On the 29th of August, a few thousand humans gathered in Melbourne at the beautiful Royal Exhibition Building for #aah18. Above All Human is a biennial conference created by the legends at Startup Victoria.

#aah18 is an innovation and technology conference that aims to drive change and solve big challenges humanity faces today.

Startup Victoria are changing up the conference game with aah, engaging the attendees with personalisation and inclusion. The conference provided space for human-driven and innovative startups to showcase what they do, a free kids zone for the day, tasty food truck treats for lunch and personalised first-name tags.

Above all human conference at lunchtime

The humans enjoying the sunshine and food trucks during the lunch break.

Throughout the day, we heard from a wide range of experts about technology, startups, design diversity, resilience, AI, genes, quantum physics and space. The event jammed packed full of great insights, quality advice and real human stories of failure, connection and success.

To share all the great knowledge we absorbed, we’ve summarised the many lessons below:

  1. To improve diversity and inclusion, take time and use awareness.
  2. Welcome the future with testing and learning.
  3. Use empathy to create and design great products.
  4. Be open to feedback and change when you need to.

1. To improve diversity and inclusion, take time and use awareness.

It’s been proven that companies perform better when they value and promote diversity. Not only diversity of race, culture, gender, religion and background – but also diversity of thought.

If every company had teams where everyone thought, felt and acted the same, we would have industries with homogeneous outcomes.

Sacha Judd was a crowd favourite for her keynote on superfans where she discussed the benefits of diversity of perspective, experience and hobbies. Sacha gave several examples of a group of superfans judging other groups for their passions, without realising they were superfans themselves – they were just passionate about a different interest.

Sacha

Sacha Judd speaking aobut superfans, valuing individuality and why diverse teams matter.

And how does this relate to work? Well, apparently 30% of tech employees feel uncomfortable being themselves at work.

Sacha went on to share many examples of the benefits of diverse teams (they’re more likely to innovate, recruit on behalf of their company, be committed long term, and likely to work on highly productive teams). Sacha’s speech notes can be found on her website where there are top tips for creating and maintaining high performing teams:

The VIC Minister of Innovation, Hon Philip Dalidakis rallied the crowd by encouraging everyone to continue to strive for a community culture that values inclusiveness, diversity and equality.

His big goals? To support gender equity, equal pay and the inclusion of minorities in tech and trade.

The day concluded with an inspiring discussion between Adel Smee, Engineering Manager at Zendesk and Chike Ukaegbu, 2019 Nigerian Presidential Candidate. Chike shared candid stories of his own experiences of racism when visiting America.

Chike made a great argument for diversity as not only is it more profitable, but diversity drives innovation and diversity humanises all of us.

2. Welcome the future with testing and learning.

There’s no doubt that technology is rapidly changing the world. While all of the speakers at #aah18 work in innovative industries, a few were on the cutting edge with unique perspectives:

  • Simon Raik-Allen began by reading a futuristic section of the intro to Neuromancer, a novel from sci-fi, cyberpunk-pioneer William Gibson. As an expert in VR (virtual reality), Simon outlined that we need humans, the virtual world itself and data. He said that we’re still working on the virtual world – but it’s coming. Soon.
  • Prof Michael J Biercuk gave a quantum 101 session where he emphasised the big opportunities and challenges with and said, “Quantum technology will be as transformational for the 21st century, as harnessing electricity was in the 19th.”
  • Prof Genevieve Belle spoke about being human in the age of AI. Genevieve is an anthropologist, technologist and futurist who is building a new body of knowledge to help answer a few perplexing aspects of AI: autonomy, agency, assurance, metrics and scaling interface.
  • Gary Swart has been contributing and advising many world-class tech companies from Silicon Valley over the past few decades. During Gary’s keynote packed with practical advice, he emphasised the importance of enjoying the journey while trying to align teams in business.

Many of the speakers emphasised that there’s no great rush. With new products and concepts, it’s necessary to take time to learn how best to utilise new tech.

3. Use empathy to create and design great products

Design was a huge point of discussion throughout #aah18.

Startups are creating things that have never been invented, and good design can be the crux as to whether people want to use the product.

Irene Au, a design expert advising the world of startups, has spent a lot of time building some of the world’s biggest and best design teams. Irene shared that good design makes us, our communities and humanity better, while bad design slows us down and is often caused by negative feelings like fear, greed or attachment.

Mina Radhakrishnan is an expert product designer who was one of the first employees at Uber and more recently, she founded a property management startup, Different. Mina had great advice about making sure tech is human – an idea she shared with our SheStarts cohort earlier this year.

Mina said that there’s no perfect framework for design but she suggested a few steps to follow when creating:

Mina on design at Above All Human

Mina’s design tips: + Pain always comes before the solution + Start with the problem + Know when to switch between software and people, because it’s not always about the tech.

4. Be open to feedback and change when you need to.

Words like iterate, disrupt and pivot are all common language in the startup vernacular. There was discussion at #aah18 about what it means to be in startups, how the perception of change is slightly different in this ecosystem and perhaps more welcoming than most.

During a honest discussion between Fenn Bailey, co-founder of Volantio and Connie Kuhlman, from Accenture, Fenn shared his experience of pivoting, the importance of communication and what change meant for his company. Fenn had an amusing view on headline startup news:


We know that launching new things is a very exciting time, but two tech experts (who have experience at two of the biggest tech giants) emphasised the importance of: staying human in business, being passionate about your work and that launching is just the beginning:

Ivan Lim is the co-founder of Brosa and he had some great insights into the nature of founders – they’re striving to solve a problem, are open to feedback, love to build and are in it for the long game.

It’s clearly important to be open to doing things in better ways. Change isn’t always bad.

We’re all human

#aah18 was a great reminder to slow down, realise we’re all human, and focus on and value what matters to each of us.

The future of tech and startups is definitely an exciting and fast-moving space. But it’s really important that we take time to learn from others and get plenty of feedback and suggestions, then apply what matters most.

As in the end, we’re above all, human.


If you missed out on the day, you can look through the #aah18 hashtag or the Above All Human Official Twitter page.

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