About Andy Hobsbawm

Andy Hobsbawm

Andy Hobsbawm established the first international Internet agency in 1994 and was a founding director of leading British new media company Online Magic which merged with agency.com in 1997. As European MD then Chairman from 2003-2009, Andy helped guide and was a spokesperson for Agency.com with his unique insight into the continual evolution of the interactive medium. He was recently listed among the 100 top digital influencers by Wired UK and has previously been recognized by industry professionals as one of most 100 most influential individuals contributing to the development and growth of e-commerce and the Internet in the UK over the last decade. In Campaign Magazine he has been voted New Media Innovator of the Year and named by industry peers as one of the most admired digital pioneers.

Currently Andy consults on digital media and serves as a non-executive director for various online businesses; most recently he co-founded the award-winning environmental group dothegreenthing.com
and internet software start-up Evrythng.net

Latest Posts by Andy Hobsbawm

Burning Questions of the Brain

April 9, 2011 by  


The rather brilliant philanthropy blogger Lucy Berhholz started her post about today’s Skoll World Forum sessions with: “Oxford is the birthplace of Alice in Wonderland and Dr Seuss studied here, so clearly there are some powerful imaginations in town.” I thought that was so good I’d nick, sorry re-use it for the start of mine.

It’s my first time here at the famous Skoll World Forum in Oxford and there’s the flagrant fizz of academia, accents, entrepreneurial energy and world-changing possibilities in the air. I’d expected no less.

The 2011 conference theme is ‘Large Scale Change – ecosystems, networks and collaborative action.’ Based on the idea that understanding the increasing inter-connectedness of technology, globalization, climate and knowledge is critical to effect widespread, sustainable social change.

Fair enough, although so far I haven’t been to theme-based mega-sessions like ‘Deep Leadership: Interior Dimensions of Large Scale Change’ and other larger scale stuff like ‘Working with Governments to Deliver High Impact’ solutions’ and so on. Not because I’m not into that kind of thing (well, perhaps less so the Working with Governments one… ;-), but so far I’ve selfishly preferred sessions with grassroots practitioners based on specific research, thinking and problem-solving that might be more directly applicable to what we do at Do the Green Thing.

Sessions on the neuroscience of social change, and accelerating social innovation with user-centred design thinking – for instance. Even if it was challenging to process burning questions of the brain at 9am, before my brain had officially woken up, the neuroscience one was probably my favorite session of the day.

There was a lot of discussion about the importance of framing and loss aversion, irrational bias and how decisions are highly susceptible to the impact of context, and so on. Fascinating and familiar subjects if you’ve read the work or watched the TED talks of people like Dan Ariely or Daniel Kahneman.

But I found UCL professor Ray Dolan’s research particularly interesting. He explained how, logically, we should register new information and update our beliefs in a symmetrical way, regardless of whether the new inputs are positive or negative. But we don’t. Interestingly we update our beliefs with desirable, optimistic and positive information but not if it’s pessimistic, downright depressing or otherwise undesirable.

In other words, negative news simply doesn’t register. Neurologically speaking, framing information positively is much more likely to change our beliefs about a given situation or shift our mental models of how the world works.

This has fascinating implications for environmental communications and certainly helps explain why the more information on climate change people get, the less they believe.

I’ve always thought that part of the reason is people would just rather believe everything will turn out alright, that the story will have a happy ending. It seems that we are neurologically programmed to think this way.

He also made two other throwaway but amusingly insightful observations:
1.    For a book to be influential it doesn’t have to be read – think Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. (This is the kind of casual observation that could grow-up into an aphorism if somebody phrased it more profoundly ;-).
2.    Men are more likely than women to display irrational bias – which explains rather a lot in the world.

[If we were neuropsychologists, we were informed, we’d find the black box in this slide hilarious. We weren’t so we didn’t, but good to know.]

Also interesting was Warwick University Professor Neil Stewart’s point that we can use training to overcome susceptibility to bias (e.g. think of Wimbledon officials making line calls more dispassionately than the partisan crowds), but that in the end it’s better to go with the flow of how our brains are programmed to think.

In other words, to create successful behaviour change we need to create environments which make it easier to make the right decisions. ‘Choice architecture’ stuff like setting the right defaults when you design services and systems (e.g. in Thaler/Sunstein ‘Nudge’ terms, display the healthy food options more prominently and more people will choose them). Or use creative communications to present those decisions in a language people can already understand with the brains they have vs. trying to train their brains to think differently.

And that, reassuringly, all sounds a lot like what we spend our time thinking about and doing at Do the Green Thing. Phew.

A Skoll By Any Other Name: Breakthrough in IP Rights Technology?

April 7, 2011 by  


Reporting LIVE from the SWF closing plenary session, 15.43 April 1, 2011.

In a shock announcement, Jeff Skoll declared that he will be trade-marking the family name Skoll. The move represents a new breakthrough in IP rights technology. Using an innovative mobile micro-payment system developed by one of the Skoll Foundation ‘Skollars’, individuals and organizations will have to pay a small amount every time the name is used in any context whatsoever.

(A big dispute is breaking out amongst rights lawyers and technologists at the conference about whether people can be charged for using it in everyday conversation).

10% of all revenues will be donated to worthy causes all over the world” said a spokesperson for the family-who-shall-not-be-named any more (at least until we can get some free legal advice on the subject). However, a friend of Do the Green Thing interning at the Clinton Global Initiative said they thought at least 50% of any proceeds should be donated to make this fair: “10% just doesn’t seem right.

Reaction at the _____________ Forum has been mixed; a mix of shock, outrage and outright condemnation. “This has completely ruined the conference vibe and my weekend.” said one delegate, an ethical textile manufacturer from mainland China. Although one venture capitalist commented: “I don’t see what all the fuss is about, this shows how vibrant and hot social entrepreneurship is right now.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has been a conference highlight for many, was almost transcendendent with rage. It turns out a ballet apparel and accessories retailer once tried to trademark the name Tutu and prevent him from using it. “Even though I’m a man who wears a dress most of the time”, he spluttered, “nobody has the right to take away my name.”

The She 28 Campaign

April 5, 2011 by  


At the Skoll World Forum session “Social Innovation by Design”, Elizabeth Scharpf from Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE) just discussed her campaign to break the surprising cycle of depravation caused by the lack of access to affordable sanitary pads in developing countries.

As you can see from her charming Girl Effect type video above, combating this issue breaks a downward spiral of lost productivity and helps regenerate local economies.

She spoke rather disarmingly about assembling an ad hoc “quilt” of talents – including kids she used to babysit for turned young designers, graduate friends at MTV, volunteer animators and so on – to work through the message, which they tested and iterated for months to get right.

Oh and the campaign tagline? What else: “Better sanitary protection, PERIOD.”

PS. As a perhaps slightly curmudgeonly aside, they ask for a $28 donation to help kick-start locally led businesses to make and sell affordable, environmentally-friendly sanitary pads using local raw materials like banana fiber plus provide health and hygiene education and business training, etc. While $28 isn’t a lot of money and is an appropriate ask given the campaign name and issue, doesn’t it also seem like quite a high number in comparison to the flood of messages about 2.5 billion people at the bottom of the pyramid living on less than $2.50 a day or that $5 saves a life and so on?

SoOcket lights up SKOLL: LED Lamps, Batteries and More….

April 2, 2011 by  


In an absolutely fascinating SWF2011 session called “Clouds, Crowds and Social Change”, Chris Gebhardt from Take Part just showed this delightful film they made about the ingenious sOccket invention we blogged about before. It’s a football that stores the energy captured during a game to power LED lamps and batteries. Creative. Clever. Wonderful.

Return of The Girl Effect

September 30, 2010 by  


She’s back. The Girl and her Effect. A couple of years ago many of us were inspired by The Girl Effect – a starlingly persuasive and influential text-based animation explaining how to tackle poverty in the developing world by helping young girls fulfill their potential.

Gazillions of views later the sequel is here. Another beautiful, powerful piece of storytelling which just premiered at the Clinton Global Initiative summit in NYC.

Enjoy, spread the word and be inspired to do something.

[Spotted on Brainpicker]

Walk the Walk on Walk4Life Day

September 28, 2010 by  


Sunday was ITV’s Walk4Life Day. A bunch of different events and organised walks – from hardcore rambling to casual strolling – took place around England and Wales.

Organisations like Walk England, Natural England, Living Streets, SustransRamblers and the British Heart Foundation worked with ITV to put together these walks – find one near you on their site.

Walk4life Day is, as you’ve probably worked out from the language, part of the Dept. of Health’s Change4Life national campaign to get people to eat and live more healthily.

If you live in the city and want to plan your own walk closer to home, do it with the fabulous Walkit.com

So if you need an excuse to Walk the Walk on a lovely Sunday afternoon, this may be it. Go on, as Mr. Tom Waits once put it: “Put the cut back in your strut and the glide back in your stride.”

Inside an Antarctic Time Machine

August 25, 2010 by  


Superb talk from TED Global in Oxford last month.

Lee Hotz is a science columnist for the Wall Street Journal who talks us through an amazing project at WAIS Divide, Antarctica, where a team dilligently drills into 10,000-year-old ice to analyse vital climate change data.

It’s beautifully written and delivered and fascinating stuff.

Joaquin Baldwin: World-Changing Animation

August 8, 2010 by  


Check out these fabulous animations by Paraguayan-born, UCLA-educated artist Joaquin Baldwin. If only it were this easy to change the world eh ;-). Then again, beautiful, hopeful, heart-warming art such as this can inspire us to do if for real.

[Spotted on Brain Pickings]

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