Born and raised in the East, Ben has spent his career exploring many roles (commercial, marketing, innovation) and industries (financial services, advertising, digital media, IT). Ben now diverts his energy towards helping people, solving social problems, and imagining what comes next. He’s a mentor, neurodiversity advocate, renegade social designer and Co-Founder of the Latitude Project.
Latitude is a Design Agency with a social conscience that designs for people alongside people, and reframes our shared challenges into opportunities to learn, innovate, and transform together.
Ben’s passionate about local change and aspires for the region to become the ‘Experimental East’. He empowers young people and leaders to anticipate the future by embracing new ideas, seeking diverse perspectives, and trying things.
His ExSE talk is called ‘why you’re missing out on tomorrow’s talent’. Ben fuses a personal story with neuroscience, history, human nature, and inspiration to challenge you to reframe and redesign the job interview, and everything else too.
Title: Setting the stage in Essex to explore what comes next
We’ve spent 12 months looking behind the curtain of our society, shining a spotlight on what’s happening back-stage. Impressed!? Why did it feel like our social machinery hindered rather than helped the main event – the show that we call real life? The ideas which they were built upon have exceeded their use-by-date.
‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages’. – William Shakespeare
We humans are incredibly adaptable – it’s why we inhabit every corner of our planet (and aspire to live on others too). But surely evolution didn’t mean for us to end up as cogs in an assembly line, or disconnected from nature, indoors, sedentary and socially isolated. The impact of this unnatural and unhealthy experiment will take time to reveal, and whilst a return to normal is alluring, it was hardly sunshine and rainbows before covid arrived.
Our culture remains resilient and intact – we still love answers, control, and busyness. But doesn’t increasing change, complexity, and uncertainty call for the opposite from us – more questions, reflection, and flexibility? Flipping and reframing turns every day into an opportunity to try things, and embrace difference.
What did the virus teach you? What have you changed your mind about? When you peel away the layers of our frenetic modern lives, what’s worth saving?
Lockdown has been a catalyst for this type of introspection, but why is this necessary? Because, many of our shared (and biggest) problems are downstream from our behavior, which are all outputs from internal mental and emotional processes.
Our mental models, beliefs, identity, and perspectives are hidden out of sight in our unconscious world, but they influence everything we think and do. The pandemic is another catalyst for confronting how we understand ourselves, others, and the world around us. This is a collective project, and a big one – reimagine human nature for the 21st century.
This is an urgent ongoing project. We live in what the philosopher Michael Sandel calls a ‘market society’ – a place where everything is up for sale. The market is fantastic at meeting our desires and preferences, but it has many limitations. It’s less proficient at meeting our deeper values, responding to crises, and it also depends on an endless supply of life to magic into capital. There’s planetary boundaries and limits to our attention, but the operating system only knows more. As the market expands, everything meaningful becomes squeezed. On our watch we have allowed the backstage to become the centre stage; the means is also the ends. The totality of our vision is to make money, administrate, and use technology just because we can. Politics has regressed too, narrowing the human enterprise to producing and consuming stuff we don’t need. It neglects the domains which make society function – community, our civic life, social life, entrepreneurship, caring, parental duties, etc.
As we rush to fix problems with the same thinking that created them, are we aware of the trade offs, unintended consequences, perils or promises of our new shiny things? Who’s included in the conversation, and who decides? We’re fearful of being replaced by machines who are better at it than we are. But we’re also waking up to this realisation that our mass-produced society has turned us all into mindless robots. The challenges that lie ahead need more from people and technology, but one of the sub-tasks for rethinking human nature is to unblur these muddled lines. Many people have been dumbed down in the name of efficiency, but we can choose to reverse this.
A key reason for reframing people is because historically this journey and process was a catalyst for social change. In the book ‘Borgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World’, McCloskley argues that new perspectives about who we are and what society is for are the real drivers of societal transformation.
Narratives shape how we think; do we prefer the story we tell which talks up the survival of the fittest, or the more subtle version where the most symbiotic thrived? Looking ahead, should we rediscover how diverse stakeholders win together, or do we push on making choices that risk everyone losing.
How will you redesign the conditions for tomorrow’s show and cast to flourish? As you hand over cog duties to machines, what capabilities will you acquire, and what new roles will you play?
Ben Miller is a neurodiversity advocate, director at Healthwatch Suffolk, and co-founder of °Latitude Social Design, alongside John Hassall. He will be speaking at ExSE on 13th May at 1400-1430 sharing 5 ideas, provocations, and questions about human nature, the mind, work, and reinventing the job interview.