My review of TEDx Aylesbury

On Saturday 9th May, Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre (the “Second space” – so the smaller bit used for screenings of live operas and that kind of thing, I hope one day TEDx will be so popular in the area the main theatre can be used!) played host to the first TEDx (x = independently organised, even if it does mean it sounds a bit “sexier”, Roy Bailey!) in the area. The theme for the TEDx was Misfits and Pioneers.

What is TED?

TED is “a platform for ideas worth spreading”. No, I don’t know what it stands for either, but basically incredibly good speakers talk about particular ideas at a conference (TED talks) and these are filmed and shared on the website. Speakers can speak for a maximum of 18 minutes and some very famous people have done them – Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs etc. I intend to make an effort to take a look at the site once a week/fortnight.

How did/Why did I hear about TEDx Aylesbury?

Having seen Garr Reynolds in Oxford (who has himself done some TED talks, though I couldn’t find them on the site when I looked) and blogged about it, I heard about them and searching for ones nearby, found there was one in Aylesbury in May. There was also one in Oxford in January but I elected not to attend that one. It seemed like an obvious idea to go, so I put my name on the mailing list and when tickets went on sale, I signed up. Seeing Shappi Khorsandi (who I have seen on TV and heard on panel games on radio 4) was speaking certainly helped persuade me to attend, but I think I would have gone whoever had been speaking.

What happened?

The format of the day was 2-7:15pm.  There were three sets with speakers and one video from the TED website in each. Speakers were filmed (I will update my blog with links to the videos of the talks when they are put online) and there was Amin, a photographer taking some brilliant shots. There was a half hour break between each set for networking and some activities based around “dead TEDs” (people who are now dead but who we would have loved to have heard a TED talk from). Personally, I wanted to do a bit more networking and the half hours seemed to fly by leaving me very limited time to do so. I should have hung around for a bit after the event and tried to use that opportunity, but circumstances meant I had to leave shortly after the end. I tried to thank all the speakers but did not manage to find/approach all of them in the time and constraints.

Set 1

Karen used slides in her talk which was about staying authentic and that success is authenticity (and she should know, featuring in the Power List and heading up MediaCom, the UK’s largest media agency). She defined her rules for success – but, the first rule she gave us was, “Find your own rules” – which I loved. You can’t just copy someone else’s template for success, you must find what means the most to you. Her second rule (I think I can take two for myself?) was “acknowledge the situation, but don’t let it define you“. I got a lot from that rule
– acknowledge this job is a stretch for you/everyone you work with is a man/you are the least experienced, but then rise above it and carry on. Karen spent a lot of time talking about “covering” – when people act in a way other to how they would like to act, because they think their job/boss/workplace demands it. 61% of people (including 45% of white, heterosexual males) admitted to having “covered” at some point.  The study she references was this one by Deloitte. Some real food for thought here (I admit I cover, but not my personality; I think we all cover in terms of dress sense or we would all turn up at work in our pyjamas surely! (or I would anyway) but Deloitte would probably define this type as justifiable). Very smooth, professional, fluent delivery.

Grace lives with a debilitating illness and consequently, a sense of “otherness” but does not let it define her. She talked about her struggles and her belief that we can all be pioneers, carving out our own ways. Grace is a wellness expert and spoke passionately about her struggles and her beliefs.

Islam recounted how when he first arrived at school and said goodbye to his mother in Arabic, his teacher took him, muttering “no English” and gave him flashcards to study, one with a picture of a butterfly on it. Now he has a PhD in English – as he says, “how insecure am I?”. His talk was on continuing to learn, to be a scholar and to read and that despite our differences, as readers we share a common experience, with no excuse to be prejudist. Islam has spoken at many conferences, works in the Department of English at the University of Birmingham and even advises the BBC on Arabic pronunciations.

The link will take you to view the video too. Tom explains systems thinking by using an example of getting people to explain how they make toast – first with drawings, then with sticky notes and hen collaboratively. More steps (nodes) were needed as the ways progressed (from drawings to sticky, from sticky to collaboratively) and ideas became more “full”. He has a website which helps you take his method of systems thinking and problem solving forward.

Shappi spoke passionately about her struggles growing up; how she felt like an outsider/misfit due to her nationality, chronic shyness and family life (they fled Iran after her father was threatened by the Iranian government) and told us some of her experiences and how this led her to comedy. “If I speak and you laugh, that’s a conversation. It makes me feel alive”. It was her first TED talk, which makes Aylesbury especially privileged!

Set 2

  • Roy Bailey

After the break, we returned to the room to see a man with a tambourine (Mark Block?) and a man with a guitar – Roy Bailey. Roy sang folks songs about socialism and dissent and even had us singing along to Undefeated with the lyrics that you can see in this tweet below.

Leslie’s talk took me back to my roots as I made parallels about NEET young people (Not in Employment, Education or Training). Leslie founded PRACTivate where gang members are encouraged to use their skills in the workplace rather than revert to a gang lifestyle. Leslie’s articulate talk focussed on perceptions and the cycles of poverty and crime. Once released from prison, the perception is that these people will only be capable of low-paid manual labour and so, they turn back to gang culture and crime. Society, the bigger “community” needs to recognise that these people have more worth than we are currently assigning them; we can then draw new value from these dismissed resources. Gang culture has many of the markings of hierarchical legitimate business enterprises – transferable skills.

This was my favourite TED video. The problem with education is that good teachers don’t want to go and work in the places where good teachers are needed the most! Sugata set up experiments (starting back in the 1990s) to see how children could educate themselves by leaving a PC with internet connection, embedded in the wall of an Indian slum. His experiments got more and more sophisticated – changing the accent they spoke English so a computer would understand them and a group of Tamil speaking 12 year olds were able to teach themselves biotechnology *in English!) on their own in two months so they achieved scores of 30% in a test. Two months later, after using the “grandmother method” (someone just being encouraging “that was good, do that again, wow!”), their scores rose to 50%. If children have interest – education happens; but the children must be in groups in order to learn like this. Sugata wants to conduct more experiments and take his findings, computers and granny programmes further.
If you only have time for one TED video, watch this one.

Ian Wright is a Professor of Planetary Science at the Open University. His talk began with he statement that the Earth itself is a misfit! Ian was part of the team getting Philae to land on the Rosetta comet – a ten year project. The tail of a comet may be millions of miles long, but the actual comet that produces the tail is very small, The instrument that Ian and his team put into Philae was called Ptolemy; about the size of a shoebox we saw pictures of the whole lab worth of equipment that Ptolemy was designed to condense. The project hopes to learn much more about comets (this one developed a tail earlier than expected and looked more like a rubber-duck shape than what was expected!).

Set 3

Alex calls himself an “adventurer”. He has pulled a sled across Alaska, ran across America,rowed single-handedly across two oceans and now plans to live on an iceberg as it melts. He spoke about fear and offered up the fact that fear cam be a great motivator – he wouldn’t be the person he was, or have done the things he has done, if it wasn’t for fear. Very inspiring.

Lucie is a doctor and a novelist; she gave one of my favourite talks. Lucie’s talk began as she shared some feedback she had received about a novel she was writing – it was unbelievable because the protagonist had no agency. Things happened to them in the story, but they did not react or take ownership. As readers, we know this is fake and are uncomfortable with it, but as patients modern medicine removes our agency and expects us to passively submit and surrender to doctors’ cures and medicines. Agency is a crucial part of human interaction – healthcare reads like a really bad novel! Illness appears as a random act of violence on a person but if the fact of speaking in public, or thinking about some other thing that makes us feel worried and engages the primitive flight/flight response; if our body is able to react physically to this kind of stimuli; why does medicine not account for this manifestation? Lucie talks about the clear links between illness, disease and stress and how treatments should have as a key component training and help to control our response (and our body’s response) to stress. Lucie’s talk was extremely articulate, peppered with soundbites (“science explains the universe, art experiences it”) and covered a topic she was obviously extremely passionate about.

This video shows the speaker, Derek, using a video of a man dancing like a crazy person to explain leadership. As the man dances, an individual joins him, then a few more, until eventually just about everyone is dancing with him. The principles are to treat your first followers as equals, new followers are really emulating the first follower and not the leader, leadership is overrated and it is your first follower who transforms you from a lone nut into a leader!

David is a poet and a lawyer. He opened his set with his poem “Slow down” – delivered in his lyrical Caribbean accent. He was engaging, wonderful to listen to and a perfect way to round off the speakers.


I really enjoyed the evening, I thought the videos were a good touch as they showed TED in a wider, international context (rather than just a bunch of misfits in Aylesbury!). However, it was sad to see so many empty seats. The organisers did well and I know they were trying to sell returned tickets, even selling some on the day, but it was a bit disheartening to see. Logistically, in terms of sound, microphones, lighting etc – it was all incredibly smooth and professional, very well done.

There was some talk on twitter not as much as I know the organisers would probably have liked, but the lack of decent mobile signal inside the building meant people struggled and batteries were diminished (I know wifi was available but you had to sign up for it). I think there was probably more talk after the event. I joined in a bit, thanking speakers and made a few comments (I also promised to write my own rules for success inspired by Karen – post to come!), and Amin continued to post photographs after the event which was nice.




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