TEDxGlasgow – Enlightened Economy Roundup

OK folks, here’s the last of my posts on the excellent TEDxGlasgow day – and the roundup of the third section: Enlightened Economy. For details of the other two parts of the day, check out Education and Health & Wellbeing.

Nic Marks – The happy planet index

After a tasty buffet and discussion time, we came back to the theatre to watch this interesting video by Nic Marks:

It’s an interesting idea to measure a nation’s “success” by the happiness of its people… what do you think about it?

David Erdal – Employee-owners do it better

Our next live speaker was David Erdal, who wanted to talk to us about employee ownership of companies. David came from a business background, and worked to change his company from family ownership to employee ownership. I was interested in this because I have several friends who work for an employee-owned paper mill, and I wanted to understand more about how that works.

David proposed that, for many people, work is a cross between being forced to do it and being paid to do it. That is, they don’t really want to do it. What if work could become a partnership, though, where all parties worked for their mutual benefit? That’s the key of employee ownership: since the employees own the company, and derive their income from that same company, they are motivated to make the company as successful as possible. It’s different from the traditional “work hard or I’ll fire you” scenario, and more of a “we’re all in this together” affair.

Studies have apparently shown that employee ownership has never made a company worse, but rather brings great benefits including much better employee retention rates.

Joe Tree – Creating a collective human history

Joe Tree is the founder of Blipfoto – an online photo journalling site. He started out taking a photo a day, and as interest grew in what he was doing it evolved into Blipfoto. Joe asked us to consider, for a moment, the sheer number of cameras available nowadays, and the number of photographs being taken.

Around 6 billion photographs are uploaded just to Facebook each month. Getty Images, on the other hand, advertises that they have “millions” of photographs available, while the US Library of Congress has around 14 million photographs in their archive. Joe contends that we are inadvertently creating the largest visual and photographic archive in history.

The problem is, that archive is not too useful from a historical perspective. It’s not open… I can’t search the entire archive because not everyone on Facebook is my friend (thank goodness), it’s poorly indexed, and it’s just too big! How can I find something specific in a messy archive that grows by 6 billion photos per month?

Our children will curse us, according to Joe, because we have the opportunity to create something useful and we are wasting it.

So what’s the solution? We need to find ways to constrain ourselves… pick the most meaningful images rather than keeping every single photo from that drunken night out. We need to openly share the images we have, and need to add metadata by annotating and indexing those photos. If we do this, we create a useful historical archive from our own perspective, rather than leaving it to the historians.

As an example of how we can create our own histories through photographs, Joe spoke about a Blipfoto user who worked in a brickworks. He, naturally, took photos of his working life for his photo journal, and added information about what was happening in the pictures, where it was happening, and so on. But eventually he was tasked with closing down the various brickwork sites, and that comes out in the photos. Pictures of work taking place that now doesn’t, stories of what it was like on the last day on a site, and so on. These are valuable pieces of information that would have been lost otherwise, or would have been written about by someone who wasn’t actually there.

If we want to turn our huge store of digital photos into something useful, we need to:

  • self-curate (and constrain)
  • openly share
  • annotate & index

Mike Small – The local food revolution

Mike presented us with some fascinating statistics on the import and export of food… like the fact that the UK bot imports and exports butter in roughly equal amounts. I’m sure there must be some economic reason for this, but it seems insane. So Mike came up with an idea, called the Fife Diet, to only eat locally produced foods. You’ve guessed it, Mike is from Fife… hence the diet’s name.

The funny thing is that most people who heard about this thought Mike and his colleagues would struggle to find enough healthy foods to eat from Fife. Not so, he says – there is plenty of healthy and seasonal produce to be found.

Eating locally both reduces the carbon footprint of getting food on our plates, and stimulates the local economy.

The key skill Mike says is required is to move away from “endless choice” to “enough”. That is, knowing that you can’t have everything you want all the time, but that you can have enough to live on, and can actually enjoy it.

Mick Jackson – Is social business the evolution of capitalism?

Mick rounded off with a talk about micro finance. Interestingly, this all felt a little controversial as he was also talking about capitalism and how it can be sculpted to serve mankind.

Capitalism gets a bad reputation, but what if we could take the principles of making money and use them for good purposes? Take the idea of money lending, for example – Mick’s organisation “Wild Hearts” makes loans to people to enable them to set up their own companies. Wild Hearts has a number of clients in Ghana, and these clients have been helped to set up companies ranging from clothes manufacture to producing food to sell at the local market. At its heart, this is about providing capital for business, but it also improves people’s lives.

As a counterpoint, Mick also told us these things:

  • wellbeing, progress and happiness are not about money
  • money and true wealth are not the same thing

But at the same time, if you don’t have enough money to live on, it’s very hard to enjoy the beautiful things in life. It’s hard to enjoy spending time with your children when you’re thinking you can’t afford to feed them that evening.

A very interesting and mind-bending talk at times… I’d love to know what you think about this one.

And that’s it. TEDxGlasgow in three posts. If you have the opportunity to attend a TED or TEDx event, I’d highly recommend it. Even if you don’t agree with all the speakers (and I didn’t agree with everything at this event) it’s well worth going for a listen to expand your horizons and exercise your mind. As ever, if you have anything you want to add, please feel free to do so in the comments.

TEDxGlasgow Health & Wellbeing Roundup

Following on from my previous post about the goings-on at TEDxGlasgow, I wanted to give you a roundup of the talks from the second segment of the day. This time we were looking at Health & Wellbeing.

The demise of guys? – Phillip Zimbardo

We started off with a video of Phillip Zimbardo talking about some of the difficulties facing males today:

What do you think?

The great porn experiment – Gary Wilson

This talk sounded intriguing, and actually followed on quite closely to what had been spoken about in the previous video. The upshot is this: pornography is very, very accessible these days. It’s easy to get hold of, and it’s easy to explore a variety of “scenarios” offering unending novelty.

The speaker, Gary Wilson, said that pornography is quite different and distinct from real courtship arousal and could also be seen as distinct from “sex”.

The big question is, “what effect is this easy access to unendingly novel pornography having on people?”. Well, Gary is seeing evidence of addiction – including neurological changes in people’s brains and, in some cases, erectile dysfunction. Is this because of the pornography, though? The problem is that there is no control group for this. It’s supposedly difficult to find a large group of subjects who haven’t used porn!

This was all particularly interesting because it asks what the psychological and physical impact of the Internet is… and the short answer is, at the moment, we just don’t know.

Why are Scots so sick? – Richard Weller

Next up was dermatologist Richard Weller. Richard himself said Gary’s act would be a difficult one to follow, and the introduction of a dermatologist didn’t bode well. He needn’t have worried, though.

Richard started off by presenting us with some statistics on likelihood of death in certain regions. The statistics showed that the further North you go in Britain, the earlier you are likely to die. That is, people in the South have a longer life expectancy than those in the North. One of the key factors, he said, seemed to be the amount of sunlight at higher latitudes. Sunlight exposure leads to the production of Vitamin D, and the people who live longest tend to have higher amounts of this in their bodies, so why not try Vitamin D supplements on Scots? The weird thing is, when this was tried, it didn’t seem to help – so could the Vitamin D be a by-product of the real key factor? Could it be sunlight itself that is the influencing factor here?

Richard then ran through some fascinating research about Nitrates stored in the skin which are then broken down by sunlight into NO2 (laughing gas). NO2 has the effect of widening the blood vessels and, therefore, lowering blood pressure. So exposure to sunlight could be leading to higher amounts of NO2 in the body and lower blood pressure… and a longer lifespan.

There is still some research to be done on this, and Richard did finish with an interesting dilemma. He spends much of his time telling people to be careful of the sun, as too much exposure can lead to skin cancer. On the other hand, his research is suggesting that we need to get more sunlight. The trick will be working out the safe “dosage” that brings the benefits of NO2 production without an unduly high risk of skin cancer.

A musical portrait of a conversation – Sax Ecosse

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, and we had some entertainment up next. A great saxophone group called Sax Ecosse played a piece designed to evoke the feeling of having a conversation. I have to admit it wasn’t really my cup of tea, but there was no denying the talent of the group themselves. They also played in the next conversation/tea break and were absolutely brilliant.

Exploring the last lap – living and dying – Dorothy Runnicles

The next section of the day was an on-stage conversation with 86 year old Dorothy Runnicles. Dorothy is heavily involved in initiatives and consultations with the UK Government on the improvement of care for the elderly. Here she shared some of her thoughts on the needs of the elderly, and why it’s important to care for the older people around us.

She suggested that one of the best things we can do is simply get to know our favourite older person, and that doing so would enrich our own lives and the lives of our children (if you have any). I can attest to this, as I’ve got to know a number of older people well over the years and love the conversations we have together.

Dorothy also made mention of the fact that the elderly give back to society in a range of ways which more than mitigate the care they need. The elderly pay back financially, as they can be quite big spenders, and they inspire compassion in society. They care for grandchildren, for each other, and often volunteer in various roles.

What can we do to ensure we help make older people’s lives as meaningful as possible? We can keep them in the loop as to anything that’s happening in the neighbourhood, we can offer them practical care where needed, and we can ask them to share their knowledge, lives, and concerns with us.

The question of death also came up, and Dorothy encouraged us to place the subject on the table – not treat it as a taboo. The thing is, people of all ages are incredibly diverse, so we can’t assume that an older person will want a certain type of funeral or ritual. Ask them what they want.

Dorothy finished with a lovely line: aging’s not for sissies!

On hope & hopelessness – Murray Watts

Last up in this section was Murray Watts, a playwright and director who lives in the North of Scotland. He started off with an interesting line: Our physical survival may depend on our spiritual revival.

Now, I know Murray Watts is a Christian, but he was by no means the only one during the course of the day to touch on the area of spirituality, and his message came down to this: we need hope. So, how do we get there?

First, he asked us to consider that hope and despair were not opposites. Rather, hope and cynicism are. He used the example of Mother Theresa, who regularly admitted to despair but then turned that into a catalyst for action. She wasn’t, however, cynical.

He then offered some cultural shifts that he thinks we need to see if we want to live a life of hope:

  • We need to move from a bad news culture to a good news culture – it’s always the bad news that makes the television… how about if we concentrated on the good that’s happening instead?
  • We need to move from a culture of celebrity to a culture of celebration – rather than holding people up for nothing more than being famous, we need to start celebrating the things worth celebrating in life.
  • We need to live in the present – this moment matters, while agonising about the past or worrying about the future doesn’t really make a difference. The only thing we can really influence is what’s happening right now.
  • We need to learn to silence our chatter and learn to listen.
  • We need to move away from the idea of “big society” towards “one person at a time”, concentrating on the little, local things we can really make a difference with.

And with that, we were off for another conversation and refreshment break. What do you think of the subjects from this section of the day? I think this was the most rewarding segment for me – the thoughts on how we can engage with the elderly, or how we can connect with people on a deeper level than the surface one we usually work on really clicked in my mind. I’d love to know your thoughts so please do post them in the comments. And we’ll come back to the third part of the day: Enlightened Economy.

TEDxGlasgow Education Roundup

Have you heard of TED? No, we’re not talking about a person here – we’re talking about the global phenomenon that brings together people from Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) to deliver some truly inspiring talks. If you want to hear some of those talks, head on over to TED.com and do some exploring. There’s a fair chance you’ll get lost there for hours as you listen to what the delegates have to say.

As well as the main TED conferences, there are a host of independently organised TEDx events, and I was lucky enough to get along to TEDxGlasgow last weekend. It was an amazing experience, and I want to share some of what was said there with you. I was there for six hours, so we’re going to split this over a few posts. This is a summary of the first “block” of the day – on the theme of education. To follow will be posts about Health & Wellbeing and Enlightened Economy.

Carol Craig – Enlightenment in the age of materialism

The subject for the whole conference was “Enlightenment 2.0”, so Carol’s thoughts formed the starting point for what came afterwards. She spoke about how Glasgow was the home for much of the work Adam Smith did. Adam Smith had a great concern for the poor, and believed that if the country as a whole were richer, the poor would benefit. This hasn’t happened, though: the country is richer than it was, but the poor are still poor. Why? One reason is materialism, which makes people buy more and more stuff so that others will look on them more favourably. Materialism makes us measure ourselves by how other people will look at us. Many parents now believe that the best thing they can do for their children is buy them more things, to the detriment of enjoying the simple pleasures of life.

Carol pointed out that a good life is not about buying new and better stuff and, in fact, the celebrities we see with the “best” lives are those who have realised their fame and wealth aren’t their most important assets – the celebrities who lend their influence to being ambassadors and advocates.

Carol’s big idea is this: get clued up – realise what materialism is, and what it’s doing. Switch the TV off – evade the constant stream of marketing that tells us the way to happiness is to buy more. Talk about it – with parents, with friends, with organisations… talk about the fact that materialism isn’t the answer to our happiness problems.

The enlightenment was all about shining a light into dark places. The enlightenment 2.0 is about doing that again.

Sir Ken Robinson – Bring on the learning revolution!

Next up, a video of Sir Ken Robinson talking about education:

Donald Clark – More pedagogic change in 10 years than last 1000 years – all driven by technology

What a title! And if you’re like me, your first question is, “what’s pedagogic?”. Check out the definition of pedagogy, and this will hopefully make a little more sense!

Donald’s contention is that the education system is outdated. It’s based on an agricultural calendar, and based largely on the idea of the lecture. That is, someone imparting knowledge to a (hopefully) receptive class of students. That style doesn’t work very well, though, and a far better system of education is to be proactive and interactive. The Internet allows for this interaction and proactivity, but also brings with it an ease of replication that allows lessons to be copied and distributed easily… it makes learning scalable.

What was interesting was when Donald pointed out that the idea of allowing students to work in their own environments, with appropriate support, was not new. The Open University pioneered this with their distance/supported learning concept – it just hasn’t taken off with the rest of the educational establishment.

Donald summed up with a catchy line: the learning revolution has already started!

Jane Ballantine – Stop the revolutions and let education evolve!

As a counterpoint to Donald’s talk, Jane Ballantine asked us this question, “What if the system is not actually broken?”. Technology obviously has a large role to play in education, but Jane pointed out that tech is not undergoing a revolution – it’s undergoing evolution. The educational system, then, should also be allowed to evolve rather than being scrapped and reformed.

What’s the point of education? Jane states that education exists to challenge preconceptions, open minds, and create opportunity.

Interestingly, Jane did finish with some thoughts on the use of mobile devices in education, and said that she saw mLearning as a major growth area in future years.

Dr Pauline Dixon – How private schools are serving the poorest

Dr Pauline Dixon was up next, talking about private schools. The accepted wisdom about private schools is that they are the preserve of the elite. If they are affordable for the poor, they must be substandard. Is that true?

In Hyderabad, 60% of the schools in slum areas are private (fee paying) and low cost. In that city alone, around a quarter of a million children are being taught in these private schools. In fact, private, fee paying education forms the majority of the educational opportunities in developing countries.

Parents say that private schools are of a higher quality than their free, state-run counterparts. This is, in part, because they pay a fee and have some comeback on the school if their children are not being taught satisfactorily. After all, if you are paying for a service you expect to have the right to complain if it’s not good enough.

The takeaway point from this talk, for me, was that poor parents still want to make good choices for their children. They still want to see them educated, and they are willing to pick the best school, even if that means paying, to enable that to happen. And another thing… accountability matters.

Raghava KK – Shake up your story

OK, up next was another video with some great thoughts on perspectives.

At this point, we went for a discussion/tea/coffee/toilet break and my head was already overflowing with the fantastic stuff we had heard. If you were there, and if I have missed anything, please feel free to contribute in the comments… I am very aware that my notes don’t cover everything that was said, and perhaps something caught your ear that missed mine.

And don’t forget to come back to find out what was said about Health & Wellbeing and Enlightened Economy too.