Introducing Lizzie Hodgson and her sidekick Kipper! - Director and Founder of ThinkNation and the owner of PLATF9RM Hove's most sociable dog!
Lizzie give us a quick low down on what ThinkNation's incentives are as a business?
Sure! We humanise the impact of technology on young people, mainly through creative means like events, performances, documentaries and videos. It’s all based around BIG tech questions such as ‘Will artificial intelligence diminish our humanity?’ and ‘Is social media creating a selfish or selfless society?’ or ‘Is space exploration pointless or the future of humans?’. Crucially, these questions are set by young people themselves. In fact, we were once described as ‘TED Talks meets Black Mirror’.
The difference with our programme is the young participants work alongside the thought leaders themselves who are shaping the world they will inherit. We also loop in creatives such as artists, musicians and actors who help young people articulate their responses to the big questions in creative ways. It’s pretty intense!
Thought leaders, in turn, gain new perspectives on the challenges young people face, breaking the echo chamber. We try to smash worlds together, creating opportunities and empowering young people whilst also humanising the reality many young people face as they inherit this brave new world. We take the complex and strip it down to a real-life level. This is as much about bursting elite bubbles (which many of us occupy) as it is holding a mirror up to our society. We must question our tech trajectory, it’s crucial.
Could you tell us a little bit about your recent work in New York?
Yeah - it’s really exciting! We’re working with a range of partners in New York City to see how ThinkNation goes down outside of the UK. There are two parts - an event in May when we will be working with 100+ young people from diverse communities, to discuss the big tech challenges they face in their lifetime.
We then take those findings, shape them as questions, and hold a bigger event (Feb 2019) in NYC where we get young people from across the five boroughs of NYC to answer the questions. We’re working with various global organisations on different levels, most of which I can’t announce yet, but the mentors are likely to range from astronauts and high-profile musicians and actors, to silicon valley leaders… and maybe a couple of politicians or ambassadors thrown in for good measure!
However, one partnership I can talk about is our work with Columbia University. They will be bringing academic interrogation to ThinkNation’s efforts to explore concrete ways in which we can improve young people’s social mobility - specifically education, income, employability. This will be done through our events and wider mentoring programme which we will be developing in 2019.
What is your opinion on our modern-day dependency on technology?I think it’s incredible. The advances in medical and health technology in particular is amazing for many of us, but I also think we have to question more the tech-trajectory I mentioned previously. We shouldn’t have blind faith in technology and that’s what we are hoping to achieve at ThinkNation: not only question that blind faith, and motivations by organisations to develop the technology - but also ground the reality of the impact it all has and could have. There is a great deal of good in technology, but if you look at the big disrupters, it’s often financially (and sometimes politically) driven, so sometimes we have to ask hard questions. This is particularly pertinent with Artificial Intelligence, and specifically AI ethics. We must get the foundations right and keep them in check.
Now, as much as we love seeing your happy face every day, we at PLATF9RM also have a huge soft spot for a certain young man in your life… Kipper your rescue dog. How was it that Kipper became a part of your life?
I got Kipper from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. Initially I was allocated a different little puppy - Mungo - because at the time I had two cats. Anyway, while waiting to meet Mungo, I saw a door that kept opening as people were coming and going. I could see a few kennel doors every time the door opened, one of which had another little puppy in it. Not Mungo.
This little puppy was constantly jumping up and down, trying to get someone to notice him and I thought, ‘Oh how cute, whoever gets him is very lucky… Anywhere where’s Mongo!?’. But when I went to go pick up Mongo unfortunately, he just wasn’t interested in me, and the handler from Battersea said ‘I don’t think this is the dog for you’ - I cried!
They then told me that there was one more dog. They took me to a special meeting room, where you get to meet dogs on a one-to-one basis. Suddenly this little cat-sized creature ran into the room, running so fast that his legs were slipping everywhere - It was the little dog i’d seen earlier! He promptly peed, ran up me and wouldn’t stop jumping, yapping, rolling on his back and generally going INSANE that we’d met.
Matt: Well it’s nice to see that nothing has changed about him then no?
Lizzie: Nothing at all! When I took him home that first day, he was sick in the back of the car because he’d never been in one before. That was 8 and a half years ago! Kipper is just an amazing rescue dog and he loves everyone, it’s so pure. I don’t think anyone should ever buy a dog instead of adopting. Always adopt, you will never know the heart-breaking story so many dogs go through, and you could change their lives. Kip was only around 4 months old when I got him, and when the Police found him, they think he hadn’t eaten for 3 weeks. He has also been a rock for me over the past 8-9 years, so yeah, always adopt! Save a life.
You have been a member with us since October, what is your fondest memory from your time at PLATF9RM?
I don’t really have a fondest memory because I just look forward to coming here – and that isn’t me trying to suck up to you guys, it’s honestly true!
I don’t do enough of the socials, because unfortunately all I do is work, work, work during the week (that said, I’m a MASSIVE advocate of ‘no work’ weekends. I am not a believer of the ‘work every hour of the week’ cult!). So, because my work is so intense Monday to Friday, I struggle to do anything else during the week aside from my early morning run and gym.
Nevertheless, I love the people here and I love the fact I can bring Kipper along. He is an important part of my life and I wouldn’t want to work anywhere where I couldn’t take him with me. What kind of life would he be having if I couldn’t, you know? Also, the fact that other dogs are here as well is great because I honestly feel it is better for our mental health.
I know you did a TEDx Talk at the University of Kent back in 2015, what did you focus on?
I focused on the idea of having ideas. I actually did the talk before I started ThinkNation - this was at the beginning of 2015 and I started ThinkNation at the end of that year. The focus of the talk was exploring why we don’t have ideas for ideas sake anymore. We’re often told everything has to be commodified and your whole purpose from a young age - particularly in school - is forced. You are pushed into a narrow choice, all about furthering ‘careers’. The thing is, the world of work - and life - isn’t built like that anymore. We need skills beyond just recalling info. We need empathy, creativity, self esteem and the ability to spark ideas.
Now, even though I don’t feel the TEDx talk went as well as I wanted it to in its delivery (I’m better at public speaking these days!) it’s principles are quite valuable. That is why we bring creatives in with what we do with ThinkNation. We needed to trigger those ideas, because I don’t think people are encouraged enough to think creatively or encouraged to question, in a way that could create debate or discussion or widen people’s world views in a constructive way - we have to move on from the binary “like” or “hate”. And as an extension, why can’t we just have ideas for ideas sake? Part of my work today explores this concept. Not nailed it, but trying!
Matt: What was the Einstein quote you referred to right at the end of the talk, because I felt it was a strong quote to finish on?
Lizzie: “If at first an idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” For me this means if we don’t question things we risk losing our humanity: the ability to think in a seemingly chaotic manner, to have big or small ideas, to work them through, to discuss and explore… also what’s wrong with having absurd ideas?
Do you feel, if Kipper was a human, he would be a valuable employee, or would he just eat treats and lie about waiting for attention?
I think on one level he would be a terrible employee because he would just lie around, scrounge, eat, wander off and fart.
Matt - But I feel like his heart would still be in the job.
Lizzie - His heart would definitely be in it and he would be one of those employees who has been here for years and he does something, but nobody actually knows what that is - he just turns up and gets paid, but he is the glue that holds the workplace together. He would be valuable for the organisation but a terrible employee!
I did a little snooping and found out you used to be an intern for Gordon Brown. How was it working under the prime minister of England?
Well at the time I didn’t actually know he was going to be Prime Minister, he was at that point the Shadow Chancellor. He was amazing. I know he has a lot of people that scrutinise him, because when you are in that kind job in front of the media, it’s inevitable. Nevertheless, you don’t get to be Shadow Chancellor without doing some bold moves. He made me feel very welcome, and the team that I was working with were great. I met some very interesting people.
Working for him gave me the confidence to believe in myself more. Every now and again I suffer from impostor syndrome, and it can be so unnerving but I try to recall some of the big, gutsy stuff I’ve done and know that if I can do that then I can do anything. I actually went back into government about 10 years later and I became a speech writer for 5 years within the Department of Health. Gordon Brown won’t remember me for toffee – but I’ll never forget working for him, it was great.
If you could take your partner (and possibly Kipper as well) anywhere in the world, where would you want to go?
It would definitely be with Kipper, but I would love to take my partner Holly - my soon to be wife! - to Patagonia to see the penguins, as she is bonkers about penguins.
Matt - How would Kipper get on with the penguins?
Lizzie - He would probably just bark at them, but only so that they would play with him!
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