At school, I was lucky enough to read E.M. Forster’s Passage to India and have a teacher who was patient enough to explain the significance of ‘Only Connect’. It must have resonated because 30+ years later Andy Dexter’s excellent presentation — ‘The Cognitive Dissidents’ took me back to that central theme, reminded me of the importance of understanding, empathy and connection and quite simply made me question and think — always good.

This was, quite simply, the best and most lucid presentation I have listened to in a very long while. I’m a researcher, so it appealed, but I even went home and enthused about it to my wife and daughter because the presentation did more to explain the train crash that is Brexit than any of the commentary or analysis I’d seen previously.

Like so many others, I looked at the post-Brexit analysis and tried to understand why we voted the way we did. In truth, I thought I understood it — it was all about age and education, metropolitan vs rural — but, after Andy’s presentation, this seemed far too simplistic and actually understated the scale of the challenge we face both as researchers and as a society. The presentation started off by reminding me of the dangers of looking for and accepting a simple answer (bizarrely something I spend my life urging clients not to seek) but then went on to introduce and clearly explain the causes of the fracture.

  • Modernity hasn’t been good for everybody: for some it highlights what they feel they’ve lost.
  • Immigration isn’t a single issue: it gets wrapped up with ‘Europe’ and complex cultural values, some quite basic.
  • A lot of people really are struggling and suffering from a loss of purpose.
  • We’re only listening to and engaging with the people who share our views — I loved the echo chamber concept.

And, as if that wasn’t enough, the presentation went on to identify seven ‘persona’ groups and explained how cultural dimensions shaped the beliefs that we see and hear so regularly. If you watch just one presentation this year watch this one — it’s even got dinosaurs!