It was a day for those who love ideas and stories. Last month, I participated in TEDxObserver in a format more camp-fire than classroom.
Twenty-one speakers talked about survival, campaigning and making a difference, in sixteen minute slots. They broadcasted the best currency available, their own brand of optimism. For many, it was a response to difficulties faced in their own lives, but also for the purpose of making the lives of others more worth living. For others it was giving something back, whether as entertainment, or ideas, both big and small.
It is hard to know whose performance to start describing – maybe the dancing psychologist/researcher, Peter Lovatt who got us dancing in our seats. (See the video of him here.) I found out later he and his wife dance in their kitchen. Mark Solms is a neuro-psycho-analyst, wine-making farmer who offered a historical solution to South Africa’s land problem. Or maybe Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Palestinian who lost his three daughters to Israeli shelling while they were at home together. He is the embodiment of anti-hate messages with a personal philosophy that we could all use at times, especially in the world’s most troubled region. Another standout was Renee Redzepi, the Danish chef whose restaurant Noma was voted best in the world. His menus combine wildness, fresh flavours and sourcing of ingredients in a way that is unshakably connected to its origins. He has set up a gastronomic research institute in Copenhagen. I so want go and taste them.
My response to the talks involved a full spectrum of emotions. I was alternatively enchanted, appalled, worried or inspired. Music provided necessary breaks to accommodate the intensity of the lectures. Young British soul singer Alice Russell and Senegalese musician Baaba Maal took us away from the conference chambers into a place where we could rest, especially necessary after hearing about the experience of British Paralympic athlete Martine Wright, who sat next to the 7/7 bomber and found herself alive with no legs.
Ex-Downing St policy adviser, Geoff Mulgan brought us a dose of applied research, patiently explaining how happiness can be measured, applied and put money back in its place. Sara Brown, who runs Piggy BankKids, a program to reduce maternal and infant mortality in developing countries, reminded how far a small amount of money can go. Similarly, former supermodel and founder of the Happy Hearts Foundation Petra Nemcova builds schools after tsunamis and disasters. Such messages were a call to action. A film clip from Home by director Yann Arthus-Bertrand reminded us of the beauty of the planet and the pressure we are putting it under to feed and clothe us. The title is particularly evocative to a designer like myself who has spent a large part of his life re-enforcing the value, meaning and safety of ‘home’.
This TEDx event was locally organised by the Observer’s feature writer, Carole Cadwalladr and editor John Mullholland. Although the sessions occasionally felt disjointed, one of the highlights was allowing real people, rather than celebrities, to tell their stories, which made for a visceral rather than intellectual experience. Visceral learning is a more powerful way of remembering things, especially on such a variety of topics. TED and the Observer have developed a winning format that could be applied at future conferences. I can see many more coming up and hope to be involved in some way.