TEDx Auckland 2013: 17 Hours of Awesomeness

TEDxAuckland ran from 10am to 5.30pm on 3 Aug 2013: 7.5 hours of awesomeness.


But my day started at 6am because I drove up from Tauranga for it, and got back home at 11pm.

I’m still counting the 8.5 hours of waiting and driving because those were all awesome too. I was either talking to my car buddies Michelle Herrick and Lisa Martin-Payne about our businesses, family, lives, dreams and aspirations. Or,  chatting to new people we met during the day and catching up with friends.

I’ve been watching TED videos for a few years now (3-5 a week), but to have the speakers right in front of you, really engages your other senses and drives the content and their message into you.

This was not an accident. It’s my philosophy that 50% of the value of any event/seminar/conference/expo you go to is the content you are exposed to, and 50% the people you meet before, after, and during the breaks.

Also, having just run my own TEDxTauranga event in the same week, I made a point of spending some time with the TEDxTeAro (DK) and TEDxChCh (Kimberley) organisers comparing notes.

On to the TED talks.

I have broken the 17 speakers into 3 sections:

  1. Freakin’ Awesome
  2. Awesome
  3. Somewhat Awesome

Don’t take my rankings too seriously. The magic of a TEDx event is that there is variety built-in so that the person next to you can enjoy the exact opposite talks that you enjoy.

5 Freakin’ Awesome Speakers at TEDx Auckland

1. Jimi Hunt

  • Jimi Hunt is an inspiration. This guy built the world longest waterslide in a field near Auckland this year. Epic
  • “Doing amazing stuff alone can’t be done – ask for help”
  • “Bite off more than you can chew (and then chew like hell)” – Peter Brock
  • “People are inherently good & want to help each other out”
  • “We are not alone in this world, we are a team, so start acting like it, ask for help”
  • When his first waterslide test failed miserably: “I cried. Not big soppy sissy tears, just manly ones”
  • Lesson for me: Dream big. Set a date. Ask for help.
  • Jimi Hunt is founder of the depression charity Live More Awesome, author of A Bit Mental and the only person silly enough to lilo the Waikato River. A sufferer of depression, Jimi aims to inspire people by doing the ridiculous – like building the world’s biggest waterslide – using these initiatives to help others with depression and raise awareness of New Zealand’s massive problem of depression, all while keeping himself sane.
  • Web: www.WorldsBiggestWaterSlide.com

2. Malcolm Rands

  • Malcolm Rands is a freakin genius.
  • Malcolm shared his strategy for getting awesome stuff done (like filling the mainstreet of Whangarei with snow from Mount Ruapehu for the kids to play in, most of whom had never seen snow)
  • His formula: Establish an organisation >> raise your own salary with funding/grants/sponsors >> Do epic stuff >> Repeat
  • He believes that ethical business is the future of the world, but for his Eco-store brand, products that help the environment isn’t enough, it’s also got to cost the same and work the same as the mainstream alternatives
  • He spoke briefly about “The Futureproof Neighbourhood” which is where “bump spaces” are planned in so you meet your neighbours
  • Lesson for me: I am happy to continue to donate hundreds of hours per year to the events I organise, but I should also watch for ways to get paid
  • Malcolm Rands is co-founder of ecostore, New Zealand’s leading range of eco-friendly household products. While initially sold by mail order, ecostore now has over 100 products in its range with products stocked in supermarkets in New Zealand, Australia, the United States and in outlets in parts of Asia. Malcolm has been active in the sustainable scene for over 25 years, co-founding New Zealand’s first permaculture eco-village in 1986 and was a foundation member of the New Zealand Sustainable Business Network.

3. Brian Sweeney

  • Brian has created an excellent summary of his TEDxAuckland talk on his website, but here are my notes.
  • There were 3 parts of his talk that really stood out to me:
    1. “Punctuated Equlibrium”
    2. List of NZ Heros
    3. How to re-frame negative phrases about NZ
  • “Punctuated Equilibrium” is an evolutionary theory which suggests that human advancement happens on the edge of the species in small populations. He identified New Zealand as being on the edge of the earth, and we do have a small population so that explains why we are so awesome! That made sense to me because my observation that our level of awesomeness per capita is the highest in the world.
  • He has an amazing list of NZ Heroes on his website NZEdge.com. Some I had heard of, many others I had not. I want to be on that list one day! Perhaps my way in is to displace Harold Williams who was fluent in 58 languages. I could simply learn 59 and replace him on the list!
  • How to re-frame negative phrases about NZ. This was excellent stuff. 3 quick examples:
    1. “From a Brain Drain, to a Network. We’ve mapped New Zealanders who live in over a thousand locations internationally. A thousand points of lights.”
    2. “From Tall Poppies to New Zealand Legends. The anthropologist Margaret Mead said that ‘It is New Zealand’s role to send out its bright young men and women to help run the world.'”
    3. “From New Zealanders as Consumers to New Zealanders as Exporters. Economically we have an Export or Die paradigm.

  • Lesson for me: NZ’s awesomeness is not just a shared perception, it’s a reality, and my obligation as part of this community is to help the awesomeness along
  • Brian Sweeney is the New York-based Chairman of SweeneyVesty, a global corporate communications company founded in Wellington in 1987 with Jane Vesty. He is dedicated to the idea of New Zealand exporting its services, innovation and creativity, and to the related positioning and communications New Zealand must undertake to be competitive globally.
  • Webwww.nzedge.com

4. Dale Williams

  • Dale is the Mayor of Otorohanga (which means “food for a long journey”) with a population of 2700
  • This town has zero grafiti, zero vandalism, and zero unemployed aged 25 years old since 2006
  • These amazing results were possible because Dale asked the towns people the right questions. Questions like:
    • What are our towns problems and how can the community work together to solve them?
    • What do local employers want in apprentices/employees?
    • How do we teach students those skills to those standards?
    • How can we guide students into work and ensure they keep those jobs?
    • How should we celebrate achievement?
  • For example, they call high school leavers every 14 days until they have a plan in place
  • They call those who have gone to other cities for university every 6 months and remind them “we’ve got your back whereever you are”
  • What great questions. What amazing results. What a freaken legend. A true inspiration.
  • Lesson for me: Ask great questions. Identify problems. Hunt down solutions together
  • Dale Williams is Mayor of Otorohanga and Chair of the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs. A certified motorcycle engineer by trade, Dale has first-hand experience launching and growing successful motorcycle dealerships and training young people through apprenticeship programs. Passionate about helping young people achieve the best career outcomes for their personal circumstances, Dale is an advocate of non-academic vocational pathways, realising that not all young people are suited to tertiary education.
  • Webwww.Otorohanga.co.nz

5. Helen Clark: “Yes We Can: Women & Leadership”

  • I’m just so darn proud of Helen Clark. The first woman Prime Minister of NZ who held the position for 9 years / 3 terms from 1999 to 2008 and now the #3 spot in the UN as Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). What a woman!
  • She went through an impressive list of achievements in her time as PM that we take for granted now but that she fought hard for:
    • Foundation of Kiwibank
    • Foundation of the New Zealand Superannuation Fund
    • Foundation of KiwiSaver
    • Introduction of Working for Families and 14 weeks paid parental leave
    • Introduction of tax credits
    • Increasing the minimum wage 5% a year
    • Introduction of interest-free student loans
    • Creation of District Health Boards
    • Introduction of NCEA
  • Lesson for me: What legacy am I leaving behind me? What could I put in place that lasts when I’m gone?
  • Helen Clark is Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) – the first woman to lead the organization – and Chair of the United Nations Development Group. Prior to joining the UNDP Helen served as Prime Minister of New Zealand for three terms, during which time she was widely engaged in policy development and advocacy across international, economic, social and cultural spheres. Now living in New York, Helen is a passionate supporter of the arts as evidenced by her promotion of the arts, culture and heritage portfolio during her time as Prime Minister.

5 Awesome Speakers at TEDx Auckland

1. Richard Faull

  • One thing that stuck with me about Richard’s talk is his debunking of the myth that you stop growing new brain cells from the age of 18
  • It’s not true
  • In fact our brains continuously create new braincells from it’s own batch of stemcells. If you don’t use it, you lose it.
  • Lesson for me: The secret to mental fitness is mental exercise and challenges. Retirement is deadly.
  • Richard Faull is professor and director of the Centre for Brain Research at the University of Auckland. Raised in a small Taranaki farming community, Richard discovered his passion for the human brain as a young medical student and has spent his life pursuing exciting, innovative and groundbreaking research in this field at the University of Auckland. Richard’s work has been widely recognised internationally and through appointments as Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Officer of the NZ Order of Merit, and receiving of many awards including New Zealand’s highest scientific award, the Royal Society Rutherford Medal.

2. Robert Oliver

  • During visits to the Pacific Island’s Robert was saddened to see the menus full of Western Food choices instead of Polynesian/Melanesian choices
  • There seemed to be a general feeling amongst the locals that the dishes they enjoyed at home “weren’t good enough for the menu”
  • Robert was determined to change all that
  • He connect 3 elements together:
    1. Authentic, local Polynesian/Melanesian recipes
    2. Local ingredients
    3. Tourism
  • The result was winning the Gourmand International World Cookbook award in 2011. Which in turn got local dishes into hotel menus. Mission achieved.
  • Robert Oliver is an accomplished New Zealand chef and author of the Gourmand World Cookbook award-winning book, Me’a Kai: The Food and Flavours of the South Pacific. Raised in Fiji and Samoa, Robert’s passion for the South Pacific was the driver behind Me’a Kai, which was written in an effort to connect the Pacific’s agricultural and tourism sectors. Robert has developed restaurants in major cities around the world and now holds ambassador positions for Le Cordon Bleu and True Pacific.
  • Webwww.RobertOliverOnline.com

3. Lillian Grace

  • Lillian takes boring tables of data and adds style, colour, graphs, maps and infographics that brings the data alive.
  • Her philosophy is data >> information >> knowledge >> wisdom
  • Lillian Grace is the founder and chief of Wiki New Zealand, a collaborative website making data about New Zealand visually accessible for everyone.  Through Wiki New Zealand, Lillian aims to make it normal to know your country.  In her previous role at The New Zealand Institute, Lillian became aware of some of the challenges we face as a country.  She believes that to get the best outcomes we need to make informed decisions in all areas and at all levels, and that the process needs to start with understanding the facts before we connect them to our values.
  • Web: wikinewzealand.org

4. Pete Russell: Ooooby; Hacking the Supply Chain

  • The traditional supply chain for our food is: grower >> wholesaler >> retailer >> consumer pick-up
  • Pete explained that 70% – 80% of the cost is supply chain cost
  • His business model “hacks the supply chain” and provides an online farmers market to revive local food supply. The supply chain becomes: local grower >> local distribution hub >> local consumer
  • He actively encourages copying of his business model
  • Pete Russell is a local food advocate, social entrepreneur and founder of Ooooby. After seeing first hand the destructive nature of globalized food and the accelerating demand for local alternatives during his time at a multi-million dollar food business, Pete became committed to working in the local food space. Driven by a passion for developing smart systems for food sales and logistics, Out of our own backyards (Ooooby) is the result of his work – a local food operation delivering to hundreds of Auckland doorsteps each week.
  • Webwww.ooooby.org

5. Joseph Michael

  • Joseph shared a 24 hour timelapse video of a mountain scene (and there were more in the lobby, and some in 3D with 3D glasses supplied)
  • To be honest I found the timelapse footage quite dull
  • But what I found amazing was his photos of his hike up into the mountains to set up the timelapse camera with his 2 friends. The photos were absolutely amazing. Close-ups of tree bark and lichen, shots of the tiny tent they shared, all in such vivid detail that I found myself desperate to purchase a $5,000 DSLR camera and try and take such photos myself
  • Joseph Michael is a freelance film technician, new media artist and photographer. Joseph’s latest work is a New Media Arts exhibition entitled “Dark Cloud : White Light” which involves filming 3D time-lapses of New Zealand landscapes and starscapes. This project saw him braving the elements for periods of 24 hours or more to create an experience of audio and visual splendour, revealing the hidden wonders of the New Zealand landscape.
  • WebJoeMichael.net

7 Somewhat Awesome Speakers at TEDx Auckland

1. Grace Taylor: The Power of Words

  • Grace is a very talented young lady: a poet, an artist, a youth development worker
  • She brought 2 of her students to the stage and they shared their poetry too
  • The poem she selected was a very raw and sometimes angry story of how her duel-ethnicity made her feel unwelcome in either culture at times. Very emotional, very honest, very vulnerable stuff.
  • Grace Taylor is a spoken word poet, teaching artist and youth development worker. She believes in the empowerment of words, in particular through creative manifestations and providing spaces for people to tell their own stories. Grace’s poetry ciphers strongly around dialogues about identity, with her believing that the exploration of a sense of belonging is underestimated in many facets of society.  Grace is co-founder of the South Auckland Poets Collective and the Rising Voices Youth Poetry Movement. 
  • Video of one of her poems on YouTube

2. Richard Nunns: Buried Treasure, Rediscovering Lost Maori Instruments

  • Richard Nunns was quite a character. The Maori instruments  he played had such haunting, mournful, depressing sounds. But he balanced that out by make the audience laugh often
  • On a few occasions I thought he’d fallen asleep, but he was just thoughtful
  • My favourite bit was when he attempted to play a note on his Putorino and after several failed attempts realised it was upside down (actually what is remarkeable about the Putorino is that it’s 7 instruments in one so it’s easy to forget how to get all those sounds out of it)
  • Richard Nunns is a Māori traditional instrumentalist and is regarded as the world’s foremost authority on Māori instruments. Having been described as one of New Zealand’s most remarkable musicians, Richard has developed an amazing international profile, both with the diversity of his recorded work and performing with a wide variety of people in differing settings and circumstances. A highly awarded musician, Richard’s accomplishments include receiving an honorary doctorate of music from Victoria University and being inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame with Hirini Melbourne in 2009. 
  • Webwww.RichardNunns.net.nz

3. Mark Sagar: BabyX

  • Mark presented “BabyX” which is software that mimicks a baby’s reaction to sensory input that you provide with your facial expressions and noises you make
  • His question was “Wha’ts the most interesting thing in the universe?” And his answer “The human brain”. And so this project to create software that resembles the human brain and it’s infant development was started
  • Watch this video from 3News to find out more

4. David Trubridge

  • I didn’t retain a lot from David’s talk. He talked about the difference between the left and right hemispheres of the human brain and how the hemisphere’s work together by passing information back and forth to analyse situations and make decisions.
  • David Trubridge is an internationally renowned furniture and lighting designer. After settling on New Zealand following a five year yacht voyage with his family, David began designing furniture and lighting words inspired by his rich life experience. His Hawkes Bay manufactured works are sold all around the world and regularly feature in influential publications such as the Financial Times. David has won many awards both nationally and internationally including New Zealand’s most prestigious design award, the John Britten Award. 

5. Robyn Paterson

  • Robyn talked about growing up in Zimbabwe as a white girl. Many years later she had reconnected with many of her childhood friends but not with one called Mercy. She has created a documentary about her search for Mercy.
  • One quote that stood out to me was a conversation between her and her mother one day:
    • “Mum, I made a new friend, her name is Vanilla”
    • “What colour is she?”
    • “I don’t know, I’ll ask her tomorrow”
  • Robyn Paterson is a highly respected director in the New Zealand film and television industry. She has worked across a wide range of projects and includes writing, producing, directing and presenting in her screen credits. Robyn’s debut feature documentary Finding Mercy followed her personal search for a lost friend in Zimbabwe’s political turmoil. It was selected for the prestigious International Documentary Festival Amsterdam and won Best Cinematography & Best Emerging Filmmaker at DocEdge Film Festival.
  • Webwww.FindingMercy.net

6. Sophie Tamati

  • Sophie told us about the app she has created for helping people learn Maori called “Hika: Rapid Language Learning Programme”
  • The design and usability of the app was very impressive: http://hikagroup.com/Hika-App-Preview/
  • Sophie Tamati is an award-winning educational entrepreneur and senior lecturer at the University of Auckland. Passionate about education, Sophie worked through many cultural and technological barriers to achieve her dream of making it easier, faster and more enjoyable for students to learn other languages and connect with those around them. Sophie launched the Hika programs – Hika EXPLORER and Hika LITE – designed to support students and teachers achieve their language goals.
  • WebHikaGroup.com

7. Welby Ings

  • Welby’s talk was about creativity. His definition was “disobedient thought” and told us that questioning is at the start of creative thought
  • He observed that his schooling did not encourage creativity, dreaming, questions or ideas (but he turned out alright)
  • He quoted a chilling predication from Heinrich Heine in 1802, more than 140 years before WW2:  “Where they burn books, they will eventually burn people”
  • Welby Ings is an award winning designer, filmmaker and playwright, with his short film ‘Boy’ short listed for the 2006 Academy Awards. An elected Fellow of the British Royal Society of Arts and consultant to many international organisations on issues of creativity and learning, Welby is now a Professor in Design at Auckland University of Technology. Having taught at all levels of the New Zealand education system, he has remained an outspoken critic of dehumanised systems of learning. In 2001 he was awarded the Prime Minister’s inaugural Supreme Award for Tertiary Teaching Excellence.

There were also 2 music sets:

1. Five Mile Town: The Lucky Ones

  • Five Mile Town are an up and coming Auckland-based Indie Folk band made up of Louis McDonald, Adam Quiqley, Levi Heeringa and Ryan Wilson.
  • Web: www.fivemiletownband.com

2. Seth Haapu: Pull No Punches

  • Seth is a singer-songwriter whose self-produced debut album saw him work alongside musicians such as Godfrey De Grut (Che Fu) and Nick Gaff aney (Golden Horse).
  • Web: www.sethhaapu.com

And the emcee Vaughan was awesome:

  • A special shout out to Vaughan who did a fantastic job at injecting humour in between talks. I especially liked his heckling of the cheap seats above, the expensive seats below and the free seats in the front.

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