to a couple of our mates talk about growing their fintech startups in Melbourne.

But recently we’ve changed our approach from the ephemeral to the cerebral. Over the past month we’ve been honing our skills as hosts of brown bag lunches in our office where we’ve been entertained by some of the sharpest minds and most passionate voices in Melbourne’s Digital landscape. We’ve been lucky enough to borrow time from probably Australia’s leading API evangelist, certainly one of its best and most well-rounded analytics minds, a world leader in UX / UI /Human Centred Design and an astrophysicist-turned-astronomer.

For the price of a sandwich
We spend $70 on a plate of amazing sandwiches from Mason Dixon and open our boardroom up to our amazing guests. We don’t give them guidelines, we don’t tell them what we want to hear or request a slideshow. We just provide an open, interested and engaged group of intelligent minds and a blank canvas. From our point of view these lunches are a rare opportunity for our team to get together in a stress-free environment where we can just learn. It’s like a lecture but about things we’re interested in and from people we respect!

For an hour of their time
We have learnt so much and been inspired by some great people. But what I’ve really been surprised by is that our speakers have benefited perhaps more than we have from this collaboration. Let me give you some examples of the benefits they’ve shared with me afterwards:

− In a group dynamic there are so many more questions and challenges to the status quo – our speakers have left generally feeling invigorated and with a fresh set of eyes.
− Rather than telling their story to one person they’re immediately multiplying their audience amongst people who will remember them and who can crystallise career opportunities for them.
− They benefit from the experience of speaking in front of a group about things they’re passionate about.
− Beyond career interests our speakers often leave with a sense of renewed pride and confidence that they’re making an impact.

So are we just tooting our own horn?
Of course not. I genuinely think collaboration is key to Australia becoming the tech and innovation hub which is its destiny. And don’t get me started on why we need to set our differences aside across the world and just listen to each other. Just open up with honesty and sincerity and you’ll be amazed what you can learn. You’ll also be amazed at how much listening can do for the speaker.

Where once we were spurred on by competition in a world where knowledge was the currency and the power, we’re now entering a new economy. Knowledge is easy and readily available – seriously there’s so much free knowledge out there we’re drowning in it. The new source of power is imagination. That’s something you can’t steal or acquire over a sandwich.

My overriding message goes back to my hippie roots. We should be doing the business version of lighting a bonfire and singing kumbaya. We should be sharing and encouraging each other and finding the best in each other. Only by doing that, in my opinion, will we get ahead as a country and as a technology and innovation-led community.

To quote a guy who knows a thing or two about listening and the power of words,David Amerland, “collaboration is the new competition”.