Category Archives: Events

TEDxSydney 2014 highlights

Sydney Opera House on TEDx morning

Sydney Opera House on TEDx morning

This year’s TEDxSydney, held at the end of April at the Opera House, proved to be another day of inspiration and education. This was my second one and again reiterated the need to consciously immerse ourselves from time to time in environments that offer something different. When we live in our geographical and career bubbles, it’s too easy to forget that there are so many other people whose priorities and interests are ones you don’t even have on your radar.

Here are some of the top tidbits I took from this year’s event. Some points are lessons, some are observations, and some are questions.

Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief

  • Encountering failure made Markus strive to have success and achieve more.
  • “Every success I’ve ever had has come in a gift-box of failure” – Failure can be a very powerful motivator and teacher.
  • Markus applied a degree of ‘negative thinking’ when writing his fifth book, ‘The Book Thief’. He thought, “no one’s gonna read it, so I might as well write it exactly as I want to. That little bit of negative thinking gave me the courage to follow my own vision completely.” (And what a success that was!)

Adam Alter, Author and Academic

  • External factors influence our true selves – it appears we are quite malleable and reminding ourselves about different aspects of our character changes how we behave.
  • Humans are inherently more honest when we believe we’re being watched (put a photo of eyes next to the office charity snack box and people will be more honest!)

Stella Young, Comedian / Disability Advocate

  • Despite being a person with disabilities, and living in a wheelchair, Stella was brought up like any other kid. Once she was nominated for a community achievement award at 15 – but she hadn’t achieved anything. “I wasn’t doing anything that was considered an achievement if you took disability out of the equation.”
  • “We have been taught that to live with disability makes you exceptional.” People often experience disabled people as objects of inspiration.
  • ‘Inspirational images’ showing disabled people living their lives are designed to make you think no matter how bad life is, it could be worse. “I could be that person. Well, what if you are that person?” The kids in those types of pictures “aren’t doing anything extraordinary, they are just using their body to the best of their capacity.”
  • In response to “inspirational quote” ‘The only disability os a bad attitude’, Stella comically said, “No amount of smiling at a flight of stairs has ever made it turn into a ramp.”
  • “I wanna live in a world where we value genuine achievement in disabled people.”

Cyndi Shannon Weickert, Neuroscientist

  • Cyndi’s now deceased twin brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Cyndi was not. After extensive research, Cyndi and her husband found that there is a correlation between oestrogen receptor genes and the mental illness, and she continues on a quest to find a cure. The latest development is a trial using a pre-existing drug (used for another purpose) thereby bypassing the lengthy R&D process.

David Kilcullen, Author and Strategic Design Firm CEO

  • David spoke about the importance of always working in close partnership with the communities that he does work for to ACTUALLY understand what they’re dealing with.
  • “We are dealing with a crowded, coastal, highly urbanised and highly connected planet.”
  • New phenomenon: 2 billion people talking on cellphones without access to clean water or sanitation.

Mary Jerram, Retired State Coroner of NSW

  • Mary talked about the correlation between justice and vengeance. She talked about how when criminals go to trial and are sentenced / jailed, families of victims are given a feeling that justice has been served. Where does vengeance come to play?
  • Mary gave an example of a case in which two women were found guilty of euthanasia. They assisted one of the women’s husbands in ending his life. He had asked them to do so. It is against the law, and they were convicted and went to jail. “For whom did justice flow in the jailing of those two women?”
  • “If you want vengeance, don’t go to the law. Closure….is very seldom achieved at law in the courts, and vengeance, never.”

Oliver Percovich, Entrepreneur & Founder of Stakeistan

  • Oliver introduced skateboarding to the girls of Afghanistan. 40% of Skateistan‘s students are girls.
  • In a place where all recreational sport is dominated by boys, Oliver introduced something new. “Skateboarding was a loophole! It was so new, that nobody had had a chance to say that girls couldn’t do it yet.”

Clio Cresswell, Mathematician 

  • Clio talked about patterns, formulas and correlations using mathematics. Mathematics is a wonderful, factual language. She showed us formulas that express how our hormones work, and it was interesting to see that the male formula for the fluctuation of testosterone was far more complicated than the oestrogen one for women!
  • “Pattern recognition is right at the core of the animal kingdom. Even reptiles recognise whether it’s something to eat, fight or have sex with.”

Megan Washington, Singer 

  • I’d seen Megan perform at the Opera House before, and found it a little odd that she hardly spoke during her concert. After her TEDxSydney talk, I now know why – she has a stutter and it is something she’s found very challenging throughout her life. Except for when she sings. Which she does beautifully.
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Top 5: TEDxSydney, make another person’s day, VW Golf advert, Le Creuset, Here is Today

The clear ‘Top 5’ highlight this week was TEDxSydney. It was a day of inspiration and ideas and I’m probably still a little high from it! Here’s this week’s Top 5 things I’ve enjoyed:

1) TEDxSydney
I was stoked to be accepted as part of the live audience for TEDxSydney 2013. The whole day was incredible – the speakers, the setup, the attendees, the food! I loved every part.
TEDxSydney name badge
Some of the best bits included:

  • The opening talk, by Ron McCallum, on ‘The Blind Reading Revolution.’ A must-watch.
  • Danny Kennedy on solar power.
  • A video about how crowdfarming was used to feed the attendees.
  • Lawyer Jennifer Robinson on ‘Courage is Contagious.’ She made everyone in the room want to become a human rights activist.
  • Tasty Video Bit by Saatchi & Saatchi: “The First Taste” – a slow-motion video of kids trying new foods.
  • The performance by beatbox extraordinaire Tom Thum was AMAZING! Here’s a video of him jamming backstage with John Butler and Jeff Lang.
  • Joost Bakker’s talk on sustainable and zero waste buildings was rad. He’s doing some awesome things. Check out his website.
  • This Tasty Video Bit by The Projects and Paper House Productions was adorable. Hank and the Pink Balloon.
  • Meeting a woman called Alison Covington at afternoon tea. Alison is bringing Good360 to Australia. It’s all about matching corporate “waste” with charitable need and I’ll be heading along to this event on the 5th of June to learn more.
  • Spending the day with some of the awesome crew that organises TEDxAuckland. Aucklanders, keep an eye out – the 2013 event is happening in a few months and I might just see you there!

2) Make another person’s day in unexpected ways
This post on LinkedIn by Jeff Haden made me smile. He highlights 6 great ways to make another person’s day. In summary:

  • Use your free time to do something nice for someone else, not because you’re expected to, but because you can
  • Compliment someone for something they did a long time ago
  • Point out when you’ve been referred, and who referred you
  • Compliment people for something they don’t expect
  • Notice when someone does something out of their norm
  • Let someone know that you see something in them that they don’t see yet – even if you can’t quite yet see it, either. Give them hope and show them you believe in them

Very happy dog
Oh, and there’s this really cute picture of a dog. ‘Nuff said. (Source)

3) VW: The new Golf advert

There are so many crap ads, so it’s nice when you come across one that can hold your attention. Anyone with a sibling can relate to the kid at 0:13, and I like the divorce proceedings at 0:27. The only thing that’s a bit silly here is how close to a cricket game the guy in the last scene has parked his beloved Golf, but I’ll let that slide. All in all, this is a solid advert.

4) Le Creuset store
Now in Sydney: Un petit bout de France! The beautiful cookware of Le Creuset is now in its own stand-alone store at 106 King St, near Pitt St Mall. I believe I’ll be spending a fair bit of time (and money) in there….

Le Creuset

5) Perspective: Here is Today 
This clever site is a nice reminder of the fact that we’re ultimately here for a fleeting moment. Click through to see how small one day in the grand scheme of things. Damn well, make it count.

Here is today

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The School of Life: How to Worry Less About Money

Last Sunday I went to ‘An Introduction to the School of Life’, an event that was part of the Ideas at the House programme. The School of Life is an enterprise founded in 2008 by philosopher Alain de Botton. It is based in Central London and offers a range of programmes concerned with how to live wisely and well. The School of Life recently released six books, and the authors of two of the books were speaking at this event.

While I had an interest in Tom Chatfield’s How to Thrive in the Digital Age, it was the presentation from British writer and philosopher John Armstrong on How to Worry Less About Money that really caught my attention.

John Armstrong’s book, How to Worry Less About Money Cover image taken from The School of Life’s website

Our relationship with money is lifelong

One of the first things that Armstrong said was that it is important to distinguish between money troubles (being short on cash) and money worries, which is more than a cashflow issue. He said that our relationship with money is lifelong – we come into the world to parents who were worried about having enough money for us before we were even born.

The green-eyed monster

Armstrong showed us a photograph of his car, a 13-year old VW. A perfectly good car that fulfills its purpose as a vehicle, yet, why does he feel inadequacy about it? He told the audience that when he drops off his kids at school, they always ask to be dropped a block away from the entrance. In my view, this is just regular teenage behaviour, but in Armstrong’s eyes it is a symptom of deficiency. He showed us a photo of a good-looking man in a nice suit, driving a nice car and dropping his happy, proud kids off right outside the doors. “Why can’t I be more like him?”

Envy is at the root of our money worries. “It’s not surprising that cultures have told us very dangerous stories about it,” said Armstrong, giving Giotto di Bondone’s painting, Invidia as an example. Envy is commonly known as one of the Seven Deadly Sins of the Catholic Church.

Invidia by Giotto di Bondone, ca. 1305 – 1306
Image from Wikipedia

What do our money worries really mean?

“We like to think that the solution to envy is more cash,” said Armstrong, but “we can learn from our worries.” He said that we can “extract bits of knowledge and self-guidance” by asking ourselves: What does it really mean?

He showed the audience two photos side by side. On the left was a quaint hotel in Venice. Gorgeous but not as imposing as the building on the right, a massive, ostentatious hotel in what appeared to be Dubai. However, Armstrong has no desire to stay at the hotel on the right. He likes the hotel on the left far more, and upon some self-discovery, realised that it’s because two of his literary heroes, Kenneth Clark and Cyril Connolly have stayed there in the past. He said, “I’m sad about my own inability to go there,” but what his realisation uncovered was something deeper than a money worry. Armstrong realised that he wanted to be more like his heroes, but staying in a hotel that they’d stayed in wasn’t the way he’d achieve that. What the realisation ultimately resulted in was that he could convert “a money worry into a greater project.”

More, more, more

How much money does a person need? A common answer is, “More than that person.”

Armstrong asked the audience to consider what words come to their minds when they think about money, and gave his own example. The first thing that comes to his mind when he thinks about money are the words, “Shut up!” He explained why. When he was young, his family went to visit another family – one who was much better off financially. In the car on the way home after the visit, his younger sister, around 9 years old at the time, started raving about how amazing the house was, and added, “I wish we were rich!” He remembers himself and other members of the family telling her to “Shut up!”

He recalls the feelings they had about this event and said that as humans, “we pride ourselves on being frank…..but it’s difficult to be honest with ourselves about money.” He said that they felt inadequate and at the same time, “humiliated by its connection to money.”

Most financial advice is centered either getting by with less money, or making a whole lot more money, assuming that the amount we need is just ‘more, more, more!’ and not qualifying why. Money advice is centered on money troubles, not money worries, and as such, doesn’t take into account the deeper underlying relationship that we have with it.

There are many things that we want but we don’t need

Armstrong describes our needs as being puritan. “We use needs to reduce our exposure in the commercial environment.” We also need to look at what money really is – “a mechanism for saving and spending.”

The question, “How can I get more money?” should ideally be asked after we think about how much money we need and what we need it for. It is only when we come to terms with our underlying goals and desires that we can have a relationship with money that instead of centering around envy, focuses on on a healthy sense of achievement and dignity.

John Armstrong’s book is available on The School of Life‘s website

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