The future of business? Highlights from WIRED Smarter 2019

Last week Earnest headed over to WIRED Smarter – a one-day event exploring the future of business. Here’s what we learnt:

The future lies in the circular economy:

Elvis & Kresse are proving it’s possible to run a sustainable, ethical business in the luxury goods space. They started out saving London’s decommissioned firehoses from landfill, turning them into swanky accessories and giving 50% of the proceeds to the Fire Fighter’s Charity.

They’re now using their ‘rescue-transform-donate’ philosophy to explore how they can turn the aluminium from soft drinks cans into reusable metals for use in belts and buckles.

Fact: it costs £410 to dispose of leather off-cuts (often as landfill) – instead E&K turn them into £100k worth of luxury products.

The future lies in the store as media is not just a great luxury retailer but are reinventing the concept of the store as we know it. Take 5 Carlos Place in Mayfair – where the top floor of their store now features an open kitchen and chef’s table – and most interestingly, a broadcast centre.

Each week, the space is used to host events – from art installations and panel discussions to private dining experiences, often broadcast live to a captive Insta fan base.

The concept has legs too. This summer they created a Carlos Place pop-up on a 1950s luxury yacht and moored it up at a series of Pelicano Hotels in Italy – again broadcasting content to their avid followers.

The future lies in the B Corp

As Tom Blomfield, him of Monzo fame and my new man crush, said: “Why isn’t every company a B-Corp?”

He was not alone in capturing the shift in sentiment towards business now being about the balance of purpose and profit – rather than simply the single-minded pursuit of shareholder value.

The future lies in rethinking work as we know it

We need to ask some fundamental questions about the way we’re working – if Twitter VP Bruce Daisley’s observations are anything to go by. To paraphrase: “Work is becoming like a Fyre festival – it looks great in the pictures but it’s not necessarily a good place to be”.

From the way we make decisions at work (we can only make a certain number of good decisions a day, once we reach that limit, we can’t make anymore – regardless of how important they are) to preconceptions about remote working (it can lead to loneliness, increased stress and a general feeling colleagues don’t like us), work culture needs a rethink. [Big recommendation: check out Bruce’s Eat Sleep Work Repeat Podcast]

Shocking fact: 42% of people say they don’t have a single friend at work.

The future lies in responsible use of data and A.I.

When you’re Lloyds Banking Group with access to data on the banking and spending habits of over 25m customers, how do you act responsibly? Tara Foley, MD of Bank of Scotland raised some ethical questions about how you use that data to protect vulnerable customers.

For instance, if you spot a customer with a gambling habit or fast food addiction, what are the right interventions / nudges to make to support them? There are no doubt some difficult questions ahead, according to Kay Firth-Butterfield from the WEF, particularly about the responsibilities of private ‘actors’ – no where more so in how to use A.I. ethically to ensure ‘civil protection and civil liberties’ without stifling innovation.

Other revelations from the day:

+ The iPhone wouldn’t have been possible without the CIA who funded the development of the touch screen (Mariana Mazzucato, UCL Prof of Economics)

+ Quantum Computers need to be chilled to a temperature that’s 100x cooler than outer space to function effectively (Heike Riel, IBM Fellow)

+ More than half of UK employees (53%) do not have the digital skills needed for work (Lloyds UK Consumer Digital Index 2019)

+ When an industry hits 20% online penetration (proportion of sales online), it starts to impact bricks and mortar stores (Kris Miller, CSO, eBay)

+ 50% of SMEs don’t have an accounting system (Oliver Prill, CEO, Tide)

Interesting start-ups worthy of further investigation:


[Header photo: hannah cauhepe on Unsplash]

+ Thrift+ is setting out to make it easier than ever to donate your second hand clothes to charity and earn rewards to spend online

+ Magway – an e-commerce delivery system that improves air quality and congestion by moving goods from A-to-B using pods propelled by magnets in a network of underground pipes

+ Monito – a ‘compare the market’ for money transfers – that lets you find the best exchange rates (soon to move into currency exchange and currency cards)

+ Aire – a new credit assessment service that aims to make it easier for everyone to gain credit, by challenging conventional credit scoring that simply looks at historic data

Thanks to WIRED Smarter for an illuminating and thought-provoking day.


[Header photo: hannah cauhepe on Unsplash]