One year on, Space Doctors’ CEO Fiona McNae, reflects on her talk at TedXExeter, the dream that she is encouraging us to help forge into a reality, and the resoundingly positive effects we could create together.

If individuals take a conscious moment to consider how their communication is likely to be received, then we will better share our intended meaning. And so mutual understanding will improve; and the cumulative effect of that could be a very significant catalyst for change in the world.

The TEDxExeter theme in 2016 was ‘Dreams to Reality’, which reflected the real sense of transformative possibility that I took away from a very remarkable day.

In my talk I suggested that communication itself is a tool of progress and transformation.  At Space Doctors, we advise brands – some of the most influential communication vehicles in the world – on articulating their message, their positive purpose and role in our world.

We encourage brands to interrogate their communication more closely. We guide them in examining the gap between intended and received meaning, and finding ways to make their communication more impactful, effective and imaginative.

We have another layer of responsibility. There is a further challenge for us to question the assumptions that underpin communication. Why choose this pose, this juxtaposition, this representation of ethnicity, this idealisation of an unattainable lifestyle? Are these choices necessary, socially responsible, environmentally progressive? Are we doing and saying the right thing?

A brand’s voice is powerful, expertly designed for influence and often backed by multi-million dollar budgets across media. It is of critical importance that this kind of influential mechanism is treated with respect. Brand owners need to be aware that in not considering closely enough the assumptions that underpin their advertisements, like the sometimes staggering regressive cultural references they deploy or in not fully attending to context, they can become part of a propagation of values and ideas that are sometimes far from socially responsible or positive.

It is Space Doctors’ goal to help brands structure their messaging so that they are understood not only as a strong, relevant brand in their category, but also as a brand that holds itself to account in the broader terms of social progression and positive cultural contribution.

There is a moment of creation for every piece of communication, from a brand identity to the signs in a radiography department in a public hospital. In this moment of writing or designing, we can all act to intervene, to be alert to the unintended messages to which you may be exposing your audience, your patients. This responsibility to act rests with every individual involved in designing and building communications.

In 2001, David Brailsford became the Performance Director for Team Sky, the UK’s professional cycling team. He introduced a philosophy of “aggregate marginal gains”, a principle that simply aims to improve every area of performance by just a single percentile. It is transformative simplicity.

The same principle applies: if as individuals, we choose to engage just in this critical moment, then we will have significant collective impact on quality of communication, of understanding and empathy.

TEDxExeter 2016 was a deeply moving and transformative event, a catalytic inspiration that motivated those watching and listening to look deep within – and it turned the mirror back on us as an organisation.

Manwar Ali’s frank and honest reclamation of meaning and discussion of the power of a single word ‘Jihad’, the openness and directness in which he stood in front of a crowd and proclaimed his error, his failure, was pure grace and redemption. Danny Dorling set right some of the narratives of fatalism, providing a clearer context by showing us the truths about the world’s evolving social geography that are not part of the dominant discourse. He shared through a series of innovative global maps, messages of hope, and dampening the ones of fear.

At Space Doctors, we teach our clients to immerse themselves in relevant context, to hold it close as they think about their brand and how it influences and is influenced by the world. And we must practice what we preach. As an organisation we must listen to, understand, and participate in some of these big pivotal debates.

We will strive to engage with culture in all its fullness, the messiness, the imperfection and heroism, the brilliance of the ways that people are, in order to give positive advice to brands and organisations. We must stay connected with the complexity of culture and refuse to sanitise it – to examine closely the ebbs and flows of the cultural context that we, and our clients exist within.

And we look forward to continuing our connection with TEDxExeter and its brilliantly inspired organising committee lead by Clare Kennedy, as we attend TEDxExeter 2017 ‘Hope’ on April 21st.


–Fiona McNae, CEO Space Doctors