TEDX Sydney 2014: Ideas Worth Spreading

It was a privilege to attend TEDX Sydney 2014 on Sunday 26th April which is the world’s largest and most iconic TEDX event. TEDX represents connecting people and ideas and was created in the spirit of TED’s mission, “ideas worth spreading.” 

TEDX Sydney

My key takeaway from TEDX Sydney was not from any individual session but a feeling from the whole event. I was inspired by the audiences’ passion for lifelong learning, the willingness to be challenged, rethink and not accept the norms and above all the inclusiveness to share and let everyone have a voice. The collective wisdom in the opera house was magical, an example of which is shown by the sharing of lifetime learning on the chalk board below.  

Learning Board

I really feel we’re at a tipping point of sharing versus withholding information & insights in this connect & nurture vs command & control era, which is very exciting!

Another key takeaway I distilled through the TEDX organising team and their partners including ‘post it’ was looking out and taking a customer centred approach to design. The TEDX event app for instance (created by partner organisation vivant) evolved from asking TEDX users what they wanted to see. They wanted a way to mark their favourite moments and share them. A live tag moment application was hence delivered (image below) which could then be easily saved and shared.


I’ve summarised my key insights from the overall schedule which is below for reference. I would highly recommend viewing the talks on the TEDXSydney You Tube Channel once they’re up in a week or two.  For those who don’t want to wait you can browse through the archive stream via the TEDX Sydney app. Those on twitter should also search the hash tag #tedxsydney for a great collection of tweets, there was a wonderful back channel happening throughout the day!


Session #1 – Passages 

Markus Zusak (author of the Book Thief)
Markus shared two experiences which have had a profound effect on his journey, at his first book reading no one turned up and in his first Zone athletics discus event he threw three fouls. These two failures and others along the way have contained learnings that have helped Markus build great successes. He spoke about the power to imagine and the courage to follow your own vision completely. An example of which happened during the writing of the Book Thief- during a dry spell Markus used imagination by imagining that the main character was the narrator which unleashed creativity. He ended his talk quoting Theodore Roosevelt and that the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, for Markus this is his writing space. He also quoted sports coach Wayne Bennett saying you’ve got to let them go to the dark places otherwise they’ll never know how good they are.
Insight: Every success he’s had has been wrapped in a gift box of failure

Adam Alter – (New York Time writer, author of Drunk, tank, pink)
Adam presented a variety of research to challenge how we think, feel and act. Examples included a coffee jar honesty system to show honesty is not fixed, it varied with imagery with most being donated when a set of eyes were printed and put next to the jar! He did a live experiment with the TEDX audience showing us the alphabet and asking us to choose our favourite five letters. We had to put up our hand if our selected letters included those leading our first and second names, a swarm of hands went up. This translates into research showing for hurricanes Katrina and Rita we donate more to the cause if our name begins with the name initial. Hence Adam calls for hurricanes to be named more strategically versus just going down the alphabet, i.e. name hurricanes John, Mary, Bill Gates, Oprah! In the world of online dating Adam shared research looking at the difference of changing coloured tops throughout the year on profile pictures. The result, to get ahead of the competition wear red! This makes us think of love and romance! He finished asking us to think about three questions: How honest are you? How generous are you? How open minded are you?
Insight: Our honesty, generosity and open mindedness alter dramatically depending on context

#startnow – interlude 
Eccentric Lindsey Pollack epitomised innovation by melding two previously unrelated things, a carrot and mouthpiece to create a clarinet with a wonderful sound. Check out the Carrot Clarinet You Tube Video here (well worth a watch and a great activity for budding child musicians!)

Stella Young – comedian/ disability advocate (Editor of ABC’s website –ramp up)
Stella opened sharing a story of her upbringing and how she was nominated for a community award when she felt she wasn’t doing anything classed as achievement taking her disability away. She wants people with a disability to be seen as normal people and have normal jobs (i.e. doctors, manicurists) not always sources of inspiration and motivation speakers. Stella says the standards for people with a disability are set really low and that she doesn’t want to be congratulated everyday for waking up and remembering her own name. She stated that society had been lied to that disability is a bad thing when it isn’t and that it also doesn’t make you exceptional. Stella’s passion and humour came out (recently performed at the Melbourne Comedy Festival) ridiculing ‘disability porn’ including quotes such as The disability in life is a bad attitude” – if she smiles at the stairs she will not get up them. I agree with some of Stella’s thoughts but think a positive mental attitude can go a long way and would challenge some.
Insight: Disability doesn’t make you exceptional but questioning what you know about it does 

Session #2 – Blood

Edwina Throsby the Editorial Director of TEDX Sydney opened this session saying blood is about life and death – blood means family. The stories in this session were to me the most emotive with stories and people being at the heart of TEDX. 

Cyndi Shannon Weickert told the story of how her twin brother Scott developed schizophrenia and her quest for a cure. I was encapsulated by Cyndi’s love for her brother, passion for a cure and resilience through multiple set backs. She feels close to a cure looking at oestrogen as a protective factor researching their receptors in the cerebral cortex. Scott may not be with us now but Cyndi shared how he gave her meaning for life and is leaving an incredible legacy.
Insight: When you have meaning for life you can feel the passion and resilience as the ability to bounce forward in light of significant setbacks

David Kilcullen, author and strategic design firm CEO talked about the dramatic, disruptive change our crowded, coastal, highly connected planet is experiencing, currently at around 7.1 billion people. He is trying to build partnerships with local communities to address the problems that they understand. Some of the stats he shared were staggering including, 93% of the world’s population have a mobile phone, yet only 63% have access to clean water. He quoted Mike Davis saying, “the world is becoming a planet of slums” and described the endless city where in south american some of the civilian commute by helicopter over the slums to work. He said this exclusion can pull urban cities apart. We need to understand our own environment to communicate with each other and utilise new technologies (i.e. First mile GEO software) to have a  participatory co-design approach, making it more resilient.
Insight: Utilise new technologies to contribute to society and change social structures.

Session #3 – Enhance

Oliver Percovich – shared his last seven years pioneering ‘skateistan’ (an NGO for children in Afghanistan) and creating a youth culture of skateboarding and education in Afghanistan, particularly engaging girls. Globally 5% of skateboarders are female in Afghanistan now 40% are and skateboarding is the biggest female sport! Oliver has managed to unite different ethnicities and social backgrounds with outcomes in health, education, security and diversity.  
Insight: Power was not skateboarding but using this as a channel to share something that you love – 
This was perhaps my favourite talk of the day.

Jihad Dib – Pricipal of Punchbowl High
Appointed as Principle at the young age of 33 in Sydney’s South West Jihad had a huge task at hand, to revolutionise a school which greeted students and teachers with barbed wire and prison like windows. Jihad describes the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality he walked into between teachers and the students. Jihad was up to the challenge and believed where there’s a heart beat is a life and he was not going to blame the community, kids and systems and give up on Punchbowl like others before him. His can do attitude has resulted in a 
waiting list of teachers,  a community dinner with over 600 guests compared to 50, students lining up for leadership positions and 65% of students going onto further education versus 30% 5 years ago. Jihad share a couple of changes in behaviour he pioneered including him and the two deputies welcoming students outside the school. Everything became about family, teachers and students had each other’s backs, Punchbowl found its heart and developed a soul. Jihad reviewed everything at Puchbowl from food to subjects on offer. Cultural change has been no mean feat and he shared how it takes a lot of things to make change. The three main things he credits to success are a strength based approach (no excuse to not succeed), empowering his amazing staff (they took vision his vision into reality and are family not colleagues) and engaging the community (parents are his loudest advocates). I think corporate organisations can learn from Jihad’s connected leading approach to creating a sense of belonging and membership in the Punchbowl community.
Insight: You can change the culture and trajectory of any organisation, open your heart and arms and others will join you. Create a simple culture of belonging and measure strength of the heart and soul 

Session #4 – Rethink

The fast ideas session as part of ‘rethink’ was one of my favourite of the day, six members of the audiences had been pre selected to share a fast idea in 30 seconds, my highlights below:
Oliver – we should have a value creators list vs a rich list and promote to our children value rock stars of the future
Michelle – it’s ok to not have children as a woman in the 21st century
Paul – use digital tracking to prevent youth suicide

Dr Clio Cresswell – author of mathematics and sex
Clio opened with the mathematics of martial conflict and shared an equation that equalled a happy marriage. Couples that compromised the least lasted the longest!  Clio explored sex and problem solving and shared that thoughts of love before problem solving help globalised thinking and thoughts of sex helps process, something to try!
Insight: Opening our minds to use thoughts of sex and love in problem solving!

The wonderful day of ideas worth spreading ended with Megan Washington authentically speaking about her stutter and finished with her beautiful singing voice where  she finds it impossible to stutter. Other talks throughout the day included:

  • Barat Batoor – Award-winning photographer recounting his harrowing refugee journey from Afghanistan to Australia
  • Mary Jerram – retired state coroner sharing her experience of justice and that people are often seeking revenge. Mary can emphasize with the bereaved after her own family tragedy experience and said vengeance is never achieved in court of law 
  • Tim and Judy Sharp – a double shot of happiness – Judy and Tim Sharp shared their story of Tim’s journey to becoming an award winning artist when having been diagnosed with autism at age three the doctors said Judy should forget about Tim and put him away. The messages I took from this were get up everyday and try, if it doesn’t work try something else, never give up, always be nice and every day is a happy day. 
  • Nicole Vincent – Neuro-Ethicist – If there was a pill to make you more intelligent, smarter, stay awake would you take it? Welcome to the world of cognitive enhancement which is filtering into colleges and universities at a great rate. Unlike elite sport there are no anti doping rules for the rest of our lives and cognitive enhancement is a real issue. Do you think this is a problem? Nicole asks us to think about supporting a regulation of these new medications. 
  • Jake Coppinger – the young inventor shared his innovation invention of a glove as an expandable way of controlling the internet of things. Jake shared how ideas and knowledge can be shared and accessed easily. Interestingly Jake as a technology nut said we are so absorbed in virtual worlds that we block out the real one

My final note is the power of people – in an analysis of TED talks this word was mentioned 10 times more than others. The people in the TEDX audience were creative, smart and diverse and I was humbled by the sense of community and inclusiveness throughout the experience. Please help share these ideas worth spreading through your networks!

TEDX Sydney Opera House

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