I’ve always wanted to attend a TED talk, I love watching them online. So imagine my surprise when I saw a TEDx Oxford event was happening just down the road.
The day was full of great speakers, talking on a wide range of subjects – from Maths and Shakespeare, to Foreign Aid and Decisiveness, all based around the event subject that ‘x changes everything’.
How Long Hair Changed My Life
Mannat Malhi, the first student speaker, was a great choice to kick off the day. She was, first and foremost, a brilliant public speaker. Settling the audience down with a great mix of humour and insight into her choice not to cut her hair, due to being a practicing Sikh.
Mannat’s hair is a physical symbol of her religion, which she says shows that she is willing to help people.
She told us the most regular questions she gets asked, “how long does it take to wash?”, and, “do you ever sit on your hair?”. Recounting the occasional bullying comments she received as a child, Mannat explained how quick we judge based on someone’s appearance.
“We are all human, we just need to be more humaine” – Mannat Malhi
Unleash Your Inner Campaigner to Drive Global Change
Nikki Eberhardt talked about your “Inner Campaigner” and encouraged people to get involved with causes that resonate with them. To find organisations that fight for that cause, galvanise support for it, and commit to it for the long haul.
It’s not as simple as sitting behind your computer and sending a tweet with a hashtag in, being a “clicktivist”. You need to back it up and show up to events / marches etc.
“Don’t be a hashtag activist” – Nikki Eberhardt
Believe In Your Maths Potential – Set Yourself Free
This was one of my favourite talks, given by Jo Boaler. A Maths professor from Stanford University, Jo “gives people maths problems and then they cry” – her words!
I found it interesting to learn about brain plasticity, and that the best time for brain growth is when we are making mistakes, because we learn from them.
The belief that if you change your mindset and belief in what you can do then it changes our ability to learn.
An example given by Jo was of students getting feedback on a paper. Half of them had, “I am giving you this feedback because I believe in you”, written at the end of the feedback by the teacher, the other half had no extra comment.
A year later it was found that the students who had received this extra encouragement had progressed more than those who hadn’t. Showing that belief and confidence is a big factor in our ability to learn.
Human Networks and Social Division in 2017
David Troy spoke about the difference between people in urban and rural areas. He showed interesting comparison graphs demonstrating election voting habits linked to the density of people per square mile, and then the number of road miles per person.
He also explained the OCEAN Personality Model and how this benefits targeted messaging, and how social media data won the presidency for in America and Brexit in the UK.
Getting Shakespeare Changes Everything
Catherine Mallyon explained how the RSC has been working with schoolchildren and the noticeable difference in students taking their courses.
They found that studying Shakespeare helped children emotionally, by linking the characters problems back to real life, and intellectually, improving language and literacy skills.
It also had the impact socially of making them feel part of a community. Giving them something to focus on, commit to, and take responsibility for when putting on performances.
CleanTech Does Not Exist
David Cassale took us on a journey from Caveman to Spaceman, and showed how progression through the eras is staggered around the world.
As he pointed out, there are third world countries living with the same technology and standards that we in the western world left back in the Victorian times.
Can Magic Mushrooms Unlock Depression
Rosalind Watts told us about her research into treating depression with psychedelic drugs. She explained that rather than suppressing the patients feelings, as most anti-depressant drugs do, it allows the unconscious to become conscious, meaning the patient could accept emotion.
One patient described the process as his “brain is being defragged”, or explained more simply as turning the lights on in a dark house.
“It’s not the mushroom that unlocks the patient, it just shows them the key” – Roaslind Watts
The Overlooked Secret Behind Driverless Cars
An interesting look from Priscilla Nagashima Boyd at the vehicle to vehicle (v2v) communication technology behind driverless cars. Explaining how this would aid the traffic, (and parking!), issues around the world.
Cars having their own wifi to exchange messages would ensure all cars on the same road are equidistance apart, and travelling at the same speed. This would avoid unnecessary braking and acceleration, in turn saving money on fuel and helping the environment.
Priscilla also spoke about trials in Newcastle of ambulances being able to communicate with traffic lights. In turn this meant the light sequences could be changed, allowing the vehicles priority when responding to emergencies.
A great insight into the future benefits of the technology.
Connectivity and Mental Health
Emma Lawrence talked about her own experience of mental health after her “identity shattering” diagnosis with OCD as a teenager.
Explaining that health is not just the absence of illness, but a persons social and emotional well being. She also discussed the findings of the 75 year long Harvard Grant study, into what made a happy life. The result of which was ultimately having meaningful human connection.
Mapping Society For A More Meaningful World
Steve Whitla showed how maps aided our understanding of situations and events by allowing us to zoom out. He explained that we can’t solve systemic problems from just one perspective.
Maps allow us to have meaningful conversation, seeing the whole picture, and stimulate curiosity.
How Foreign Aid Hurts Development
Abhishek Parajuli was the second student speaker of the day. He demonstrated how good intentions can lead to disaster, like friendly fire, although in this discussion the friendly fire was foreign aid money.
Aid doesn’t work because of human nature, and because the money is not coming directly from the population. They care less that it is being used wrongly and so there is a lack of accountability.
Abhishek explained loss aversion theory, that losses hurt more than gains, and that people do not want to lose. Suggesting if people thought it was their tax money being wasted they would suddenly care a lot more.
The Importance Of Being Decisive
Tom Toumazis is a man after my own heart, he hates the word ‘maybe’.
He says we need to talk about maybe, because maybe is not the midpoint between yes and no that it pretends to be.
“Maybe almost always means no” – Jack Jones
The normalisation of maybe has come via social networks – the ‘maybe’ option on a Facebook event, the ‘tentative’ option on an Outlook meeting request. The one that bucked the trend and banned the word maybe… Tinder!
How to get people to stop using maybe? Tell them you don’t like it, tell people that “when you say maybe, my brain hears no!”.
Instead of answering ‘maybe’ to questions, give context as to why you cannot say yes or no, or give clarity with conditions. For example “I can’t come, but if x meeting gets moves then I will”
Tom suggested that if you do this to others, then they will begin to do the same back, therefore eliminating the use of that annoying word!
Overall I had great day out at TEDx Oxford. I enjoyed hearing all of the speakers talk about what is important to them, and what they are passionate about. It definitely encouraged me to think about topics i’ve not really thought about before, and see others subjects from a different angle that I may normally.
I will definitely be on the look out for next years event, and suggest it’s something everyone attends at least once, to broaden their views and possibly get a new perspective on certain topics.