How we changed our minds in 2023

How we changed our minds in 2023

A few weeks ago we asked everyone across Brink to nominate the books, podcasts, art, articles… anything really, as long as it had influenced their way of thinking or how they approached their work and their lives in 2023.

Brinksters are nothing if not curious and culturally omnivorous, so we got a wide and diverse range of responses back, covering everything from the nature of reality to battling dragons, via Elon Musk and Marina Abramovic (and, yes, AI gets a couple of mentions too).

We’ve bundled all the suggestions together into a handful of loose themes with the aim of providing you with some insightful, inspiring and illuminating brain food to take you into 2024. We hope you’ll find a few things here to give you some fresh perspectives and maybe even unlock some ambitions for the new year.

Finding new and creative responses to the big problems

We spend a lot of our time at Brink exploring innovative ways of tackling some of the world’s biggest crises, so it’s no surprise that Brinksters have spent a chunk of 2023 looking at ways we might be able to respond to and even harness the more unpredictable and challenging elements of the world around us to work towards a better future.

📖 Designs for the Pluriverse- Radical Interdependence, Autonomy, and the Making of Worlds by Arturo Escobar.
This book was  recommended by our friends at Pluriversa (who we worked with on our Frontier Tech Web3 Symposium). Escobar talks about transition movements and the struggle of marginalised communities through the three lenses of cultural, civilisational and ecological. I loved the global South grounding on futures thinking, especially how it’s more communal and more linked to the environment. Gita Luz, Innovation Lead.

🎧 Design Emergency Podcast from Alice Rawsthorn and Paola Antonelli.
Each episode of this podcast has design curator Paola Antonelli and design critic Alice Rawsthorn interviewing designers about how they tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges. I was especially captivated by the interview with the author and activist, Claudia Chwalisz which looked at how we need to improve how we design democratic processes. Miranda Dixon, Collectives Practice Lead.

📖 When The Dust Settles - Stories of Love, Loss and Hope from an Expert in Disasters by Lucy Easthope
In this book, an expert on emergency planning shares her personal experiences of immense tragedy and rebuilding community in the aftermath. Her approach to handling sensitive topics and the importance of human-centred communications is something I’ve come back to again and again this year. Matthew Riley, Communications Manager

📖 It's not that Radical by Michaela Loach
As a behavioural innovation agency, we’re always looking at the world’s biggest challenges and questioning how we might tap into the fundamentals of human behaviour to impact those challenges. I found Michaela’s book a brilliant reminder that we can each find our power by getting informed, deciding to act, and coming together. And by doing that we might just change the world. Abi Freeman, Founder. 

Exploring new ways of communicating and storytelling 

At Brink, we love storytelling so much we named one of our practices after it, and the art of creating compelling, impactful narratives is one of those meta-skills that we’re always working on. So it’s no surprise to see so many of Brinkster’s ‘highly recommended’ works of 2023 focus on the topic.

📖 The Art of Explanation - How to communicate with clarity and confidence by Ros Atkins
The king of the BBC's Analysis talks through the art of dealing with complex topics, how to prioritise messages and speak with clarity and confidence. This has been especially useful as I’ve been delving into Brink’s internal communications work. Matthew Riley, Communications Manager

📖 Science of storytelling by Will Storr
This book by the award-winning journalist and author, Will Storr, really helped me get to grips with the impact of stories on our brains and go back to basics. Plus it's really helped me explain the value of stories to sceptics! Lil Patuck, Storytelling Manager

📖 Information is beautiful by David McCandless
This book is a beautiful exploration of the power of information design to make sense of data and tell a story about the world. It’s over a decade old now, but it’s still as relevant as it was when it was first published, and it was a pleasure to go back to it after David was the guest speaker at our Collective Conversations event on data-driven stories in the summer. Sarah Weigold, Designer

🎲 Dungeons and Dragons Starter set
As strange as it sounds, trying to understand the tabletop game Dungeons and Dragons has helped me understand storytelling and how to be more spontaneous when working with people to craft a story! Josh Cutts, Designer 

🎧 Modern Love Podcast by the New York Times
I discovered this podcast earlier this year and it really made me reflect on the power of stories between people, the role of listening to one another and how one story can be revived in a brand new format down the line. Lil Patuck, Storytelling Manager

📖 The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron
The Artist's Way was written to help people with artistic creative recovery, and I’ve found a lot in the techniques and exercises it contains, especially around gaining self-confidence and ways of harnessing creative talents and skills. Hamza Hadji, Innovation Executive

📖 The Culture Map - Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business by Erin Meyer
In this book, Meyer (who also wrote No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention with Reed Hastings) examines how different cultures work, by breaking down the differences and similarities in their communication, leadership, decision-making and feedback. This article from HBR gives a good introduction to the ideas. Nina Athill, Storytelling Executive

Breaking down the big ideas

What is reality? What’s the future of language? Where do we come from? Sometimes it’s easy to avoid delving into these kinds of questions because they feel too big, too ethereal or just too scary. But the suggestions below show that, if you can find a guide who can captivate and move you in equal measure, then it’s possible to find beauty and wonder in even the most intimidating of subjects.

📖 Dawn of everything by David Graeber, David Wengrow.
This is a controversial but hugely welcome challenge to some long-held linear beliefs about human development. At the very least, it should prompt questioning of the deepest assumptions and worldviews about how we got here, and offer encouragement that it can be (and was) very, very different once. James Wilkinson, Managing Director, Brink Rwanda.

📖 AI: A Guide for Thinking Humans by Melanie Mitchell
In this book, world-leading artificial intelligence expert Melanie Mitchell breaks down what is actually going on inside AI models. Originally published in 2010, it’s a great way to break through the hype and clickbait that surrounds the topic today. I left it feeling much more grounded about AI, and the technical stuff behind how tools like Chat-GPT produce the outputs they do. Asad Rahman, Venturing Practice Co-lead.

📖 A Little Book of Language by David Crystal
Much more than a history of language, Crystal's book looks forward to the future of language, exploring the effect of technology on our day-to-day reading, writing, and speech.Crystal's forward-thinking exploration of the future of language has not only broadened my understanding of linguistic evolution but has become an invaluable resource in my role as a storyteller navigating projects across diverse countries and crafting narratives that resonate across global audiences. Nina Athill, Storytelling Executive

📖 Helgoland by Carlo Rovelli
A truly beautiful book on quantum physics and how it relates to some wonderful philosophical questions such as what perception is and whether reality exists! James Wilkinson, Managing Director, Brink Rwanda

Understanding what it means to be human

Understanding human behaviours and unlocking their potential to deliver real world change, is a passion that runs through everyone at Brink. Fortunately it’s an ever-growing and endlessly fascinating area that provides a huge amount of fuel for our work as well as our conversations around the lunch table.

📖 Rebel ideas - the power of Diverse Thinking by Matthew Syed
Matthew Syed breaks down the well-trodden innovation topics of diversity, collaboration and collective intelligence back to first-order principles with insightful examples including the huge failings of the CIA before 9/11, a communication breakdown in a team scaling Mount Everest that proved fatal and more. It gave me a fresh perspective on modes of collaboration, how to build effective information flows and reminded me how combining different frames of reference is one of the most powerful tools we have in innovation. Abi Freeman, Founder

📖 Why We Play by Joanna Fortune
Psychotherapist Joanna Fortune draws on decades of research to understand the importance of play and how it feeds into our lives as adults. From flying a kite to making a coffee or just laughing with friends, this is a great little book that is loaded with insights and exercises. I've found Fortune's wisdom on the transformative power of play not only enriching to my personal life but also profoundly influencing on my approach as a storytelling executive, emphasising the vital role of play in crafting compelling narratives. Nina Athill, Storytelling Executive

🗞 Undercover economist at the FT by Tim Harford
Tim Hartford’s weekly column for the Financial Times is chock full of insight into human psychology and behaviour, and how it plays out in our economies, politics, and everyday life. Favourite articles from this year have been about how we as societies think about and prepare for the unknown. Is it even possible to prepare for a pandemic? What does a good prophecy look like? He also has a podcast called Cautionary Tales, which draws insights from stories of great mistakes. My favourite is about how a broken piano helped a virtuoso pianist reach new musical heights - it speaks to the importance of constraints for creativity, and the benefits of challenge for growth. Jess Price, Learning and Adaptation Lead

🎧 How To Fail podcast from Elizabeth Day
A large selection of interviews with people in the public eye discussing their three biggest failures and what they learnt from them. The recent Marina Abramovic episode was 👌🏻 (see also: Abramovic’s incredible exhibition at the Royal Academy). Louise Watson, Operations Lead

Thinking about the future of technology

There’s been a lot of talk about ‘techno-optimism’ in 2023, but at Brink we’re much more likely to talk about ‘techno-pragmatism’ or at least ‘​​cautious optimism’ when it comes to the profound impact technology may have on human connections, the economy, environment, political systems, and so many other key elements of our daily lives and social structures. Here are just a few of the techno-commentators and controversies that caught our attention this year.

📖 Elon by Walter Isaacson
So much to say about how excellent this book is. It's a reminder to question assumptions around things like the way procurement is designed, challenge preconceptions about what's possible, work to first order principles, and work backwards from a goal. Of course, it's also a lesson in how to be more zen at work and not treat people like dirt! Lessons galore, pan for gold. Lea Simpson, Founder

🎧 Opsy podcast from Caro Griffin
Caro Griffin is a senior operations leader and also the General Manager of Tech Ladies. On her podcast she interviews COO's from across the tech industry to try and unpick some of the key challenges in areas like compliance, biz ops, HR…. All that sexy ops stuff I like to know about! Louise Watson, Operations Lead

📖 The Internet Con - How to seize the means of communication by Cory Doctorow
I have been reading Cory Doctorow’s (alarmingly prodigious) output for a couple of decades now, and I don’t think he’s ever disappointed me. This book (one of four he put out in 2024!) is no exception. It’s a dissection and a rallying call, but it’s also a practical guide to halting what he terms the ‘enshittification’ of the internet and reclaiming our digital space. For someone who had become a little disillusioned and cynical about the power of the web during 2023 (I’m looking at you, Twitter!) this was just what I needed. Rob Hinchcliffe, Communications Lead

🗞 AI is a lot of work by the Verge and New York Magazine
I had been spending a lot of time this year reading about and playing with the new AI tools and functionalities coming out of the tech world. So it was very jarring to read this brilliant piece jointly by the Verge and New York Magazine about the humans behind the tech. And no, not the ‘visionaries or influencers’. There are essentially huge factories of workers with no rights and very little pay training the machines that we are led to believe are automated. They are classifying the emotional content of TikTok videos, new variants of email spam, and the precise sexual provocativeness of online ads. This piece completely shifted my thinking on the future of AI to remind me for all the hype of automation, we’re a long way off and we’re at a crucial moment in time to do right by everyone. Abi Freeman, Founder.

Interested in this topic, want to know more, or have some thoughts? Drop us a line at [email protected] and let's chat!