On February 28th, I went along to TedXOxford, my first Ted anything event! Of course I am familiar with the Ted concept – I’ve not been living under a rock – but not intimately familiar, and I have always found the videos I’ve encountered online touch and go. Go, yes I have found many stimulating, enlightening and moving, but Touch, also occasionally ‘preachy’, demagogic and self righteous, so I was not sure what to expect.
I’m pleased to say that I had an inspiring day. Not every talk spoke to me, but many pulled me in deeply. And while I’m not sure that I found my personal X – the theme of the day – I desperately wanted to!
Several of the talks were highlights for me. First up was Sangu Dele, an African Entrepreneur (and Harvard graduate) studying entrepreneurship in Africa. He argued for supporting female entrepreneurs discovering and exploring some of the amazing things many women have achieved in Africa even though the odds are stacked against them. It is always refreshing to hear this perspective embraced by men. One point that he made that really stuck with me was that on average women reinvest 90% of their earnings in better nutrition and education for their families, compared to 40% for men. This is one reason why putting more wealth in the hands of women will accelerate social change across the continent.
A more intriguing than moving talk was delivered by Jonny Gellar, Joint CEO of Curtis Brown, the largest and oldest literary and talent agency in the UK. Jonny shared insights on what makes a best seller. Familiarity, it takes you from somewhere familiar to somewhere new; Voice, being able to communicate your unique voice to produce a book that only you could have produced at that time; Space, the things you don’t say and the space you leave for the reader’s imagination to fill the space; Craft, it does take some skill; and the ‘Nonetheless’, a kind of indescribable factor but you know it when you see it. These are good guidelines for spotting a best seller, but ultimately no one knows for sure what will be a hit and what will simply fail to capture the public’s interest despite ticking all the boxes. The market decides.
Floyd Woodrow gave a thought provoking talk on leading yourself, finding your inner strength and setting yourself on a path. In some ways it was much like listening to other leadership speakers, pulling age old leadership messages about having goals, a plan, and a set of values to drive you but formed in a paradigm familiar from their own life – in this case the military – but Floyd spoke with a conviction that was highly motivating.
Theodore Zeldin, an expert in happiness, delivered a thought provoking dialogue on the need to really listen to one another, suggesting that the art of really listening is something that has been lost in an age or broadcast and argument. He also suggested that we need to re-evaluate the way we work, with the jobs we do today failing to provide fulfillment and utterly unsuitable for the workers of tomorrow. This provoked a discussion between me and my friend about our work, and even though I have a job I love, it does sometimes seem intangible what exactly it is I am achieving and I am enamored by the idea of making something (though I definitely don’t have the skill!). We speculated that perhaps our cultural attitudes regarding value and self worth are not evolving as quickly as the job market.
Of course another benefit of the day was spending it with a friend I don’t see often enough and having an amazing Goat’s Cheese and Caramelized Onion pizza for dinner at the White Rabbit.
The live talks were interspersed with a number of videos, some thought provoking, some seemingly deliberately sentimental. The one I enjoyed most was a talk from Rita Peirson on teaching and why every kid needs a champion. Watch it, its funny, its moving, I wish I had a teacher like Rita – maybe I did but I was too busy being young to realise.
The most important and moving talk of the day for me was Lauren Book, a former teacher and current child advocate speaking out against child sexual abuse. A survivor of child sexual abuse – a tragedy that effects a disturbingly high number of children across the world – Lauren shared her story, not in graphic and gory detail, but of the emotions she felt. The ‘freeze’ reflex kicking in, paralyzing her and making it impossible to act, with the lead holding her down getting heavier as time passed. The confusion, the fear, the guilt. I believe it is really impossible to understand what it is like to go through this kind of experience without experiencing it, but Lauren’s account certainly gave me a new level of empathy. Lauren described herself as fighting against what happened to her as being the thing that defines her, but clearly it does still define her, but rather than being a victim, she is looking to help others because ‘being a child shouldn’t hurt’. It was incredible moving.
Overall an inspiring day that has raised a lot of questions for me which I hope I find the space to explore. Highly recommend going along to a TedX near you!