Ever since discovering the wonderful TED web-site 2 years ago, it’s been my ambition to be a speaker at a TED conference. It’s a tough target, considering the roll-call of speakers includes Al Gore, James Cameron and Bill Gates! Launched in 1984, TED is a non-profit concept based on the principle of ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’. TED conferences originally brought together people from three sectors: Technology, Entertainment and Design, but the scope of TED is now somewhat broader.
TEDx is an independently organised version of what I call Big-TED and I was thrilled to have the chance to speak at TEDx yesterday at Warwick University. When I saw the stature of the fellow speakers I knew what Obama meant at the Nobel Awards when he talked about his accomplishments being slight! But I felt I had a good story to tell and, following my own advice’ gave it some ‘welly’.
The main thrust of my talk was a plea for us to focus on the human element of business, hence ‘From Capitalism to People-ism’. I drew upon some personal experiences of relationship-building in business, and how some of the great business thinkers had influenced me. I asked the 300-strong audience, many of whom were business students, to remember that all those spreadsheet figures are really the result of human interactions. And to understand business, you really need to understand something about human nature and behaviour.
The tricky thing is keeping to time. TED gives you just 18 minutes and the very presence of that timer counting down can throw you. Part way through I glanced at the timer and saw I had 8 minutes left. I picked up my pace, drew to a conclusion and saw I still had 4 minutes left! I was able to fill them but I did mis-manage the timing.
I absolutely love doing this stuff, but I still get dry mouth through nerves. Liberal applications of water helps, but when you’re miked up and conscious of time, you don’t want to interrupt the flow with too much glug, glug, glug.
All the talks were recorded and I’ll do an analysis when it comes out, but as usual I’ve been thinking of all the things I’d have done differently. I know I can do it better, but it was well received and I had a queue of people waiting to quiz me further, both in the Q&A and the break-out afterwards.
I also caught 7 of the other talks, all fascinating in their own way. I loved the passion of Herve This, a French physical chemist whose main theme is molecular gastronomy. He can say ‘green beans’ like no other human I’ve heard.
Noam Chomsky, the famous linguist, philosopher and political activist was eloquent on the topic of the global financial meltdown and the political responses to it.
But Sir Roger Penrose was the highlight for me. One of the world’s leading mathematical physicists, he’s worked with Stephen Hawking on the development of general relativity theory and the origins of the universe. Having just O-level maths myself, most of it went over my head but I tried to soak up his brain-power and feel the vibes!
It was fascinating to gain an insight into the workings of a superior mind, and I loved the way he used two OHP’s and hand-drawn acetates to explain such weighty matters as the big bang, black holes and the Higgs Boson particle. It was like a private viewing of his working notes, and all the more compelling for it. Pacing up and down between the 2 projectors , Sir Roger came out with the memorable line, “And I’ll just move the universe over here for a minute.” Wonderful stuff.
I don’t know if they’ll read this but I must congratulate the Exec Team at Warwick for pulling this event together. It was really well organised by the students, delightful people all and something I’ll remember for a long time. Thank you so much for inviting me to speak.
For me, it’s a step in the direction of my TED dream – Bill Gates watch out!