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TEDX Sydney 2016 review – 3 key themes

 In Business decisions, Insights, Not for profit, Realizer Blog

I cried at a story of a mother’s dying child.

I laughed at the idea of a moth cinema.

I helped break the world record for the most people playing the spoons simultaneously.

Where else but TEDX Sydney 2016? A cross between education, emotion and entertainment. Here’s my take of a truly memorable day.

The themes of 2016 TEDX Sydney

T is for (Terrifying) Technology

Jordan Nguyen demonstrated live on stage the idea of meeting a Virtual Reality version of yourself. “What if,” he said, “you could meet a younger version of yourself? What would you think?” For me this is problematic, for a psychological reason. Each of us constantly reinvents the past in our heads so the present day version of us feels like a consistent self. So you may think the 20-year-old version of you was more in line with your current political and world views. So to meet that person might challenge our sense of a consistent self.

That was one example of technology that I personally find a bit worrying. Just like the rise of neurogaming, robots and AI. Other people I met were more excited, and less concerned, about the impacts of technology. For me, although I consider myself to be progressive, I also really like the world as I experience it today and don’t like the idea, for example, of humans being sucked into a virtual world and neglecting the real version. I want to see humanity win and not become subservient to technology.

E is for (Empowering) Education

How should we die? How should we change the way we discuss masculinity? The speakers who focused on these kind of questions were great examples of asking, “why do we things the way we do? Is there a better way?” The talk on masculinity was close to my heart as I’ve always believed notions of “macho” is pathetic.

A quote from the TEDX talk on masculinity: men learn that macho is silly when they have teenage daughters.

A quote from the TEDX talk on masculinity: men learn that macho is silly when they have teenage daughters.

But I questioned the assertion that there has to be a strong masculinity of any type. Can’t we all just be people who exhibit the best of what were traditionally defined as masculine and feminine characteristics? Can’t we teach boys to be in touch with their feminine side?! Do girls have to be feminine?

I ended the day feeling that I understood the world a little better and therefore empowered.

D is for (Daring) Design

How should we redesign our urban spaces? How can we make clothes more sustainably? This theme is about reframing how we use the physical and built environment. I wasn’t aware that on average we own 4 times more clothes than our parents did.

These design-led TEDX speakers are people who are thinking long term and being more daring, while most people naturally think short term and maintain the status quo for an eas(ier) life.

And of course, even though this was a conference chock full of business people, there was not one single mention of profit. People are thinking about other goals. Happiness, Equality. Health, Relationships.

Interesting things happen when you exclude profit from the room for a day…

The limitations of TEDX

The opening talk of the day was around helping children in Cambodia. Tara Winkler first set out to donate to orphanages, then she became a volunteer, and then – having seen the terrible corruption in a particular orphanage where the director siphoned off all the money – she opened her own orphanage. Over time she came to discover that orphanages are part of the problem, not the solution. It turns out that around 90% of these children aren’t orphans. They just have families who could not support them. More, she found research which showed supporting families so they can keep their children at home is, in almost every instance, more effective. The outcomes of children in orphanages are very poor, for example with a 100+ times higher suicide rate.

So far, so compelling. Cue rapturous applause from audience. But later in the day I was discussing this with a lady called Serena who happens to also be involved in helping children in Nepal – and funding an orphanage. She explained that the picture is not as simple as Tara had laid out, and that in fact there is a role for supporting families, and supporting high quality orphanages. This reminded me that it’s easy to be swept up in a carefully rehearsed, story-led 15 minute presentation. I think anyone who goes to TEDX tends to bring that mindset with them. They want to be taken on an emotional journey with a satisfying ending where we discover there is a solution! And someone else is taking care of it!

Call me controversial, but in hindsight, it feels a bit like Issue Tourism. The solution to this isn’t that hard, we just need to use TED to discover issues, feel motivated by one or two of them, and then go do something about it.

I asked this question of other delegates – if you came last year, what did you do afterwards? The responses were varied, but tended towards subtle rather than significant. So, what will I do? I am currently whittling down the ideas I liked and the people I met into one course of action, one specific thing that I will commit to doing something about. I will be viewing that through the lens of effective altruism – where we can my time and money make most impact?

Bonus: How to get the best out of a TEDX event

Yesterday, I was the guy you see at events going up and talking to random strangers. And at TEDX this was easier than at other events. People were predisposed to be friendly and share a few of their opinions and experiences. There didn’t seem to be that many people awkwardly browsing their phone to avoid looking lonely. I met 8 or 10 interesting people and each of them gave me pause for thought. The tech journalist, the national parks worker, the small business owner…

Will I go on to meet any of these people again, maybe even collaborate on a meaningful project? I’ll certainly be trying. And that would be a big plus of the event.

Other tips:

  1. Take notes as you go – to remember the themes
  2. Have an objective in mind – mine was to find the one or two most important ideas and focus on them afterwards. This also helped me with the “TED-overwhelm” problem where seeing 12 new ideas in a day is brain-frying.
  3. Move around the auditorium. In the first session I didn’t get their early enough so ended up the back. Luckily, they specifically don’t allow people to save seats between sessions, so for session 2 I queued up just a few minutes early, got into the first 20 rows, and now I could watch the speaker rather than the big screen. In addition, getting in early it’s very easy to strike up a conversation with the person next to you.
  4. It’s about ideas that spread, so share them and blog about them afterwards!

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Written by Rob Pyne.