Month: July 2010

Passion at Middle Age: From Aspen, with love!

This was one of my favourite talks at the Aspen Ideas Festival!  The opening story is a spot-on description of the Aspen crowd….it was hilarious! 

David Brooks has been an op-ed columnist for The New York Times since 2003. Previously, he was an editor at The Wall Street Journal, a senior editor at The Weekly Standard, and a contributing editor at Newsweek and The Atlantic. Currently a commentator on PBS’s “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” Brooks is also the author of Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There (Simon & Schuster, 2000) and On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense (Simon & Schuster, 2004). He has contributed essays and articles to many publications, including The New YorkerForbesThe Public InterestThe New Republic, and Commentary. He is a frequent commentator on National Public Radio, CNN’s “Late Edition,” and “The Diane Rehm Show.”




Losing my virginity: Review of my first TED live at Oxford, England, 2010

Good morning at 200km/h on board the 7:30 am Oxford to London train. I am
meeting ( on a Saturday morning no less!) the lovely @annemcx  for a quick
champagne at the refurbished St Pancras station that I hadn’t seen since
its opening. Then its onwards to Heathrow and Bangalore, India.

This is a rare hour of fasting after a bloated week of
intellectual gluttony at the table of TED. But the city of Oxford with it’s
breathtaking natural beauty, magnificent architecture and centuries old
culture in pursuit of knowledge equally contributed to the Epicurean
overload. There is only so much a girl can absorb, so I have had to pace
myself carefully – I still have 12 days to go and India and China lie

To summarise, TED is FULL-ON!

I am nor sure they have perfected the formula yet, but given how profitable
TED is, it is clearly a highly successful recipe. Even so, they are open to
feedback, and here are some of my observations.

I had a stimulating experience, met interesting people outside of my usual
swimming stream ( everything is outside my usual swimming stream given
where I usually swim in the South Pacific) , expanded my perspectives and
insight into a few areas and picked up a few ideas to introduce for

Was I blown away? Afraid other than the live performance delivered up close
and personal by Annie Lennox, I didn’t get goosebumps or cried or laughed
till it hurt, but then again, I am quite hyper-connected and insatiably
curious already. As most innovators say, there’s nothing new under the
sun, just new combinations. On that score, a Dutch lady researching
products involving pigs was amusingly revelatory.

As far as conference logistics go, I found the sessions too long and my
attention wandered. Each session runs around 105 minutes or 1&3/4 hours and
includes 5 back-to-back slots with a LOT of slides( 1 is sometimes music).
There are 4 of those a day, sandwiched between good long conversation
breaks, too long lunches and just long enough nightly feasts groaning under
the bounty of plentiful so typical of wealthy societies.

So, in a day, you hear from around 20 different presenters, see about 200
slides and film clips, meet about 50 new people, and this carries on for 5
days in a row! If every speaker delivers 3 key messages, that’s 60 per day,
or 300 for the week….not counting the ideas sparked in the conversations
with the countless very bright people, or the 10 books you may buy to
supplement your reading. Can you see why I was not adding to this cerebral
load by trying to maintain a constant Twitter stream and blog beyond
session 1- my RAM was having a helluva time processing just what was coming
at it.

Sitting here now trying to recall the session highlights week, it’s become
a bit of a blur already, and in 3 weeks from now I know my recall will be
even less. But does that really matter as long as my subconscious mind has
absorbed and connected these messages into my neural pathways? Or perhaps
Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows, is right- my online habits have
shrunk my attention span? Or maybe Jonah Lehrer is right- maybe my parallel
processing capacity has expanded thanks to our increasing digital
ambidexterity. (I am not sure what it was prior to the Internet era, I
didn’t baseline it!) I reckon having those two speakers side by side at a
TED line-up would make for a provocative experience!

The theme of TED Global 2010 was “and now for the good news”. Maybe that’s why
newspapers don’t report it- it has low impact on us! I liked the first
session the best out of the whole day conference because it’s underlying
message about the pervasive narrative in our heads that drive our behaviour
is one that I totally subscribe to. A highlight from the week was a
continuation of a theme I picked up at the Aspen Ideas Festival from the
@gregmortenson talks, and that is: We need a new narrative for many things. What could
the world look like if we changed the narrative around power,
inter-cultural collaboration in living on a finite planet with finite
resources, and tolerance for difference and styles of engagement with
Islamic nations.

The ideas presented by the 5 Middle-eastern speakers had the biggest impact
on me. (See program guide here)  They were:

  • Naif Al-Mutawa, Creator of The 99. (Watch this when it goes live! )
  • Elif Shafak, a novelist ( she told a beautiful story about the stories that separate and connect us)
  • Jamil Abu-Wardeh, a TV producer with a wicked sense of humour
  • Maz Jobrani, Iranian American stand-up comedian and social commentator
  • Zainab Salbi, a woman survivor of war, activist and social entrepreneur

I also found Sugata Mitra, an Education Researcher delightful to watch and listen to. A man totally in his element and exuding passion for life and fun.

Its a bit unfair picking just 6 out of the line-up, but what use would a review be if it praised all equally? The standard at TED is high and getting ever higher due to the open sharing of events like these online, a point that curator Chris Andersen made in a talk he gave titled: “Who’s the teacher?”

The Oxford Playhouse is a challenging venue. A dark theatre and the lack of
air conditioning in a venue filled with 750 bodies, stage lighting and a
ton of digital equipment combine effectively with lingering jet-lag to
transport you to the Land of Nod with alarming regularity. Mercifully, free
coffee flowed all day and I found the simulcast lounges adjacent to the
Playhouse a welcome alternative. But you have to wonder about traveling
that far at great expense to watch these sessions on a screen…so I had to
fight feelings of guilt when I used them instead.

The evening events were very well designed and executed flawlessly though I
thought they could have benefitted from a bit more variation- it was the
same formula and even exactly the same wines every night (no champagne???). A few games, some
music or entertainment would have been good? I was a bit cocktailed out by
the end and didn’t go the farewell BBQ and river boating and opted for an
afternoon blitz around the historic Cotswolds instead.

Now to the people. A good international blend, probably 2/3 rd from the UK
and North America, with a sprinkling of the well-heeled from Asia-Pacific,
Oceania, Central & South America, Africa and the Middle East. Largely Gen X
and Boomers, not any Gen Y or millennials except for staff. It looked like
the sexes were reasonably evenly represented though I’d put men at 60% and
women 40%. The most significant common factor would be social status and
income brackets – these are the influencers and decision-makers and it seemed 
largely private sector.

An observation though…polls by show of hand and audience reaction to
ideas revealed an alarming degree of uniformity in opinion. Is it
self-selection whereby only people of a certain demographic are drawn to
these events? Is it because only speakers of enlightened and liberal views
participate? Or dare I say there is a touch of group-think in “the TEDster
culture” as the organizers proudly refer to their followers. Where are the
outliers, I wonder, and how do you bring different voices to this hugely
influential platform where more than 500 million pairs of eyes have
participated in live webcasts or downloaded video content?

Another observation is the fact that from the podium we preach sustainability, growth without impact, over-consumption, etc…but then we add to it by gift bags full of stuff we really don’t need. My challenge to TED organisers ( and all those who emulate them) is…re-think goodie-bags! We all have more than enough shit in our houses alreadty! This is hypocracy in its worst form. And another suggestion: Could the next TED be completely plastic free and use only glass containers and aqua fountains and porcelain cups please?

Will I rush back and do it again? Yes, but not before I have explored other
conferences that are a bit less mainstream and more edgy, like The Singularity Summit. 

I actually think that I enjoy the Facebook Sydney TED Salon  experience more.
This is not a TEDX, but a random group of 15-25 people who formed 4 years ago,
meet at someone’s home once a quarter to watch TED videos selected by the rotating
host, which ensures diversity of taste, and projected onto a sheet ( or a big TV) and then discussed over BYO
wine and finger food. We watch about 4-6 TED talks a night, muse over them, debate pros and cons and check in on who
is doing what, and thus link our respective work and interests in Sydney. It’s great!

So, in conclusion, if I rank the conferences I have attended in the past 3 years in terms of my favourite inspiration for the AMPLIFY Festival that I produce in Sydney, they are:

  1. Picnic in Amsterdam, who ties with
  2. PopTech, Maine USA
  3. TED Global who ties with
  4. Business Innovation Factory, Providence Rhode Island

OK, any contrarian views, questions or comments?

Rough notes from opening day of TED Global in Oxford, UK

Conference theme is ….”and now for the good news”

Session 1: Global power
Joseph Nye-Smart Power

2 big trends in power:
Shift from West to East

Diffusion of power from state to private citizens

Power is ability to influence another’s behavior so that they do what you
want them to do. This is achieved through 3 ways:

Threats (co-ercion)
Desire ( soft power)

Traditionally, power was defined in military terms, but it’s not enough any
more given the rise in the diffusion of power from the state to private
citizens and across borders.

A new narrative is needed, not whose army wins but whose story wins.

Current narrative is a alll about the rise of China and the decline of the

The Narrative/ Metaphor of imminent Decline of America is cyclical- it’s a
lot more psychology than reality.

Eg Goldman sachs forecast that China’s economy will surpass USA by 2027,
but projections oversimplify.
Three problems:
It’s linear and reality isn’t
It doesn’t measure per capital economic welfare
It’s one- dimensional, ignores soft power and views of other Asian
countries of a rising China

It matters a lot. If you believe in decline and base your policies on
belief not on fact, you can get it very wrong.

Beliefs based on fear create an over-reaction. The greatest thing to fear
is fear itself. ( Rooseveldt)

Distribution of power
– needs to be more distributed like a 3 dimensional chess board
-Collaboration the only way to solve complex problems like global climate
issues- a positive sum outcome – your gain is my gain, not a zero sum of I
win you lose.

Hard power ( military) remains important but needs to be blended with soft
power to create Smart Power

In dealing with these great power shifts, the good news is we can do it.

Talk 2: Sheryl Wudunn Half the Sky

Central moral challenge of this century is gender inequality and

60 -100 million females missing from the world’s population. They are
aborted, 50% of girls die from malnutrition.

Girls are not the problem, they are the solution- to poverty, to war, to
economic prosperity

If you are not fully utilizing half the talent in the country, you’re not
going to get close to the top ten countries of the world- Bill Gates

Trafficking in women

Maternal mortality 1/7 dies in childbirth, 1/20 have injuries. Story of
Mahabubu moved from a vicious cycle to a virtuous cycle

Story: Syma, Lahore Pakistan Beaten by husband, couldn’t produce a son, got
a micro loan of $35, today employs 35 women as well as her husband


Larry Summers, World Bank: the highest ROI in the developing world is in
girls education.

Story: Uganda girl, family recipient of a goat, goat produced enough milk
to be sold, enabled her to get education, she was first girl in her village
to graduate fromschool & won a scholarship, then graduated from university
of Connecticut.

Why should you care?

Research shows that once our limited material needs are taken care of, few
things can elevate our happiness. One of these things is contributing to a
cause greater than yourself.

If you have won the lottery of life, how do you discharge your
responsibility to help other win the lottery too?

Talk 3: Naïf Al – Mutawa, a clinical psychologist who lectures on the
biological basis of behaviour in New York

( my favourite- cant do it justice here but recommend you watch it on, he git a standing ovation)

Arab superheroes and intercultural icons

Batman & Superman, Spiderman

Biblical archetypes , All are missing their parents spiderman, batman

The 99 concepts – a new narrative for the 99 principles of the koran
leverages the same idea to create Arab superheroes 99 heroes in 99
different countries

The 99 noor stones
The stone choses you

Stones have mechanisms for self updating ( updating the narrative of the
Koran for modern times)

99 stones work in 3’s
The 99 vision has attracted world class and spreading an idea

99 comics, 99 village.


Parallel between bending a crucifix into a swastika,

Talk 4: Nic Marks- Statistician at New Economics Forum, a happiness

Happiness does not have to cost the earth

I have a dream that the future will not be a nightmare eg movie The Road,
eg environmental issues pedalling fear, freezing our beviour and making us
run away from the problem.

Environmental movement must grow up

Our national accounting system measures only production as a measure of
national welfare

Kennedy deconstructed GNP which measures everything except that which makes
life worthwhile

Let’s redefine our national accounting indexes that doesn’t just measure
how much stuff we have

See The happy planet Costa Rica is happiest place on earth

We need positive feedback loops

5 ways to wellbeing


Be active

Take notice

Keep learning


I know there are challenges ahead, leaders must, like Martin Luther King,
must go to the mountain top and see the promised land, bring that vision
back to people

Talk 5: Patrick Chappatte newspaper political cartoonist

He mostly talked to his hilarious slides of his cartoons, unable to capture
that in notes. Was good!

See some of his work as activist cartoonist to choose not to perpetuate
hate at YouTube/kenyatoons

OD on intelligence at TED Global 2010

The scary thing is… Even Annalie Killian can reach information saturation and sensory overload! Who would have thought that?

Maybe age is finally setting in, or maybe I am simply placing too high expectations on my ability to be “always on” – alert and productive for 18 HR shifts ( not that 18 hours of partying scares me!- it’s just this intoxicating intellectual juice that’s knocking me for a six! )

This trip is so full of ideas/ stimulation and creative triggers that in my “downtime”, I am feeling this hitherto unrecognised and unnamed need to sleep ( at worst) or veg out, not even checking or responding to my little dopamine rug, the uber-persistent Blackberry.

For a compulsively curious extreme extrovert, this is scary shit. Am I turning into my opposite in late life as some folks predict? Much as I wished to be “live-blogging” from the trenches, the combination of missing 5 hours of my life overnight due to some time -zone shift, coupled with waking up at sparrow’s f..t to make it to a breakfast meeting, has made all the difference.

The thing is: The mind needs it’s processing and synthesis time for clarity and Eureka! moments. Without processing time,  everything just flow into each other in a muddy blur that cannot separate the gold.  Maybe I’ll do a TED talk on that some day!

Sounds simple…..yes? Easy to do? I think not! Such is the stuff of contemplating how you spend your time!

WTF? Am I dreaming?

I am sitting in the freakiest lecture on Arificial Intelligence and Transhumanism at the World Futurist Society annual conference exposing creativity, imagination, ideas, streams of consciousness, soul, spirituality as coded patterns that can be recreated through perceptron and imagitrons and through addition of memory and chemistry like adrenaline or seratonin or dopamine. This guy, Dr Stephen Thaler, CEO of Imagination Machines Inc is now explaining how death occurs, including people who have had “afterlife” experiences in near death. It’s both fascinating and depressing. Our reality is basically all virtual!He is now explaining God or Deity as synaptic integration or cosmic schizophrenia resulting from faulty neural networks – a topological rift. Man, this is weird stuff but fascinating to contemplate this self-organizing synthetic brain which is predicted to be free of the faults that our brains have! ( apparently it’s not terribly ambitious to just simulate the human brain!) The ethics and judicial implications for arbitrarily complex systems and the pathologies therein are mind-boggling. Seems we could re-pattern through messianic capabilities of the Creativity Machines unsocial behavior and reinvent the economy and work. Pinch me, am I dreaming this?    

Day 3 update fr Aspen Ideas Festival: the industrial age model is broken

Last night at Aspen, day 3 was a day of creative renaissance, new orders, new models, new paradigms and passion zones. It is clear that our systems of education and job creation and skills are mismatched for this economy. Richard Florida did make sense and is an awesome storyteller with his Sopranos style upbringing in New Jersey- it helps to make him credible when talking creative urgencies. Sir Ken Robinson- the epitomity of British wit and timing that delivers with great clarity and delightful stories – wonder if hestudied stand-up comedy at some time of his life- he could make a living that way! I nearly screamed with laughter when heeded with a video of the Blue Man Group- it’s an inside joke that I can’t share here but I will try and upload a copy! Also a bit of mimicry but it got too geeky for me at the end , then storytelling-in 3D with founder of , Jeffrey Katzenberg- who apparently sucks at playing games himself but he loves to watch!  

Update Day 2 from Aspen Ideas Festival 2010

Well, can’t believe that I was converted from fearful skeptic to believer that the new nuclear energy is the right safe and clean answer for meeting our future energy needs in a way that’s friendliest to humans and planet- by a veteran environmental scientist and author if the Whole Earth Catalogue, none other than Steward Brand. Get his book ” the Whole Earth Discipline”, also Cambridge UK physicist David Mackay: “Sustainable Energy without the hot air.” and NASA Climatologist James Hansen’s book: “Storms of my grandchildren” . Carbon energy is much more toxic to all life on the planet than nuclear. We must get the facts and make decisions that way.  Also enjoyed David Kirkpatrick’s talk on The Facebook Effect. Big aha moment was that facebook is building an Internet scale infrastructure and utility- not a social network. Then got to speak to Twitter founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams and invited the founders of one of the world’s largest news networks to come to Amplify festival in Sydney in June next year!