The Brighton Summit – a narrative told in numbers

And it’s a wrap.

At 5.15pm on the nose last Friday evening, Julie Roff, the President of the Brighton & Hove Chamber of Commerce drew the 2019 Brighton Summit to a close. Number seven in sequence, but number one in delivery, at least in this data storyteller’s opinion. To be fair, I’ve only been to the last three, was a curator of last year’s (so couldn’t – fairly – judge it). But this year’s was truly the stunner.

Taking a day’s pause or timeout from the maelstrom of the busyness of business is a big ask in our VUCA world, a world full of FUD; that’s a world full of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity; one characterised by what the tech community calls Fear Uncertainty and Doubt. But the Brighton Summit – a national quality event in Sussex by the Sea – doesn’t deal in such doom-laden acronyms. 2017’s theme was “Embracing the Unknown” (not moaning about Trump and Brexit like so many other events that year). Last year’s was “Look Up”, while this year’s was “Crack On”. Enduring, exciting possibility. Not blaming everyone else and wondering who’s going to come and help. Well I’ve seen this movie, and there are no superheroes. We are our own superheroes, and the Brighton Chamber – and its peak annual manifestation, the Brighton Summit – yet again helped all 500 delegates reflect on that truth.

As a data storyteller, I always look for the numbers underpinning the narrative. Here are the main points again and some killer statistics from the many excellent keynotes, workshops, and interactive sessions.

  • Hannah Dawson, one-time gastropub landlady turned tech entrepreneur, woke up in her Devon pub one morning to an unexpected £40,000 VAT bill. That was the sand in the oyster that became the pearl that is business planning software giant, Futrli, whose purpose is to cut the 50% failure rate of SMEs by enabling all businesses to do proper financial planning and forecasting, however small they may be. Satisfyingly, the company now boasts more than 40,000 customers. I love it when a story has memorable, numerical echoes.
  • It’s better to have 1,000 true followers who absolutely love you and everything you do than 100,000 followers who greet you with an ambivalent “Meh …”. Hello Genius’ founder and CEO, Jody Raynsford, shared a unique approach to brand building based on creating a cult. My table chose to invest its energy behind the Cult of Naked Car-washing – though purely as a workshop exercise, you understand. Wipe on, wipe off …
  • It takes ten years to become a successful stand-up comedian, and you can’t get a mortgage or afford nice shoes in that time. Brighton Comedy Course’s founder Louise Stevenson inspired a packed room to “be more Alan Carr” in the boardroom.
  • BBC News employs more than 7,000 people, and editorial director Kamal Ahmed is working hard to reinvent the relationship between the corporation and its audience, particularly those under 30. The omniscient “Professor News” or Voice of God just isn’t authentic for Millennials, GenZ, and GenZennials as it was to previous generations.
  • The deal that Johnson and Varadkar appear to be thrashing out to enable the UK to leave the European Union covers just 20% of our nations’ collective economic activity: goods. The other 80% – services; we are a totally service-dominated economy – aren’t even touched by the deal and never have been. That comes next.

That last number comes from the inspirational campaigner, Gina Miller, who took time away from running investment management company SCM Direct, being a mother and wife, and taking the Government to task (and to court) and winning for riding roughshod over democracy. Gina didn’t mention the B-word once in 40 minutes’ mesmerising narrative of her life in campaigning – a largely untold story, at least until her new book came out.

Brighton, the Brighton Chamber, and the Brighton Summit are unusual. Liberal, inclusive, punching well above their weight – as a city, an organisation, and an event. But the way Gina was welcomed is testament to the extraordinary organisation that director Sarah Springford leads – and that I am proud to serve as a member and a board member: that welcome truly summed up Brighton Chamber to me. On our feet, many moved to tears, a minute’s applause and ovation and whoops. Gina’s life isn’t defined by Brexit or Johnson or slavery or business or motherhood or disability or statementing or or or … It’s about all of those things, of course. But fundamentally, it’s about Doing The Right Thing and challenging injustice, and Brighton welcomed that message with the openest of arms yesterday. Long live Gina! Long live the Brighton Summit! Long live the Brighton Chamber!

And while I’ve got your attention, if you want to hear my story, I’m bringing it to the monthly Brighton Chamber breakfast on Friday 27 October. I’m told – perplexingly – that there may be one or two tickets left for the ‘Always Curious’ breakfast. Form an orderly queue, and I hope to see you there on that international stage down in good old Sussex by the Sea.