TEDxAuckland 2015 – My Notes

TEDxAuckland 2015 #TEDxAkl was most excellent yesterday. Sixteeen speakers, live music, great coffee and 2000 or so attendees all along for the ideas adventure.

Back in 1676 Isaac Newton ““If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”.

For me it really feels like the TEDx movement in Auckland has really come of age and the mix of speakers, attendees and other participants (“not meeting”) online as Max Cryer noted during his talk was another amazingly positive day in a world where that kind of thing is increasingly rare.

With Tom Scott, Max Cryer, Bob Harvey and Tame Iti as speakers it was fitting to honour some of these giants who are still among us. The chance to hear from new ideas and from newcomers on the same stage was also very welcome.

Siouxsie Wiles had the tough task of being first speaker and I’d love to see the faces of management of Lego in Denmark when they hear about her talk.

Grant Schofields talk on getting the public involved in public health policy was inspiring. His mention of butter and marijuana in the same sentence caught the attention of many.

Fourteen year old Riley Hathaway showed us a family that picks up plastic together can change the world. The water adventures being part of a wider ecological context.

With All TEDx events because we are there for the day, we end up sitting through talks that we wouldn’t necessarily have chosen to engage with. On the plus side that opens us up to surprises. On the other hand we also hear a few talks that we are indifferent about but the person next to you might love those talks which is part of the delight.

For me Shaun Hendy‘s talk was a let down. In my view – a topic – much too complex to cover off in a few minutes. I was hoping for something much more like the late Sir Paul Callaghan’s talk (see Mapping Our Future. I disconnected over the idea that patents are the best indicator of innovation. I remember back in about 1993 when Simon Upton who was a Cabinet Minister. He argued about the number of patents in NZ being an indicator. It was not a good one in ’93 and it is a terrible one now. When Elon Musk ditches patents and open sources manufacturing patents I agree with him.

Technology leadership is not defined by patents, which history has repeatedly shown to be small protection indeed against a determined competitor, but rather by the ability of a company to attract and motivate the world’s most talented engineers. We believe that applying the open source philosophy to our patents will strengthen rather than diminish Tesla’s position in this regard.

In New Zealand we outlawed patents in software in 2013 after eight years of debate. Really has no one even noticed that the IT sector is worth more than $7b to New Zealand each year? (If I were to digress GDP is a sucky tool to measure anything… but moving right along..)

Steve Pointing was up next and while I am interested in alien life forms his talk was a bit meandering. What he really needed to make his point was something more like this quote from Stephen Hawking just a few days ago.

“My advice to any heartbroken young girl is to pay attention to the study of theoretical physics because, one day, there may well be proof of multiple universes. It would not be beyond the realms of possibility that somewhere outside of our own universe lies another, different universe and, in that universe, Zayn is still in One Direction.”

And that was just the first set.

Hong Sheng Chiong spoke next about his open sourced Eye application. We got a demo of this on stage and despite it being open source and not patented it is very clearly an innovative product of the kind that NZ needs more of. I couldn’t resist the irony of that in contrast to Hendy’s earlier talk.

“The Eye App is the only one of its kind. It is a fully independent smartphone based teleophthalmology app that offers a patient management system, a large variety of visual tests and image acquisition capabilities.”

Chiong deservedly got the first standing ovation of the day.

Tom Scott took us on a tour through his cartoon history of NZ. I was thinking his large single frame cartoons were very much social media artifacts long before the concept arrived. Cartoonists – especially political ones have long provided idea fodder for water cooler conversations in snapshot form – often, in way less than 140 characters.

Gavin Healey has a large scale print project with the NZHerald. It is huge yet I have never even heard of it before yesterday as I have not bought a print newspaper in more than 10 years now. I wonder who does. I also wonder how sustainable a newsprint magazine on sustainability really is.

Billie Jordan spoke about the Hip Operation Crew which is the world’s oldest dance group. She got the tone and delivery just right and much as I liked hearing from her I wanted to hear from the crew themselves. That old saying “dancing about architecture” -when we really want to see the dance not hear a talk.

The dancers came next and it was gobsmackingly beautiful, funny, joyous, sad and awesome all at the same time. Lets face it – most Hip Hop is just plain ridiculous fun but being in on the joke and flipping the script is  a wonderful thing.

As Oscar says it was a new high. For anyone who was at TEDxAuckland 2010 Starjam gave a similarly wonderful performance that brought the house down for that event. (Flashback below) The clip doesn’t do it justice and it was preceded by a talk from Julie Bartleet who is CEO & Co-founder of Starjam.

I thank and blame Winston Peters in part for all those dance crazy pensioners now living on Waiheke Island. A movie came out in Sept 2014.

The Hip Operation Crew is my pick for the first TEDxAkl clip to make it to the Top TED talks list ever. Can’t wait for the clips to come out. In the meantime here is the trailer from their movie.

After lunch we had Dale Nirvani Pfeifer speaking on hashtags and generosity and her moment with President Obama. It was great to hear that Southland accent on a stage in Auckland. Dale is based in Washington DC these days but is very clearly proud of what she learned growing up in Invercargill.

Janette Searle was a surprise to me and I suspect many others. She argued for action in the present. Take My Hands changed lives with $200. YOu don’t have to have a lot to help others. Start now.

Sir Bob Harvey talked on leadership and the importance of place ( Karekare) and connections to great people and projects he had been part of and what came from that.

Tame Iti opened the final session of the day. For someone who has been on the wrong side of the media for 40+ years it was sobering to hear from the man himself “eye to eye”. On a day when there were many impressive talents on display Tame has the cut-through and gravitas of genuine leadership.

Society doesn’t know what to do with dissent and it is too easy for the media to typecast truth speakers as villains when they might in fact be heroes.

I hope that Tame Iti gets a chance to get in front of more people and to have his story told. It was very moving to get a glimpse of the servant heart hidden for so long.

Max Cryer was perfectly charming. Lisa Matisoo-Smith gave a surprising talk on what DNA research can tell us about the Pacific migration of Polynesia.


Last but not least Michel Tuffery showed us the power of art as a transforming agent in the outer Sydney suburb of Airds.

Hats off the TEDxAuckland team. Especially Elliott, Vaughn, Mikee, Oscar, Elanor, Olivier, Jamie and Justin.

The move to a new venue was pretty much seamless and being in one big space rather than on separate floors was a plus.

Thanks also to the sponsors and other supporters for the great coffee, food. Miss 13 thanks sponsors for the candy floss. Diversity, local identity and loads of inspiring ideas and people made for a great day.

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