On #TED: Saturn and Silk

My TED talks today are all about the future and how recent discoveries make that future every exciting indeed. They are also about discovering something new about some things that are very old. Here they are:

#1 – Carolyn Porco: Could a Saturn moon harbor life?

I love that we are exploring our solar system and that beyond the politics and scientific glory hunting there is serious exploration fueled by wide-eyed curiosity.

In this talk, Carolyn comes back to update TED viewers about some new and exciting discoveries her team – a joint effort by NASA and ESA – are making about Saturn. They have found elements that they believe encourage their hypothesis that Enceladus – one of Saturn’s moons – could sustain life. They found pretty complex chemical compositions when they analysed the material in what turns out to be geysers blowing from the surface of Enceladus. Benzene and formaldehyde are just some of the compounds they found. Even the ice crystals have been analysed – salt water!

Personally I believe it is wholly arrogant of human kind to believe we are the only ones out there. Life is more likely to exist than not (given that we exist) and this kind of research helps us get closer to realising what is out there.

What I really loved about this short talk was just how googoo seasoned scientists – who no doubt have to fight for funding from the bureaucrats – go for discoveries. It is reassuring for me to see that curiosity and deep passion for something still drive immense discovery.

My Key Learning: That I must remain curious about things and commit more time to understanding things – even those that are old and seemingly familiar – in deep detail.

#2 – Fiorenzo Omenetto: Silk, the ancient material of the future

In this talk Fiorenzo shares some of the discoveries he and his research team have made from one of the oldest materials that mankind has been using – silk.  This talk is simply breathtaking and I have found huge new respect both for the material and the people who study it.

Humans have been using silk in some form or other for over 5000 years and you might be forgiven for thinking that we had figured out all of its uses. But new tech allows us to dig further and rethink what we know about silk and find new and exciting ways to use it.

Silk is biodegradable, incredibly strong – like bullet stopping Kevlar – and biocompatible (meaning the body won’t reject it). Now with new tech – 3d printing – silk can form the basis for a new generation of medicines and medicine carriers. It can be printing into replacement bone without rejection. So many new uses of this ancient material.

I loved this talk because Fiorenzo was clearly passionate about his work and the life-changing potential (ok – not the styrofoam cup) that silk with new tech can offer us.

My Key Learning: Aside from a whole new and fascinating subject area for me to explore and gain some knowledge in, the big learning for me is there is plenty of innovation in old materials – especially when we have new means of exploring that old material. This is a huge lesson for me because it changes how I think of new capabilities. We might develop new innovation that helps us look farther into the future, but we should also be using it to look clearer into the past and explore existing materials better.

What did you learn from these talks? I’d love to hear your opinions, comment below or tweet!

#MyDailyTED – On Cities Being the Future

I watched only one TED talk today and it was everything a great talk should be – insightful, impassioned, well delivered, humorous and deeply engaging. To say it has inspired me is an understatement. As a result of this talk I have some new and exciting learning to make and perhaps a new movement to join. Would love to hear what you think about this talk.

#1 Benjamin Barber: Why mayors should rule the world

The challenges that face our modern world are increasingly trans-national – they traverse borders and airspace. From terrorism to pandemics to climate change – the modern challenges facing humanity require, perhaps more than ever, that human beings work better together.

Benjamin’s suggestion that our political systems that have hardly changed in 400 years are not up to the task of addressing our modern challenges is a strong and reasonable point.

The main thrust of this talk is that cities is where people live their lives, they are the coalface of civic life. With 50+ percent of the world’s population living in cities (70% in the western countries), he may be right. And government of cities requires a much more pragmatic leadership than countries. The feedback from things not working right in a city are almost immediate and mayors do not have the luxury of delay or aloofness that presidents and prime ministers have.

Benjamin clearly knows his stuff, he has studied the policies and government of many prominent mayors and many others I hadn’t even heard of.

I really liked this talk because Benjamin’s central points made total sense to me. The business of national government has become so far removed from everyday life, there is very little connection with people anymore. Mayors – the embodiment of local connections – need a deep understanding of the community they govern. Although he didn’t mention a single drawback of any mayors’ policies or any problems that cities have,as a result of having a mayor – there are undoubtedly many.

There were some aspects that I am still puzzled about, namely:

  • There are far more cities than countries and some cities are bigger than some countries.
    At what point does population make city governance as disconnected as national governance?
  • There are still borders, if not jurisdictions. Even if these are only ‘city limits’. What extends beyond them in terms of mayoral responsibility.
  • What form do the relationships between cities take – treaties?

Actually I don’t think mayors should rule the world. I think that more needs to be done to overhaul our national political structures to reconnect it with communities. Communities are not part of the countries – they are the country.

I think there is much to learn about how cities work – and how they don’t – and how mayors work and the nature of decentralisation. So rather than swap one set of political structures for another, I am leaning towards re-imagining a new structure that is community centered, with institutions that have representation at their very core.

My key learning: I learned that we must question the suitability of old tools to new problems. Infact I think that we are best advised to understand whether our problem is new or not as a first step to trying to solve it. I do not believe this is talked about enough – especially with regard to political structures, democracy and the power of the people.

What questions is this talk inspiring in you? Have nation states outlived their usefulness, is there a need for more localised and pragmatic city leadership? I’d love to hear your opinions, comment below or tweet!

Breakfast with #TED: The Threat of Agriculture, Less Stuff and Hope for Veterans.


For my TED talks today, I used the nifty tool on ted.com to pick 3 persuasive talks that made up 30 minutes in total. I love this part of ted because it creates my own playlist – no faffing. Each talk is not necessarily on the same theme and this is another thing that delights me – the diversity. The talks can challenge and stimulate different parts of my brain and emotions.

#1 Jonathan Foley: The other inconvenient truth

This talk was loong! I discovered it could have been shorter because Jonathan gave his really compelling talk with strong supporting statistics and imagery and then halfway through, showed an ‘explainer’ video that basically said the same thing again. I thought this was a little overkill.

The talk was on the threat of our current pace and scale of global agricultural production to  the world’s climate and water sources. It had some really startling statistics – more than 40% of the best land on Earth is used for agriculture and most of the world’s fresh water – 70% – is used to grow stuff. Alot of the agriculture is grow food for livestock – a lot for beef production. This is not  farm land waiting to be cultivated, a lot of it is pristine rainforest that is deforested to create farm land. Basically the land mass used to plant stuff or keep animals is basically the size South America and Africa – combined!

Food is a huge part of this agriculture, but there is also a growing amount for bio-fuels. And population growth is creating a pressure for more food. Increasingly wealth is changing diets – veggies are out, meats are in.

With the problem well defined – Jonathan’s call to action is that there must now be collaboration between seemingly competing approaches – organic farming, industrial agriculture and  environment conservation – to come up with a way that we can feed the world without destroying it. Ideas around improving yields, do better with less, but sustainably (so not GMO!).

This talk also inspired me to look into another aspect of the problem – food waste. Whilst we seek efficiency in production, there is still a fundamental problem with how much food that is produced is wasted. My gut tells me that there are huge problems with waste due to ineffective distribution of the food and this is something I would like to explore more.

My key learning:  there is power in showing the big picture – for connecting ‘localised’ problems and showing the global picture. Also, ultimately our complex problems need collaboration between competing models to come up with something sustainable. There are no silver bullets and no single answer.

#2 Graham Hill: Less stuff, more happiness

Graham’s talk was about having less stuff because it’s cheaper, takes up less space and generally less stressful. All great reasons in my opinion. As someone who has moved country I definitely value the ‘less stuff’ mantra. Also there is something very liberating from not having stuff. What do they really give us. Do they make us happier?

I really loved the focus on design – this is, I think, the plug that Graham was pushing. His website – Lifeedited.com – is all about seeking more from less. More money, space, time and ultimately, happiness from having less stuff. He showed off a render of his apartment (in Manhattan!) with elements from a design competition. Fold-into-the-wall beds, moving walls and a coffee table that grew into a dinner table that seats 10! All very impressive.

My key learning – less is more. Actually the previous talk really connects with this too. I think that seeking to make smaller things is a only part of the message. Many small things are almost as bad as a few big things. Design is awesome, but we must first break this addiction to shiny stuff.

#3 Jake Wood: A new mission for veterans — disaster relief

This talk really gave me an ‘ah-ha’ moment. It is very America focused in its tone and perhaps in the severity of the problem – that young veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan not being successfully reintegrated into society after they have left the military.

Jake, as a veteran himself, offers a persuasive account of the challenges that veterans face in dealing with a return to civilian life. Even as military loving as America is, once you’re back, you are pretty much left to fend for yourself, the support systems and camaraderie is often absent and veterans face emotional problems as a result.

The really interesting thing is what Jake and others in his organisation are doing. Deploying ex service personnel to help in disaster areas like Haiti, Chilé and Pakistan for example. This very common-sense pairing of problems presents brilliant solution to both. Veterans often have the skills and the attitudes to make a difference in disasters. Their need to be of service and to derive some self worth from being in service are also met.

This talk really connected two personal experiences for me. First, my brother Peter who has served in humanitarian relief in Haiti and other places. The challenges and devastation he has witnessed, yet still driven to help. The second is the son of a client – who was deployed as a Marine to Afghanistan and , at 22, is emotionally damaged by his experienced and struggled to reintegrate into civilian life.

My key learning: some problems are their own solution when combined. The sense of service and the need for self worth are powerful human factors and we disregard them at our peril.


What did you learn from these talks? What have any of the talks persuaded you to do or explore? I’d love to hear your opinions, comment below or tweet!

Breakfast with TED: Trust, Memory and Gladwell on David vs Goliath

For a while now I have developed the ritual of TEDTuesday – taking time each Tuesday to watch and learn something on TED.com.

If you are new to TED.com – it is a platform for some of the most amazing explorers of knowledge and witnesses of humanity to share their knowledge, insights and experiences. Based on themed conferences and an annual general conference, TEDTalks are videos of public talks. I love TED for its purpose and for its diversity. If you have never watched a TEDTalk, I beg you – please – do so now!

So today I decided – over breakfast – to watch as many TEDTalks as I could during my breakfast time (about 30 minutes). I got out my Galaxy Note and launched the TED app and off I went. Without much thought about what I wanted to watch I just picked topics that vaguely interested me and something from Malcolm Gladwell – an author I really like learning from. So here goes…

#1 -Onora O’Neill: What we don’t understand about trust

This talk seemed a little laboured, however Onora brought a lot of focus to the issue of trust and the misguided populism of some of the soundbytes that are regularly banded about by buzzwordists and politicians, for example ‘Gain trust’, ‘Rebuild trust’.
Trust is a big deal for me in my life and being worthy of the trust of people I am interested in having mutually positive relationships with is something I spend a lot of time and thought exploring. How do I communicate my trustworthiness to my wife, my kids , friends and my clients? Truth is, they each have their own set of operating rules to determine whether I have earned it.

I think Onora falls into the same trap of offering simple templates and more – though different – sound bytes. For example, she proposes that establishing trustworthiness is based on 3 things – ‘Competence, honesty and reliability’. It may do for certain people in certain contexts but not as a general rule. They are reasonable examples but not absolutes. My son who is nearly 5 years old might consider me trustworthy because I demonstrate sacrifice – that I forego other things to make time for him.

I enjoyed the talk but it was perfectly timed at 7 minutes – any more and I think she may have totally lost me. It left me with a lingering learning that asking people how you might earn their trust i.e. how you might be worthy of their trust – is the first activity one might do and then go from there.

My key learning: Trustworthiness is a more effective goal than trust. It is subjective and trying to understand what constitutes it in every relationship is a great place to start from.

#2 -Elizabeth Loftus: The fiction of memory

This impassioned and fascinating talk really opened my eyes and mind to the power of suggestibility – especially in when it is sustained and deliberate. The lessons Elizabeth shares and glimpses of what is possible throws up huge questions in my mind about the quality of our legal systems.

My imagination is pretty vivid and I often find myself questioning a memory that flashes in my head – did I dream it, imagine it or did it really happen? This is a conscious act. So far I have deliberately developed mental tools to cross validate my memories with other things to rule out whether that event was real or imagined. For example, I often ‘remember’ that I replied to someone’s email when in fact I haven’t. Typically I retrospect on this and find that I mentally composed the reply and did so visually – as though I typed it out. At some level, my brain registers this as a memory. Then I seek evidence (like checking my ‘Sent’ box to see whether it was right.

As a student of NLP and very keen on the way the mind works, I know how easy it is to affect someone’s behaviour through some pretty easy ‘tricks’ and although it is not something I  do for ethical reasons, I know of practitioners that use these techniques in personal coaching work. The insight that the use of some of these techniques, like hypnosis and subliminal messaging, could tamper with people’s memories and unleash a chain of events that have lifelong consequences was very interesting.

It raises other questions in my mind – about film and fantasy work and advertising. Do they really understand the long term effects of such realism in film. I know there is research now into the effects of pornography on the brain and behaviour – how much of this effect is on memory? Perhaps certain content needs regulation – like dosage!

My key learning: Memory is far too open to suggestion to be reliable on its own. Even collectively it is dangerously unreliable (due to anchoring and suggestion). So finding evidence based thinking tools to cross validate it is both essential and offers a whole new world of potential innovation.

#3 –Malcolm Gladwell: The unheard story of David and Goliath

I like Malcolm – he is a fantastic story teller and I value his ability to get to the essence of something. Usually it is an essence no one else sees! Many ah-ha moments with his books.
Anyway, Malcolm retells the story of David vs Goliath really beautifully, taking us through the geography of the times and the geopolitical forces at play.

Then he shares his opinions – some backed up by various bits of research – about how David was really not an underdog and simply fought Goliath on his own terms. In the end all of it was circumstantial and personally I thought it was reasonable. For example, Goliath could have been suffering from acromegaly – which many people suffering from gigantism also tend to suffer. This could have caused him to be visually impaired and may have contributed to David’s victory.

My key learning: Aside from all the biblical blah blah, I took from the subtexts some really powerful messages about adversity and some of the challenges of competition and some lessons that I can directly apply to my startup journey. For example – focus on my strengths. Also to play by my rules – not the rules of my opponent or competition. Also, weirdly, in place of competition, collaborate. Work with the weakness of my partner for my gain. This is also something that resonates really strongly from my Aikido practice.


What have you learnt from these TED talks? I really would love to know and share. Go ahead, drop me a comment or tweet me your thoughts.