TEDx Brighton – reasons to be cheerful?

My thoughts on TEDx Brighton. Tech, Entertainmant and Design talks from interesting people.

This is a slight detour from my usual kind of post - but I hope it's of interest nonetheless. I was fortunate enough to attend the first TEDx Brighton event last week and I wanted to capture a few thoughts off the back of it.

TED is a small nonprofit organisation devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since the talks shared at its gatherings have started to be videoed and posted on YouTube, it has gained a huge following on a worldwide scale and similar events under the TEDx banner (the 'x' meaning they are organised locally and independent - but follow the same approach and ethos) are happening all over the place.

Brighton seems like an obvious place for a TEDx event - lots of interesting creative people. And broadly speaking it didn't disappoint. There were 12 speakers drawn from all manner of disciplines and interests - which meant there was something for everyone. And, unsurprisingly for me as an individual some were far more interesting than others.

A few thoughts about my favourites - in the order in which the presented.

George MacKerron
How does our enviroment impact how happy we feel? This was the question George and various colleagues at LSE (London School of Economics) wanted to try and understand better. Over the years our GDP in the developed world has gone up and up, but all research to date suggests that broadly speaking our happiness and contentment levels have stayed pretty much the same. His question 'Green space (fields and trees) is lovely. But how lovely? And how much more lovely than say derelict wasteland'?

They developed an iPhone app which they called Mappiness. With its built in GPS positioning an iPhone can give an immediate location reference any time it's used. So the Mappiness app sends a question twice a day 'How are you feeling?' to participants and asks them to answer a series of questions about why they rate their happiness at the level they do. An initial goal of 3,000 participants was completely smashed after coverage by the national media and it now has some 170,000 participants. The data collected is beginning to really get interesting. The team can now tell with real numbers that for example that an individual will be say 3 points happier on the scale if they are in a green, forested environment than in a built-up urban one. You can see that this data on a bigger scale could start to be really useful for measuring the real impact of development on people's lives. A new motorway through a rural village will impact say 2000 people and knock their happiness levels down by 4 points each. If you could put a monetary value on that you could start to add it into some kind of cost-benefit analysis - which up to now would be about cash spent versus productivity/business gains - and to hell with the impact on anyone who happens to live there.

One thing that struck me in particular was that George said that all participants' happiness levels have gone up consistently over time as they have participated. I wondered if there's something in this. Is participation actually a key learning about what matters? If you feel someone cares about and is interested in your opinion and your state of mind, that in itself makes you feel better. Participating in the project is a kind of therapy in itself. Who needs a counsellor or therapist when they have an iPhone app!?

Antony Mayfield
Antony shared some new thoughts and ideas he has around the skills people need to really use the internet effectively. In particular how to deal with the way that the net can be totally distracting and overwhelmingly full of information to the point of overload. I've touched on this point - the absolute surfeit of information online in a previous post. Antony honed the new skills down to three - which he called Super Skills.

1) Networking - specifically understanding the power of our personal networks. Until the net came along we didn't appreciate the extent of our networks (oh, so you know so and so too!?) or by extension the power they offer. I completely agree. I have been fascinated by the way this blog and my twitter feed in particular both allow me to interact with people all over the place and  to learn from them and to influence them too.

2) Sharing - in particular the way that as kids we learn to share stuff and don't see ownership as that important when we are really young, but forget this as we get older. Today we decide what to share, but the web means sharing can be the default setting. Getting used to this and working out your personal take on what to share and what not to share is a challenge.

3) Focus - how we have to (re)learn to control the never-ending torrent of updates and info that the web throws at us if we want to be properly productive. This for me was the crucial point - and yet I felt the most obvious. Before the internet it was the phone or colleagues sat next to you. The net just makes it even easier to be interrupted and to let events control you and be in reactive mode the whole time. Perfect for putting off the jobs your really need to do. I remain amazed at the way people have notifications for new emails, tweets and Facebook updates pinging all over their desktops all day. Get some discipline back in your lives people! Turn them all OFF!

Will McInnes
Will is one of the directors of smart Social Media agency Nixon McInnes.  I really liked the stuff he had to say about making the workplace more inspiring and optimistic. It was quite radical stuff and, what inspired me is that it really looks as if he is serious about practising what he preaches. Four key themes - Happiness, Openness, Participation, Energy. Two in particular that struck me:

Just keeping tabs on how people are feeling is an interesting way to gauge how a business is performing. In the office at Nixon McInnes they have a bucket of tennis balls and 2 further buckets marked happy and unhappy. Employees stick a ball in one bucket or another and each day they total them up. It's a very rough and ready approximation, but they can then look back and see if there are specific corrolations between the general mood of the office and the state of the business, what's going on at work. Maybe George's Mappiness app could be adapted for specific situations like this?

If everyone knows everything about what's going on - down to details like how much the person next to them earns, then, Will argued, they are unfettered by the kind of stuff that usually creates political problems in the office and can just get on with doing the job. I'm a big fan of this - but I'm not a member of the exec team of the business I spend a lot of time working for. Wonder if I would feel the same if I was? But, wow, if a business could really do this - it would be a remarkable experiment.

He also referenced someone called Bonnie Ware who spent many years caring for the terminally ill and wrote about the 5 regrets of the dying. One of them was I wish I hadn't worked so hard. Every male patient she cared for said this. Very thought provoking.

A few other random quotes (occasionally slightly paraphrased) from the day that I found insightful or just memorable:

Geoff Hadfield: The world hasn't got smaller, our networks have got bigger

John Sivers: (on one of the TED videos we watched): The first follower is what turns a nut in to a leader

Jake Spicer: As we leave childhood, we lose the vocabulary of creativity

Sue Bradley: After 12 years of being on tour, I was tired of the sex, drugs and rock and roll; so I decided to be a teacher.

Sarah Angliss: What attracts us to handmade products in this time of mass production is their unique kinks - their humaness.

Will McInnes: We're a democratic company. Someone do the dishes!

And finally - we watched 3 video clips from other TED conferences - I referenced the John Sivers one above, but the one with Jill Bolte Taylor 'What it feels like to have a stroke' was just the most incredible thing I have seen in a long time. (And the film stopped working half way through!)

In summary a thought provoking day. If I was organising it next year I'd have less speakers - say 8 - and devote some time to helping people meet each other.  There were 250 really interesting people in the room. It would have been cool to have some breakout spaces - maybe with some kind of ice-breaking activity to allow people to make connections. I made a point of sitting next to people I didn't know and made one really great contact as a result. But I wondered how many more I'd missed out on?

Three more write ups I found - from Will McInnes and Neil Hopkins and Greg Dreyfus

If you were there, what were the stand out moments or comments for you? If you weren't, anything in my post that you agree or disagree with?

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