Thinking Flowers? at Geek Girl Meetup 2010

As Lauren mentioned in the last post, she took the opportunity to speak at Geek Girl Meetup at the end of April, about not being a geek. That is also where we met, and I listened to her speak about her fear of social media. So I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce myself!

Hi, my name is Amelia, and I’m here to work with Lauren and Thinking Flowers? on the social media profile and strategy for the organisation. I love bringing people together through twitter, sharing ideas and information on blogs, and doing whatever I can to create community spaces online. Hopefully, my working with Lauren and Thinking Flowers? will bring forth beautiful blooms for the both of us, and for you too. You can find more of my social media thoughts at SocialAmelia, and I’m also working to create a safe space online for people to discuss feminist issues at Silence, Cupcake. I’m really looking forward to getting to know all of you, and bringing the Thinking Flowers? ethos into the wider world of the world wide web.

Without further ado, here’s a video of the talk which Lauren gave at Geek Girl Meetup. There’s also a transcription, so you can easily copy and paste if you’d like to quote any part of the talk and share it with people.

[…video starts part way through Lauren introducing Thinking Flowers?] …and we also create, we design courses, as well as actual installations for a various amount of different clients. We were doing the House of Commons, the V&A, the Tate Modern. We have a floral donation service, which is ensuring that flowers are upcycled, so when we have corporate clients we then upcycle our products into the community and to charities. And we also have a green waste disposal service, which ensures that all of the green products we use are composted. So we have a cradle to cradle, earth to earth strategy.

We also have quite a campaign arm, I guess we’re somewhere in between Divine Chocolate and The Body Shop, because we work with women that grow flowers. So I guess maybe some of you are thinking what’s unethical about flowers? And this is the fact that often women are used to grow them in countries which are suffering from drought, say for example Kenya, which is the driest part of the world, there’s women cultivating products that are ninety per cent water and are then flown to the wettest parts of the world. Not only this, there are women working with the reproductive parts of a plant and having their own reproductive systems depleted from the pesticides that are corroding their organs, and the soil.

So that’s really what spurred me on to know that I wanted to create an organisation that was about change and that was about people and was about products.

But these products have scent. These products make you feel things. These products are colourful. And for me, the internet was just not a way to do it! [Laughs] It was like, I want to be further and furthest away from something that doesn’t have eyes and doesn’t smile and doesn’t make me feel like I’m alive. So, even with the success that we’ve had, I still have shied away from the internet in any way; code, processing – all the things that I’ve learnt today. Because it didn’t make me feel anything.

There’s also a few other organisations that I’ve founded and run, like Field, which works with creativity and reconnecting people to their connectivity, so we’re currently working with dyslexics and using our environment to bring people back into the world.

At the moment, Thinking Flowers? is based in Brixton, and we work out of a women’s charity called Lambeth Women’s project. And we work with all sorts of different clients really – from the government, to individuals, charities.

So I’m going to talk a little bit about why I’m not a geek, I guess, and I think it has a lot to do with feeling a little bit disconnected. And, what made me realise that actually, being a geek is really important and really cool, was failure.

We are the type of organisation that can send out an email to our database and say ‘Meet up at half past five, in Southbank, bring flowers, dress in colour, and we’re going to do a floral intervention and give out flowers on the Southbank for Valentines’ day’, for example. And people will come! They’ll turn up, and they’ll be there. And they’ll give their time, and they’ll give their love, and they’ll give their thoughts. And these people are activists, they’re there to support us in our questioning of ethics and sustainability and engagement of global issues that are affecting women.

So, we were kindly chosen by an organisation called Civilised Money to launch their alternative on-line bank and crowdfunding platform, and it was really cool because Forbes and Fast Company – all these incredible magazines were talking about this new way of having an alternative bank and how people to people can raise funds and invest in something that they own. And we created the pitch and it was great. But we raise…nothing.

And that was nothing to do with the platform itself, it was to do with the fact that I had founded and started to run and direct an organisation that is talking about something that is nature, and our online community were not engaged. We didn’t have people that would pay. We have people that want to be out, moving, doing things. And that was really what brought me here. I was like this is something that I have to change, I have to connect with the world, I have to connect with the fast pace of acceleration of the Information Age, I have to be involved in technology. And maybe running an organisation without that knowledge is going to put us at a disadvantage, rather than an advantage.

So later on I want to talk a little bit about social media, because I haven’t heard anything about that today, and I want to talk a little bit about my fears with that. But I wanted to just share with you a little bit more around how I see the world, and how I think that this might be able to connect in a technological way. Because the reason why I think Thinking Flowers? has had such success is a lot to do, I think, is a lot to do with my dyslexia. And I think because it sets me in a population that’s ten per cent of our population that it is a group of people that think completely differently to the way that the majority do. And for me that’s always allowed me to create systems that from the beginning have a differentiation strategy. They’re different, because they’re coming from a mind that works differently. And that’s always set us aside. I think that’s probably why we’re successful. And being able to build systems is something that really excites me. I mean, being able to build a product is really fun as well, but then being able to design the way in which that exists in the world and the way in which people interact with that is, I think, really powerful. And what most excites me about systems is the interconnection, is where places meet. Where different things meet, where different people meet, where different colours meet. And that’s something that flowers have allowed me to connect to, really, with them being a universal product, there’s no need to speak a language, there’s no need to be able to write, everyone can feel that.

But also, connectivity. And what I mean by connectivity is when you start something and all of a sudden you realise that it’s connected to a lot of other things, and that that can start something moving. So, I’ll give you an example, I have a commission at the moment, it’s about photography, which is to do with a previous organisation I started when I was nineteen and I engaged with a friend, just to say ‘We need someone to film, could you film?’ The work is about an artist called Joe Spence and it just so happens that this lady had written her thesis, twenty years ago, about Joe Spence. So being able to increase connectivity is another thing that excites me. Finding where people have been, mapping where people have been, mapping how people feel about flowers; do we feel the same about a rose? Do we feel the same about a lily? Why is it that a rose is our national flower? How is that linked to history? How is that linked to culture?

And also I feel interested about the future. What are our future thoughts about flowers? Why do we still buy them? What are they a £2.8 billion industry? Why, even with the pace of technological acceleration are we still buying them? Why, in a recession, are we still buying flowers if we’re struggling to buy food? I feel that there are opportunities for the internet to be of use for that massive positive change, and I’m now starting to learn about this [laughs]…now that I’m actually learning to use email! It’s starting to change the way I feel about information, and the way that it’s been used. But something that today has really made me feel quite shocked about also is about information and privacy. The talk that I heard earlier really made me think that when we start to connect we actually have to think quite carefully about what we want to share, what information we want to share and how we want to share it. But I’m glad I’m starting to think about these things now.

So, there’s a lot about the internet that now really makes me quite excited, and I think that is really something I’d like to build into the organisation. And work in an open way. I’d love to know more about code, I’d love to know more about processing, but actually something that Thinking Flowers? Has done is built a system whereby we work in a very open way, and we are a community, we have artists from all over the world that come and work with us, and we have volunteers come, as well as an internship. And that’s something I think I would like to translate online. By looking for ways that I can translate the way we work as a system, online. I want people to be able to experience. And I feel that way I’ve not connected to the internet so much is because I feel that there has to be a compromise.

How can you translate scent? How can you translate the emotions that flowers trigger? How can you translate that when you see or smell bluebells, it reminds you of being three years old? And this is something that I want to make happen. And I want to to be mobile, I want people to be able to access those emotions. And if there’s a way to do it online then I’d love to do that, I think. I don’t know if it’s possible to translate beauty and joy through the internet. I mean I don’t know how we’re going to be able to do that. But I know that I want to create an interface which is like an actual experience, as close as possible. And, for us to be able to reconnect with our feelings. I think there are some ways, like the community based element to what we do, where the online world could really support us in getting the message out there [nods] and campaigning, I think. I’d like for there to be an online space where people can communally share their thoughts. You don’t have to be an expert of flowers, you don’t have to know the Latin names, but for some reason you have a connection and that’s good enough. And I’d like people to be able to share that in a community way. And to be able to give and exchange thoughts and time is also something we’d like to look at.

So I just wanted to talk a little bit about the fear of social media, I think, because it’s something that’s essential in business. Right now, the way that people communicate, the way that people build communities, the way that people brand and leverage their brand is with social media strategies. And for a long time, I was so scared of tweeting. Of making a mistake, or spelling something wrong. For a dyslexic, it is fearful. [laughs]. I was so fearful, I was thinking ‘Oh gosh, I need to tweet, I’ve got an organisation, I need to tell people what I’m growing and what I’m designing.’ It was really really stressful. And it feels like there’s a lot of pressure to be somebody online, to have this many followers. And it really scared me! Though we recently started, we finally started, to write a little blog. But I don’t write it. I voice record it and someone else types it. And that someone is an amazing volunteer, Tina, who’s with us for two hours a week.

But the speed at which you need to keep up and update is just totally beyond me and I’m finding it that maybe there is a way we could compromise and that we could slow down the way that we communicate on the internet, and that that could be more natural and more like how flowers grow. But, who knows? [smiles]

So I really just wanted to share those thoughts with you, and to say that if anyone wants to help me be a geek then I’d much rather be a geek than a wannabe. Thank you.


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