An Evening with Leo Johnson

What do grapes, an Achilles tendon, and PwC all have in common? The answer is quite a lot apparently. They are all in fact linked with Leo Johnson – author, broadcaster, sustainability expert and younger brother of none other than former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.


Myself and Mark had the pleasure of representing Pace Ventures at a PwC Next Generation event held at the iconic House of St Barnabas, a wonderful social enterprise and members club based in the heart of Soho. The aim of the event was to bring together upcoming, talented future leaders within PwC as well as their clients and partners for an evening of networking, playing with new technology and of course lots of eating and drinking.

“We need to slow down, breath in the world around us & have more human, physical interactions with each other”

Leo Johnson on InnovationBut back to the grapes. Leo Johnson kicked off the evening with a wonderful keynote about how innovation in the world today can be found on every street corner or in his case, a local park, no more than 5 minutes from his house. He charmed us with a wonderful story about how he went from injuring his leg and being thoroughly miserable, to setting up a fantastic local project involving the wider community and the making of wine using grapes from his local park. The Unthinkable Drinkable Brent project as it is fondly known as has captured the hearts and minds of local residents with nearly 100 people involved in making (not so delicious!) wine. What came about was some interesting tasting wine that probably won’t be winning any Sommelier Wine awards anytime soon but a project that brought the community together in a time where people rarely know who their neighbours are, let alone interact with them and co-create products together!


The main takeaways we in the audience took from Leo’s intriguing story were three-fold.

  1. Be more fun than an iPad

  2. Work out how to do less

  3. Reclaim the piazza


His first takeaway is a bit of an intriguing point for us as an innovation consultancy that are big fans of tech, but Leo’s comment hit home. We live in an era where rushing around is the norm, constantly looking at our mobiles phones and having limited to no attention for anything else anymore. We as millennials need to slow down, breathe in the world around us and most importantly of all, get back to the basics by having more human, physical interactions with each other. As Mr Johnson quite eloquently put it, “The magic happens when people collaborate together and share their emotions in person; a computer screen never quite cuts it.”


How do we do more by working less? Leo poked fun at the day to day drudgery and boredom an office job can bring, and championed that we as a generation took back the office. We need to learn to work smarter, and certainly not as long, so that we as millennials may enjoy life whilst young, vigorous and still have ambitions to make change in the world we live in. We should not become slaves to the office desk and chair but rather use common workplaces as the vehicle and spark to generate new ideas, businesses, charities and solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems.


My favourite quote from the evening has to be around taking back life and reframing what we should be building for the future, not what is currently on offer. The cities of the future should embrace the notion of building piazzas for the people, not plazas. If we as the next generation are going to build the innovations of the future, we need to go back to our roots and embrace an open, outward thinking and collaborative view point not an insular, claustrophobic and robotic world that may well be the case unless innovation of the soul does not take place soon!


Now all we have to do is find that eureka moment, where balance is achieved and happiness is maximised. Whether that be making grapes in a North London park or not, it is time we write our own adventures and appreciate the memories we create.

Umesh Kumar
With over eight years of entrepreneurial experience, Umesh has worked for Oxygen, Techstars, and was the Co-Founder of Pi Labs, Europe’s first property accelerator. He since co-founded Pace Ventures to build accelerators, hackathons and innovation initiatives for corporates clients to solve their biggest challenges.