I tweeted earlier in the week that I would take it easy at work in the days leading up to TEDxCanberra and brace myself for the intellectual and emotional tsunami that was inevitable from listening to presentations from 20 smart and passionate people. I’m glad I did because TEDxCanberra was close to overwhelming. I’ll willingly admit that I got teary three times during the day and my mind is crammed with lunar landers, nanotechnology, social innovation projects and big new words like Anthropocene.
As part of the organising crew for TEDx in Canberra I did miss out on listening to a few talks on the day but I had caught most of them during rehearsal the day before and even got to listen to some of the presenters speak twice, which was special.
The main takeaway for me was the encouragement and drive, the empowerment. Knowing that there are challenges in this world that there aren’t enough professionals to go around for, so it’s up to ordinary people like us to get involved and make the world a better place. The importance of finding meaning and purpose in your life (Sunny Forsyth, Abundant Water) and following your dreams (Francis Owusu, Kulture Break). To not resign yourself to the inevitable but say ‘No, we can fix this’ (Will Steffen).
Social innovation isn’t something new to me. Having coordinated Canberra Coworking, Free Australia Wireless, BarCampCanberra and other initiatives and events I feel vindicated but I still believe I haven’t yet found a way that I can use my skills, time and mind for something that actually matters.
I did have a bit of a self-deprecating breakdown during the day on Twitter whilst pondering William DeJeans’ talk on AVID and education. I was home-schooled during primary school, inserted into high school a year advanced at Year 8 and had enough points just 14 months into college to get my Year 12 certificate at the young age of 16 and start working full-time. I was only in public education for 4 years.
William’s talk on rigorous education and preparing students for university made me feel like I missed out on something in my youth. My primary years education was mostly autodidactic … but studying physics and microbiology, and pouring over Scientific American journals didn’t really give me the skills I needed for the workplace.
Ten years on I wonder if I would be more advanced in my career now if I’d studied longer and gone to university. I wonder if further education would have helped me use my brain better, be more articulate. I wonder how not going to university might have handicapped me. Then I realise at the age of 27 when many students would just be finishing up their university studies that I have 10 years of practical work experience behind me. That’s pretty valuable.
Another important thing that I got out of TEDxCanberra is that there are many causes out there already that need either funds, your brains or your hands. Not neccessarily the big charities but small teams. Not neccessarily ones overseas but organisations in your own town doing good work to help solve social problems like homelessness, suicide and mental health issues, education and even slavery. Don’t think you need to start from scratch. Find out who is out there doing good work and see where you can jump in and help.
Of course TEDx isn’t all about social innovation and solving the big world dilemmas. Marco Ostini’s talk on the Lunar Numbat and White Label Space organisation was fascinating. DIY space exploration and developing open source technologies and components for space travel is amazing, lowering the barrier to entry to space through sharing.
Kristin Alford’s talk on the future and making better, more compelling stories to engage people in predictions of the future was interesting too. It’s a topic that I’m getting really interested in as part of my work as a designer and the challenge of overturning usual processes of writing boring specification documents and dull ‘vision’ statements. Humans have used stories to pass on knowledge for thousands and thousands of years and we seem to have lost our way, thinking that progress in this field was to shun our roots and try and act more like computers. As Jodie Foster says in the film Contact “They should have sent a poet” (instead of scientist).
If you didn’t make it to TEDxCanberra then I’m sorry – you really missed out on an amazing experience. It was like a defibrillator for your mind, for your passion. Rekindle that fire within you. Pull your entrenched feet out of the status quo and do something that makes you feel awesome. Don’t let them kill your dreams.
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