A quick confession: I've only ever watched one TED Talk previously - a really insightful piece on the Industrial Internet. That was just over four years ago. Why was I so coy? I had a suspicion that the TED-iverse was a bit of an ever-so-slightly smug echo chamber focused on promoting tech and 'look at me' entrepreneurs.
When TED came to Glasgow this year however I felt compelled to go and take a closer look. In the four years since my initial TED discovery, my sense of what it was hadn't moved on a great deal. As a result, I still approached the event thinking it would be 20 x Steve Jobs wannabes pitching their 'unicorn' ideas - saving the planet, while creating vast internet monopolies for investors. I didn't realise I had become so cynical, but I had.
In fact there was only one unicorn reference on the day, and it was IDEO's David Webster (a Scot, based in Silicon Valley) who referred to a drawing his daughter had made. She was trying to show him the picture, but he kept checking his phone so she asked 'Daddy, when is it my turn to get your attention?' The audience drew breath, and 2000 people recognised the behaviour in themselves at once and at the same time. It was one of many moments that completely changed my understanding of the TED-iverse.
This was a day where tech - beyond the very slick rock-concert style delivery - took a complete back seat. Instead we were invited to listen to some very powerful stories that gave everyone pause to reflect on what it is to be human, what it is to work and what it is to live. Kirsty Wark of the BBC pitched her idea for a 4-day week and it felt, subliminally at least, that this extra day should be given up to some personal TEDx-style reflection and self improvement. Andy Haldane of the Bank of England gave a great expalanation of why movements in GDP are so far removed from the lived experience of most people and why that has to change. He became the unlikely champion of a new form of citizen-centred democracy. That was surprising.
Perhaps what surprised me most, however, were the genuinely moving personal stories of the speakers - woven powerfully into their scientific discoveries or proposals for a bettwer way of living. Lips trembled and eyes teared as we heard stories about (women, in the main) overcoming public humiliation, familial suicide, trans gender prejudice, poverty, anger and self-hatred. Don't get me wrong, this wasn't a public confessional; but rather, people with good ideas based on some very real and raw experiences. Persuasion by story telling is a compelling combination.
TEDx is at pains to point out that these events are independently organised of TED Talks (hence the x), with Agendas and speakers sourced by local organisers. Perhaps this gave TEDx Glasgow freedom to explore such a wide range of ideas. In fact, the whole show was organised largely by volunteers - and they deserve a great deal of credit for a really slick and enjoyable day. Today's world is desperately in need of new ideas and I know that - whether i've secured a 4 day working week or not - i'll be back next year to soak up some more reflections and stories. I might just watch some more TED videos in between.