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The best of Pause Fest 2019

by Angela Harbinson
on 18 Feb, 2019 18 min read

At the beginning of February, our team all attended Pause Fest. Pause Fest is described as the world’s leading creativity infused business event. For me, it is the event on the calendar that blends startup, tech, design, and business conveniently located in our beautiful city of Melbourne. Running for its 9th year in 2019, this 3 day event delivered on its promise and shared an impressive speaker lineup from the world’s best companies, along with some of Australia’s major startup success stories, and expats who have made it globally.

We thought we would share our teams major take-outs from the event in the hope you get something you can grab hold of and use.

Enjoy our teams top-insights of the 2019 Pause Fest.

Outdoor Pause Fest giant letter sign


Day One

Anthony Dillon

Can we Really Design a Desirable Future? – Juliana Proserpio, Sarah Owen, Andrew Hoyne, Michael Stoddart

Design is well suited to the business world’s current need for innovation, but can we make sure design solves complex problems rather than creating new ones? Presented by AGDA, join a panel of designers to discuss the role we can all play in designing desirable futures.

‘The Role of Design in Our Desire for Connection’ – Andy Fallshaw, Dan McKenna, Adam Morris, Liz Freeman

Consumers are demanding more and more every day. More convenience. More value. More connection. And design helps drive that demand. This panel brought together different design disciplines and asked: how are we designing this intimate future, through technology, community, service and product? What unites us, and what sets us apart?

Key Takeaways

  • The two panels I attended had very similar underlying themes, so I have included insights from both to shape the argument for design-led behavioural influence.
  • In “Can we really design a desirable future?”, the debate centred around whether or not designers have a responsibility to help create a more positive future.
    Half the panel believed that clever and well-researched design had the potential to help lead the world towards a ‘utopian’ future, but the others argued that it’s impossible to really design for the future; as nothing exists in isolation and everything is subject to change from outside forces – you can only design for the present and try to prepare for changes as they arise. No agreed conclusion was reached, but I tend to agree with the latter argument.
  • The panel also pointed out that the design of cities up until this point has always been centred around marketplaces and retail centres. Traditionally, those were the areas where you could expect the highest concentration of people. Today, the largest clustering of people happens online, so the old methods of designing cities based on the expected movements of people isn’t as efficient any more. Despite this, little has been done to restructure planning processes or reallocate budgets.
  • In “The role of design in our desire for connection”, there was a discussion around the concept of ‘positive manipulation’ and how we can design ways to subtly encourage a change in people’s behaviour. For example, designing apartment buildings with shared spaces that encourage (i.e. force) interaction between neighbours.

Our Recommendations

The idea of subconsciously changing the behaviour of the audience is pretty relevant to a few projects we’ve got going on at the moment, and is also the in-famous secret behind the genius that is Walt Disney’s Disneyland. Disney manipulates visitors of his park through psychology, guiding the behaviour of Disneyland visitors through manipulation of the senses.

The presentation encouraged us to think outside the box and invent new ways of “facilitating better behaviour” through design – and I think this is where particularly interesting design approaches of which are often cast aside – such as humour or emotion – can be particularly effective.



Emily Thorpe

‘Engaging the Next Generation’ – Natalie Slessor, GM Workplace & Change LendLease

What is the workplace of the future? And how can we make sure we’re delivering the right thing for our people? Natalie Slessor from Lendlease looked at ‘soft power’ in the workplace and how it’s influencing a whole new generation. Is this a crisis, or an opportunity?

Key Takeaways

  • Additional to current work life-balance standards, the next generation will be looking even more so for a ‘worklife’ than a workplace.
  • While Millennials are entrepreneurial and collaborative in the workplace, Gen Z are instead driven by purpose and principle. This will ultimately lead to organisations with strong values and socially responsible policies increasing in employability and preference among young graduates.
  • Millennials often rate salary as a more defining consideration in job search in comparison to Gen Z. One main driver for this is the idea that Gen Z will be ‘the side hustle generation’ with multiple jobs and secure streams of income.

Our Recommendations

My greatest value takeaway that I would like to relay to our clients is to shape your business, as much as possible, into a workplace that will appeal to the values of Gen Z. Traditional, outdated policies and initiatives simply won’t engage the new generation, as standards considering workplace sustainability and social responsibility rise. Gen Z want a cleaner, more environmentally friendly and socially conscious workplace, and in order to remain competitive in a recruitment context, businesses should act sooner rather than later.




Day Two

Michelle Small

‘Getting Audiences to Engage with Boring but Important Issues’ – Tom Whitty, Journalist and Former Editor of The Project

Tom Whitty hijacked a TV show and developed a segment to get Australians talking about big, heavy and important issues. Then he marketed that segment as a social media movement. And it worked. At Pause, Tom argued that businesses and brands now have the same tools as a TV network, and can use those tools to effect positive change.

Key Takeaways

  • Tom continually drove home the message that you should never underestimate your audience. Tom helped evolve the Project from a show where a few comedians provided social commentary about the news, into a serious – yet still grounded – platform which on multiple occasions facilitated genuine change for Australians. It would be too easy to say that it was a change in the audience that facilitated this transformation; that people who used to tune in for low-level fluff pieces with a splash of often crude comedy could not possibly be the same audience actively engaging with serious political and economic issues. However it was simply the decision by executives such as Tom to take the show’s audience a little more seriously that grew the platform to new heights.
  • Another important message preached by Tom was to not be afraid to take a political stand. Although there will likely be some initial resistance from certain groups, the long term benefits of championing issues that are relevant and important to your customer base will greatly outweigh any negative press generated in the short term. Take Nike’s partnership with Colin Kaepernick for example. This campaign was immediately met with negative press, with the burning of Nike shoes, public ridicule from President Trump and even a 3% drop in stock price in the hours after launch. However, it has now been reported that just days after the initial controversy, Nike shares have rebounded and sales had actually increased by over 30% in the wake of the sponsorship.
  • It was also noted that business should take advantage of the resources outside their usual platforms. Whitty remarked that while one of their segments in the Project named #milkeddry aired to 200,000 viewers on Television, once posted to Facebook the video regarding the Australian milk and farming industry skyrocketed to over 63,000 likes, over 92,000 shares and an overall 4.1 million viewer count. This allowed them to reach a broader audience with many comments like ‘I don’t watch The Project but…’.
  • When championing a political issue, it is more impactful to provide a call to action than to simply raise a question. Time and time again political messaging is used purely to generate awareness, and more often than not these campaigns are not accompanied by a formal solution. Tom claimed that the reason the #milkeddry segment was so effective was because The Project provided their Aussie viewers with a simple and straightforward task that would help to combat the issue; boycott non-Australian milk providers.

Our Recommendations

I would ultimately like to highlight to our clients that in this modern age the ends justify the means when it comes to taking a side on political issues. These days, consumers want to feel close to the brands they are loyal to, and it is increasingly more important in the purchasing process that a brand is seen to align with the values of its target audience. It is important your organisation is genuine in its beliefs, consumers will see straight through a marketing ploy or attention-grabbing tactic.



Jordi Ellis

‘Stupid Genius: Dissecting Controversy in the Age of Desperation’ – Panelists include Reece Hobbins, Nicholas Boshier and Kelly Black

It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there for brands. Fortune seems to favour risk and cut-through requires a chainsaw, not a scalpel. But what happens when controversy isn’t clever anymore? Is it the death rattle of a brand’s desperate attempt at staying relevant? Or is it strategically stupid genius?

Key Takeaways

  • ‘Stupid Genius’ is a concept celebrated by our panellists as an idea that initially sounds stupid or crazy, however, turns out to be revolutionary and actually quite genius once implemented.
  • The ‘stupid genius’ topic was incredibly relevant to – and prevalent within – a number of different industries, specifically surrounding entertainment, celebrity, marketing and of course, social media activity.
  • The panellists were unanimous in agreeing that the ‘stupid genius concept’ is only viable in our current socially fuelled age; where attention is our greatest commodity and virality can be manufactured.
  • A perfect example of a stupid genius? The Instagram account named ‘@world_record_egg’ recently gained more than 25 million likes in just 10 days after posting a stock image of an egg with the caption: “Let’s set a world record together and get the most liked post on Instagram.”
    This concept is completely ridiculous; that a simple image of an egg could gain enough likes to knock celebrity and makeup mogul Kylie Jenner off the top of Instagram’s coveted ‘most liked image’ throne. However, only an idea this stupid could possibly succeed. @world_record_egg has now skyrocketed itself to a massive 10.1 million followers and earned itself a million dollar value post-Super Bowl ad in partnership with Hulu. Now that’s stupid genius.
  • While the initial spark of a stupid genius idea will burn brightly, it is maintaining this momentum that our panellists believed was the biggest challenge. Kim Kardashian was both named, shamed and ultimately, praised as the queen of stupid genius relevancy.
  • While stupid genius ideas are often wildly popular viral sensations, they are in no way sheltered from criticism. Controversy and ‘stupid genius’ go hand in hand, and it is the public’s response that will determine the success or failure of an idea.
    An example of a perfect failure? Dolce and Gabbana’s Shanghai social media campaign disaster.
  • The stupid genius wrap-up ended on the incident that is on everyone’s lips: Fyre Festival. The ultimate conclusion from this social media phenomenon was this: just with every other form of publicity and marketing, it is important to know your limits. Stupid genius only works if the balance between both forces is equal in both ideation and execution – and it is safe to say that the presence of a little too much stupid in the implementation of Fyre Festival dissipated its potential for genius status.

Our Recommendations

The key message I want to relay to our clients is that more than ever, consumers want brands to engage with them beyond the barriers of traditional media. Social media – whilst at times dangerous – opens a unique opportunity for brands to unite their business with online communities, interact with internet phenomenon such as memes and benefit from online user groups intense passion for online content.

The reason stupid genius ideas are so powerful is that they relate to internet movements, and they rally communities to take action. Today’s internet consumers want playful content hand delivered to them by brands who care about the same things they care about, and who are brave enough to have a voice.



Shannon Juvan

‘So we’ve made it to Mars….Now What?’ – Panelists from NASA, WPP, AUNZ, Mars Society Australia, CERN

This interactive panel centred on what would happen if we could get humans to Mars with their basic needs met. How would we build a sustainable society, and could a Mars colony develop its own self-sufficient economy with Martian resources?


Image from the 'so we've made it to mars' panel discussion at the 2019 pause fest


Key Takeaways

  • This panel predicted that we as a society will make it to Mars in 20-30 years, with a strong potential to be building communities on the planet in only 50-100 years.
  • The talk was intended to centre around the issues that we would face in setting up colonies on Mars. The panellists touched on the expected topics such as physics, gravity issues and the legitimacy of having babies in space. They also extended conversation into issues surrounding setting up remote colonies, such as isolated mining villages.
  • The focus of the conversation, however, quickly swung to more controversial and philosophical ideas surrounded if we get to start over on Mars, how can we get it right this time?
    What is the perfect government?
    The perfect religion?
    The perfect economy?
  • An important question arose amongst our panellists. If the effects of capitalism have destroyed our planet in the last 100 years – can we change our behaviour and build an economy based on empathy rather than money? Is it possible to so drastically change where we as humans place value?
  • For me, the conversation really became a discussion about what is wrong with our current planet. Which brought up another question – that if we are going to spend all these resources going to Mars, is it too late to use those resources to fix the planet that we have?

Our Recommendations

If I am being honest, most of us will be dead by the time we colonise Mars…. so I really don’t know what to recommend.



Mollie Liu

‘Smart Cities: Are We Getting Smarter, or Just More Crowded?’ – Bruce Ramus, Director at Ramus Illumination

When is a city considered too ‘smart’ for its own good? By 2050, cities will be home to two-thirds of the global population. Smart cities use data to create efficiencies, improve sustainability and enhance the quality of life, but will this ‘digital stardust’ magically make cities more affordable and resilient?

Key Takeaways

  • Bruce noted that cities should be an agent that facilitates the connection of its residents, not only width but also depth. For example, if I was an art historian, places of the city should be able to connect me to musicians, artists, philosophers, scientists, and others at the same level as myself from different fields. A smart city brings people together, and allows them to utilise their knowledge to the maximum.
  • A smart city should fulfil the needs of its residents. Naturally, the needs of residents in cities are vastly different from one another. For example, Japan’s public transportation system is run at an extremely high frequency to facilitate their culture of a busy and fast lifestyle. Compare this the more relaxed lifestyle of the residents of say, Fiji; this kind of infrastructure and level of service would not be necessary.
  • Technology will enable ‘smart’ infrastructure. Imagine if a digital ad panel on a building could be linked to our phones so that everyone can control the panel and display whatever they want to play on it, and share with all other people. This would facilitate connection on a whole new level, giving residents greater control over the city we live in.
  • How a city is built shapes its people. We are easily influenced by our surroundings. We adopt what’s available and live with it. So cities, to some degree, set up the way we live, work, commute, entertain, etc.

Our Recommendations

Just as cities are tailored to the needs of its residents, we as designers need to communicate to our clients to enable audience satisfaction. It is more and more important for designers to consider user-centric design, and think actively about user experience and interaction. We aim to deliver a clear message for our clients and help their businesses to grow and to connect. We as a business are investing more resources into how we can better serve our clients so that they can better serve their customers.



Day Three

Angela Harbinson

Future Youth: Why You Need to Start Thinking About Gen Z – Sarah Owen, Senior Editor, WGSN

Gen Z will soon become the single largest consumer group on the planet. Here’s the challenge: how can brands create lifelong connections with a split generation that defies stereotypes and makes its own rules? WGSN’s Senior Editor, Sarah Owen, examines why Gen Z is the secret to future-proofing your business.

Key Takeaways

  • Sarah Owen talked about the swing that is happening with the Gen Me culture of Millennials (think selfies, curated Instagram stories of perfection, botox, and fast fashion) to the Gen We culture of Gen Z, which is flipping it all on its head towards anti-consumerism, sustainability and community connections in a world where people celebrate their flaws and crave digital escapism, seeking ways to actually connect with a community. For this generation, games like Fortnight are their “place” to meet where the past generations would have done so in the flesh at the local shopping mall.
  • The new generation will look to collaboration as the key to driving successful teams; think remote workers, flexible working and online interactions.
  • Ultimately, the next generation is not interested in an org chart with their head right down the bottom. Gen Z want to see themselves as an equal, valuable source on any collaborative team. This is a shift for some “traditional management structures” but one worth making if you want to attract talent in the future.

Our Recommendations

I believe that the predicted generational shift towards ‘Gen We’ will have a major impact on our client’s ability to relate, attract and retain young talent. Gen Z is looking for an evolved workplace; one that mirrors their socially conscious and sustainable values and that fulfils their desire to be a part of a group of people who work efficiently, yet responsibly.

Just as we are currently doing with our own internal policies, I urge our clients to think critically about the areas in their business that can be made cleaner and more sustainable – not only to future-proof your business in preparation for the next generation of upcoming talent, but also to take one small step towards a more sustainable future. This is critical for talent attraction and talent retention and needs an inward and outward communications strategy to get your messaging right.



Emily Prust

The Future of Intimacy at Work: Shaping the Work/Life Balance – Dominic Price, Chloe Hamman and Elisia Retsas

As ‘work/life balance’ shifts towards ‘life’, how do we help people bring their best selves? This panel touched on the big issues of workplace culture. How do you manage the introvert/extrovert challenge? And what does remote work actually mean for teams? Welcome to the evolution of the employee.

Key Takeaways

  • One concept that was discussed heavily by our panellists was the idea of leading deliberately; that people in leadership positions have an ability to consciously alter and affect company culture positively through their behaviour. Simple behaviour such as spending too much time in enclosed offices or using isolating language that centres around ‘me’ or ‘I’ can set a negative standard for management behaviour. Leading deliberately is when a person in a leadership position becomes self-aware and seeks to consciously combat negative culture by acting to promote honesty, collaboration and transparency in the workplace.
  • One method discussed for uniting different personalities in the workplace involves incorporating exercises into employee rituals that break down barriers between introverts and extroverts. The act of encouraging sharing activities – both relevant to internal projects and employee personal lives – can have huge positive impacts on team culture and bonding. The secret to keeping both parties happy? Make certain sections of your activity optional or adaptable to encourage introverts to take part within the boundaries of their comfort zone.

Our Recommendations

My greatest value takeaway from this presentation was the reaffirmed influence of leadership in an organisation. These days it is often assumed that the newly accepted ‘collaborative organisational structure’ embraced by a majority of businesses will automatically drive a more positive culture. However, there is no doubt that leadership behaviour still reigns supreme in terms of setting employee behavioural standards. This new wave of self-aware leadership will be a hugely impactful step in the right direction towards a more accepting, positive and in turn, productive workplace.



Sarah Horsburgh

‘Has digital killed spontaneity, exploration, discovery and delight.’ – Soren Luckins, Founder & Creative Director of BÜRO North

What role do discovery and delight have in experience design? We often focus on how technology can make life better, but our digital dependency also leads us down a path of compromise. Founder of Büro North, Soren Luckins, went back to basics: how to recapture that authentic connection.

Key Takeaways

  • Soren highlighted the travel and tourism industries as two that have lost sight of their audience. We – as travellers – have become partial to ‘Set Jetting’ instead of ‘Jet Setting’ as we strive towards the overly ideal, perfect lives of celebrities and characters in movies during travel. The social proof of other’s adventures are rendering us compliant; leaving travellers accepting whatever the aggregate masses recommend them to do, who in reality likely have completely different travel needs and goals. This ultimately leads to the collapse of spontaneity and delight within holiday experiences, as the modern consumer seeks only to do what others have done, rather than exploring unique travel opportunities better suited to their preferences.
  • Frustration occurs in the gap between reality and expectation, whereas delight occurs in the gap between expectation and reality. Managing expectation is vital to delivering successful services.
  • Expectation ultimately kills spontaneity, exploration, and discovery whilst reducing the chance of delight.

Our Recommendations

The key message from this presentation that I would spotlight to our clients is the necessity of managing expectations. Instead of trying to cater to customer needs by using inauthentic buzzwords to drive your business, aim to manage and control expectations early by being honest and genuine about the experience your user is likely to have. Finding the sweet spot between expectation and reality is where we can find delight for our clients and deliver unique solutions tailored to their needs!


Thanks for reading – we can’t wait to experience and share our 2020 Pause Fest insights with you next year!


Staff of Thirst Creative in front of one of Pause Fest's banners


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