I went to my first TED event last week, TEDxGranta in Cambridge. A TEDx is an independently organised version of the well known TED events, and TEDxGranta was a mix of live talks and recorded ones, themed around ‘Alive and Kicking’. I’d like to pick up on a few things that have stayed with me since the event and if you want to know more about the speakers, you can get an in depth read here.
The event was very welcoming, the pre-show coffee and pastries were top drawer (always a good sign). So let’s get on with the show…
First up was Ross Sargent. Ross is the Co-Founder, MD, and Chief Instructor of Cambridge Kung Fu Ltd, a not-for-profit social enterprise which was established in 2007 (although Ross has been teaching Kung Fu in Cambridge since 2002). The vision of Cambridge Kung Fu is to teach the fundamental benefits that can be achieved through intelligent martial arts and movement practice. He and a colleague gave a great demo on mindful movement, a great example of fluid movement and great strength. At one point Ross stood on one leg, blindfolded, and it took two guys at full pushing force to upset his balance. Ross told us “Softness is the opposite of weakness”, and that it is based on confidence and strength.
One thing in particular that Ross said really struck a chord with me, it went something like:
People say ‘I am…’ and that implies they are stuck – that implies there is no movement in what they are. We can choose to say ‘Currently I am…’ and there’s movement, and fluidity in that. I’m not doing Ross’ point justice but as someone who is fortunate to be engaged in a rich variety of work and projects, I often struggle to tell people what ‘I am’. Sticking the word currently in front means I can more easily be what I’m doing at that moment and then move on. And so I will – move on.
Love for Language
Tim Morley enthused about Esperanto as a gateway to learning languages. It’s being taught in some schools and its simple structure makes it easy to learn and much of it is transferable to other European languages. Foreign language skills in this country are lamentable and as someone who enjoys trying to speak the lingo wherever I go abroad, I found this exposure to a new language very useful. We were given a mini learn to speak Esperanto booklet and I’m enjoying playing with it very much.
The Big Boys
We heard from Eben Upton a co-founder of Raspberry Pi – a neat and inexpensive idea designed to get kids back into the world of programming again. Remember the BBC Micro and the Sinclair Spectrum? Well this is the 2012 adaptation. Full details of the project can be found here. And we heard from Merlin Crossingham the creative director at Aardman. Merlin started work with Morph and has gone on to work with super stars Wallace and Gromit.
Lunch was fab. Paella – much better than the usual conference style fare.
Kirsten Lavers and a few of her team talked passionately about FLACK – a local magazine showcasing the talents of its homeless contributors. We learned about how homelessness can be all consuming and leads quickly to a loss of social currency. I was moved by the frankness and honesty of Kirsten and her team and how they seem able to encourage people to get involved.
Stick to Your Buns
Tim Hayward told the story of how local cake shop Fitzbillies was resurrected after the uber twitterer Stephen Fry heard of its closure. Tim talked about a swathe of people coming into the food entrepreneur market with lots of money in their pockets having been made redundant from previous jobs. He spoke of marketing and entrepreneurship and media and many other things besides. I felt his talk was full of show, overloaded with bullet points, and shot through with arrogance, and it jarred with the humility in the previous talk from Flack. As someone who organises events I appreciate the importance and courtesy of timekeeping. Tim overran by six minutes plus (that’s an age in TED time) which smacked of a lack of preparation. And because I’d decided to stay for the whole day I missed my train home by, you guessed it, six minutes! Mind you the Chelsea bun in our goody bag was simply first class, perhaps Tim should let his fabulous product do the talking in future?
There were two talks in the day which focussed on music. The first by Gil Karpas though very enjoyable to me, felt out of place. And I confess a talk and demonstration by Shelley Katz about the Symphonova Project just went clean over my head. As a music lover I find it odd that these sessions didn’t register more positively with me and I applaud the organisers for their boldness in staging them.
Ten Little Big Words
Tim Minshall gave an engaging and energising talk about the importance of engineering. He shared some great research gathered from children who thought engineers are: ‘Men with hammers and spanners, they wear big boots and fix stuff’. Furthermore the kids thought engineering was ‘dirty’, boring’, and ‘not important’. Kids don’t pull their punches and neither did Tim who used this research as a building block for a super talk. The other blocks in the talk were ten words. Invent, Do, Improve, Share, Shape, Build, Why?, Yes!, Oops! – this one was particularly memorable as Tim shared with us the story of the Genesis probe and the Apple Newton. Two great mistakes. And the tenth word? ‘Wow!’ Tim’s doing great work and I wish him well in his mission to switch on more young brains to engineering.
David Constantine MBE is a co-founder of Motivation, a charity working to improve the quality of life of people with mobility impairment. David told us his own story of how he became wheelchair dependent. Throughout his talk about the life changing work his charity does in providing access to wheelchairs in far off places, he kept referring to himself as lucky. Lucky that he was accepted and embraced. He also told us how proud he is to be a tax payer, and he sowed both these powerful seeds throughout his talk. I found David very moving and inspiring and judging by the applause he received I think most people at TEDxGranta felt similarly.
The live talks were of a very high standard and the hygiene factor stuff, good food, clean loos, comfy seating etc all helped. Oddly I’m sitting here a few days later struggling to recall any of the prerecorded talks (though I enjoyed them at the time), apart from a short funny and rather glib one by some Youtube dude all about how to go viral on their channel. I believe that the TEDx licence mandates thou shalt show prerecorded TED talks, for me they seem to have rather quickly faded.
I had a super day of learning and conversation. Well done to the organisers: Hilary Goldsmith, Vandy Massey, Sue Keogh, Chris Massey, Jo Riches and Zoe Rose, and thanks to Wallace and Gromit for posing for photos. Will I go back next year? Absolutely – TEDxGranta is a very illuminating and enjoyable day.