Ideas worth sharing: TEDx Sydney and the power of networks

Hello hello,

First off, apologies for the quiet time, I’ve been travelling internationally and have just gotten over the jet lag over here in Paris, tough gig I know. I am on leave for 3 weeks, a great opportunity to kick off my blogging again, and to become a Parisian again…

Before I get too deep into Paris again, I wanted to use this opportunity to capture some thoughts on TEDx Sydney, which happened on May 26th at Carriageworks. I’ve got to admit, I never thought I could feasibly sit through 12 hours of back to back presentations but for a strange reason, it did not feel as intense as it could have. I often have trepidation going into a 2 or 3 hour performance but there was a very different feel about the day at TEDx.

I don’t mean to glorify TED and TEDx, let’s be honest, it’s a great concept, it’s brought some really interesting thinkers onto the world scene and really streamlined the idea of using video content as a reference source (come on, how many times has someone sent you a link to a TED talk!) but it’s ultimately a business, a commercial operation. The underlying concept though, is incredibly powerful, the idea of sharing homegrown ideas, on a global social network.

Having said that, there is something about the way in which the talks are framed that feels a bit unresolved: it’s about sharing an idea, not a business plan, or achievements and experiences. And in that sense, the talks tend to let you hang a little. Combined with the coaching that all the speakers get to homogenise the presentation style, there is an air of authority about the talks that is perhaps not always warranted. I say this full well acknowledging that it was amazing to have Brian Schmidt, the guy who determined the size of the universe and won a Nobel Prize for it, amongst the speakers and that his talk was actually based on a bit more than an idea, a lifelong’s effort actually!

So not everyone starts on an equal footing, or with the same amount of research to back up their idea, but that doesn’t bother me. It just goes to show that ideas, creative thinking comes from a number of places such as business, social entrepreneurialism, community, scientific practice and is not the preserve of the academic world alone.

As we say in French, the talks ‘jump from the rooster to the donkey’, there’s no theme, it is pure intellectual gratification and ideas download, which again, doesn’t bother me in the slightest. As I recently found out through my Myers Briggs test that I took a couple months back, something as unstructured, random and wide-ranging as this is bound to appeal to my preference as it complements and completes my arsenal of seemingly unrelated facts that I can draw from when in conversation. It comes in handy at cocktail parties, believe me.

So what is it about TED that makes it so contagious? In my humble view, TED actually helped me reconnect with a city I sometimes feel like a stranger in. It highlighted in no uncertain terms the strength of Australia’s academic community on the global stage, the amazing talent of Australian artistic talent such as Lynette Wallworth and Katie Noonan, and brought some more emerging profiles to the fore too.

I particularly enjoyed ‘Rekindling Venus’, Lynette Wallworth’s masterpiece of coral reef footage that has been recorded and formatted to be presented throughout the country’s planetarium in honour of the transit of venus. It was one of those moments where you get goosebumps it is so powerful. The combination of the music composed for this purpose and the bright colours of the ocean reefs was a truly unparalleled experience. It finishes on a track by Anthony from Anthony and the Johnsons, an eerily comforting and destabilising voice at the same time.

I also enjoyed seeing Gerard Reinmuth of Terroir and Anthony Burke of UTS and Offshore studio  steal the show by reintroducing the public to what architects do and why they’re important. It’s again highlighted a distinctly Australian strand of architecture, which is, in Gerard’s case strongly influenced by the poetry of Spanish architecture and the pragmatism of Danish architecture. They argued in favour of the architect as the spatial thinker that can bring much more to the world than buildings, interiors and finishes. The architect has a truly strategic role to play but needs to strengthen the value of spatial reasoning in urban decision-making. These guys will be rocking it at the Venice Biennale as Creative Directors for the Australian Pavilion with their exhibition called ‘Formations’, that looks at various modes of practice across disciplinary boundaries.

To get back to the TED, the genius of it is that the TED network is built on the understanding that collaboration and sharing creates value. It connects people to people, people to projects, projects to projects and it does so on a platform that is so perfectly local and global at the same time. It is a prime example of how people don’t use the ‘web’ but they are the web, the connections and nodes that allow for new ideas to sprout up here or across the planet.

It’s no surprise that Chris Anderson is capitalising on this one big time, he’s recently launched TEDed, a similar platform for lessons to be broadcast and shared around the world.

I will be looking into going to TEDx Sydney again next year, and maybe dropping into a couple of other events around the globe, who knows!


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