TEDx Sydney 2012 – A Deepender’s Perspective

EDxSydney started off on a high note for me, as I arrived already feeling like a hero.

The Deepend Light Lounge (aka our late christmas party) had gone on deep in to the previous night which meant it was even more challenging than normal to get up at 6am to avoid the tradies currently rebuilding my freezing cold, half-outdoor, unfinished bathroom at home. Then of course there’s CityFail who decided Saturday would be a great day to cancel all the trains across the city of Sydney and replace them with curiously randomly numbered buses spread out so far you almost walked half-way to your destination by the time you found the right stop. So I felt pretty chuffed with myself as I arrived at 8:50am and serendipitously hooked up with another coffee-hugging, nameless Deepender who had decided going to bed was a risk not even worth taking.

I purposely hadn’t read the itinerary to allow myself to enter with a completely open mind, but of course understanding the spirit. The event kicked off with a lot of inspirational music and rousing speeches which rose to a slightly evangelical crescendo before getting into the real business of “Ideas Worth Sharing”. During the day there were indeed some big ideas with that real world-changing feeling, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that for much of the day I had strayed into an academic conference held at Glastonbury festival by a secret cult.

Perhaps all of Sydney just isn’t trying to revolutionise the world right now, or perhaps the speakers weren’t specifically briefed to go beyond a run-down of the current state-of-play of their field of research into the heady, challenging, turn-it-on-its-head territory you’d expect from TED talks. To be fair, I am a devoted follower of most of the topics such as cosmological origins, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, evolution theory and even bee language so I didn’t hear much news that couldn’t be found in the popular press. But that’s not what TED is about – it’s not an industry conference and shouldn’t be judged as such. But if you’re not left mentally slack-jawed at a revolutionary, disruptive idea which just might work against the grain of convention, you are left contemplating what the presenter was trying to leave you with beyond a general inspiration in their topic. No amount of ethnic fusion bongos can compensate for that.

The stand-out social space-time fabric disruptions were, however, excitingly challenging.

Jeremy Heimans’ claim that we must destroy the ambiguous and polluted Green brand to be able to move forward in more specific areas such as energy efficiency, sustainability or conservation resonated with me. Only the night before I’d been inspired listening to an ex-Deepender whose wife is working at various universities on the next generation of workplace flexibility, focusing on output rather than attendance and accommodating modern a human being’s lifestyle through maternity and paternity and other regular phase changes. Their work was cleverly aiming the new regulations to be attractive to the people who’d make the daily decisions, in this case the bean-counters at corporations. Rather than coming up with a politically or academically correct ideal policy and painfully forcing it, policing it, promoting it into the corporate world, why not make something that’s simply attractive and self-powering in its adoption?

I felt Jeremy’s approach to reinventing Green was similar to this “pull” effect rather than “push”. Don’t market products as Green, this nebulous, baggage-laden, aspirational term which doesn’t commit you to perform any specific action. Market products which provide a specific effect such as reducing your energy bill. Now green is in the mainstream, we don’t need to convert people, we need the masses to start enacting smart, informed personal choices.

Gerard Reinmuth and Anthony Burke surprised me too with their view that the established industry of architecture missed out on most of the revolutions including industrial and spiritual, leaving us with a very old-fashioned and limited choice of options in building tomorrow’s cities. As a keen follower of projects such as the Urban OS and Living PlanIT I am now looking forward to the spectacle of bricks-and-mortar bra burning in the near future.

After Lynette Wallworth’s presentation of how corals and galaxies are chaotically self-similar in both purpose and beauty, we scrambled on our iPads to immediately book tickets to her awe-inspiring “planetarium of the sea” shows which will coincide with the rare transit of Venus in two weeks time. I’d also love to buy a DVD of the quirky rendition FourPlay performed to Roger Landridge’s Silent Comic Store, which was still running through my head the next morning. But the difficulty of doing these made me wonder if there’s a new business idea in simply selling TED merchandise to the newly converted!

The final fireworks were without doubt lit by Chris Anderson who presentedTED Ed – a potentially game changing video-based teaching service aimed at taking the burden off teachers by providing instruction to large groups of students, allowing them to focus on coaching. It was an interesting insight into the problem teachers face providing these two conflicting services. Instruction is best broadcast to large numbers, whereas coaching is only possible in very small groups.

The genius behind TED Ed isn’t just harnessing the broadcast ability of YouTube (I wonder if they’re going to support Google’s new broadcast hangouts?) but “flipping” the instruction out of the classroom into homeworkdone the day before the lesson. So kids come to school already knowing the topic and the teacher has more time to provide one-to-one coaching, practical studies and more personal assessment. The double genius is they didn’t even try to solve the intractable problem of coaching directly. By removing the large amount of time instruction takes from the lesson, there’s now enough time for the teacher to coach larger groups after all. It’s a beautiful secondary effect.

I must admit I was quite teary several times throughout the day mostly through inspiring surges of hope and by hearing that young people with old problems have big solutions on the way.

Is it just me, or did it just get a bit smoky in here?

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