TEDxPerth – food for the brain

For the fourth time, TED has come to town, or rather ‘TEDx’ – the independently organised TED event run by volunteers. As always, it was a sell out.

I made it down by tea time to hear the last 3 speakers, and the chat around the Concert Hall was of another terrific day, full of eclectic talks on all manner of subjects.

TED talks were established in 1984 and usually involve a single speaker. Talks can be no longer than 18 minutes and must be under the umbrella theme of ‘Ideas worth spreading’. What a great tag line – says it all.

The subject matter can be as broad as the presenter’s imagination, with topics ranging from mental health to astrophysics to experimental music to rock formations.

TED itself is a not-for-profit organisation and, now in its fourth decade, has become a global phenomenon. Beyond the official TED conferences, with ticket prices reaching $US6,000 or more, there are the independently run TEDx events, organised by volunteers and priced under $100, and thousands of talks shown for free on the TED.com website.

The first official TEDxPerth event ran at the Octagon Theatre in 2012, and was a sell out. Attendees received 12 talks on a variety of subjects from 12 Perth locals, including meals. It’s like food for the brain.

TEDxPerth has sold out every year since (tickets are usually gone inside a day), prompting the move to the larger Perth Concert Hall in 2014, which is where TEDxPerth was held again this year. The audience was a mix, but I’d say the vast majority were 20-somethings.

All TEDx presenters are carefully coached beforehand, with the talks being filmed live on stage. Some are then selected for main TED.com website. The first TEDxPerth talk to garner global recognition in this way was from former Business News 40under40 winner Hamish Jolly with his 2013 ‘Shark Suit deterrent wet suit’ presentation, which has attracted more than 2 million online views to date.

Some of the most popular TED talks of all time include Sir Ken Robertson’s 2006 talk, ‘Do schools kill creativity?’ with 35 million views, (spoiler alert, the answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’), and Simon Sinek’s 2009 presentation ‘How great leaders inspire action’ (24 million views and a must for anyone in a leadership position), which told organisations how to ‘find their why’.

My favourite talk I saw on Saturday was Callum Ormonde’s “How to unboil an egg” – see picture above – well, that was not the title, but it might as well have been. The  PhD student made his discovery in an expected way during a late night at a UWA lab. As far as I can understand it, his centrifugal (vortex fluid) device could unpack proteins so, for example,  a cooked egg would return to its previous liquous state. “Surely that’s impossible,” he mused, “you can no more uncook an egg as you can unring a bell.” But he did it, and he showed a video of the thing actually ‘uncooking’ before your eyes.

For this he won the Harvard ‘Ig Nobel Prize’, the light hearted (yet serious) award that “makes you smile then think”. His vortex device has a more noble goal of developing new cancer treatments, making nano-drugs deemed impossible to date using traditional methods. #GoCallum

How Schools Kill Creativity

This classic TED (Technology, Education, Design) talk is one of the most inspiring, funny and important you’ll ever hear. Do yourself a favour and WATCH IT (it’ll be one of the fastest 20 minutes of your life). As an ex-teacher and now business person, I thoroughly endorse Sir Ken Robinson’s premise – we need to make creativity as important as Maths and English.

“We don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it, or rather we get educated out of it.” he says.

Kids are naturally creative. They have a hunger for learning and wonder. “If they don’t know, they’ll have a go.” It’s wonderful to behold.

What we then do though is line them up in rows for 12 or more years and beat creativity out of them in one long “university entrance” process. We demonise mistakes. And not just in schools, in workplaces too. By the time the poor individual is in their 40s the spark has long since gone, the mortgage and other commitments too overpowering to allow for risks.

As Basil Fawlty once remarked: “What was that? Oh that was your life mate. Oh that was quick, do I get another? Sorry mate that’s your lot.

What the world needs is creative people, people who can take risks, make mistakes, and solve some problems. Sadly, the education system is not set up to produce this. It was set up to serve 19th century industry. (What century are we in now?)

“Education produces university professors… who live in their heads, and slightly to one side, ” says Sir Ken, “and they regard their bodies as a means of getting their heads to meetings!”

We have no idea what careers will be required in 5, let alone 25, years time. My own job did not exist 12 months ago, and my industry is not yet 15 years old. What jobs will my own kids have in 10 years time? Who knows.

A few weeks ago, an ex teaching colleague of mine, let’s call him Lloyd (‘cos that’s his name) came over to visit from where he is teaching in New Zealand. The school he’s at takes Ken Robinson’s work seriously and has forged a new path. One of only 2 such schools in the country, it takes a completely collaborative, student-centred and creative approach to learning. Lloyd does not stand at the front of the class, he is always in the middle. The ‘classrooms’ (such as they are) have no walls and you can see and hear the next class just to the side. It’s all open, free and they take Wednesdays off to work on anything the students want to do. And it works.

Here’s Lloyd explaining it better than I ever could.

I feel sure this is the way forward. When I hire at work I look for two things: an ability to learn and a genuine desire to help clients. Give me someone who has these two characteristics and we can do anything together.

Flip Case … flipping brilliant

Earlier this week, the talents down at Filter Squad put up their latest creation – FlipCase – on the App Store. A free app, it uses the plastic case of the new iPhone 5C to create a Connect4 game – watch the 1 minute video above to see what I mean.

350,000 Youtube video views later – it looks like FlipCase has gone viral. What struck me was the simple genius of the idea, the lateral thinking involved in seeing the case as part of the exercise. In an era of complex virtual reality 3-D HD gaming, FlipCase returns us to a simpler, more innocent time, with a wave of warm nostalgia. It’s free, it’s fun – why not while away an empty moment?

The creators – Dave McKinney and Stuart Hall – are the same team behind the devastatingly awesome Discovr app – 3.5 million downloads and counting. They had an inkling about doing something for the new iPhone 5C. They had seen images of the new phone with its plastic cases, but did not have their hands on one. So, just in case (no pun intended) they could do something with it, they started mapping out how it might work, and how they could get the coloured circles to bounce on cue within the holes.

As soon as the new phones and cases came to town, Dave went down to Perth’s only Apple store, took some cases out to plonk over the screen (a helpful Apple employee pointed out they were supposed to go the other way), and bought three. After that , the whole thing was then cranked out in 2 days.

Why do a free app? How can they benefit? The guys just want to create something cool. They thought it would be fun to do, and that people might like it. Something novel, something they could be proud of. The PR benefits of being mentioned on PC Mag.com , CNet AustraliaPolygon and dozens more are probably more than enough for Filter Squad. One comment simply says : “humans are great.

Job done boys. Well done.

Meanwhile, download FlipCase and flip out your brain… flipping brilliant!

FlipCase is an App optimised for iPhone5 and the latest iOS7 operating system

Dave McKinney (@davidkmckinney)
Stuart Hall (@stuartkhall)

Perth StartUp Weekend { VIDEO }

Last weekend I was privileged to be a judge at Perth’s StartUp Weekend – a 54-hour frenzy of creativity and business building, all taking place down at Spacecubed in the city.

The video above is a 4 min overview of the weekend, and shows the top 3 teams and interviews with the winners, Bikebus. All 3 were great ideas, well executed and validated. Personally, I could not split BikeBus and PressSnaps – ideas that I think will and should take on.

Perth’s StartUp community is going places – I came away newly energised by what people can do when they attack a problem in a condensed, committed manner.

Five plus Five is a Butterfly

five plus five is a butterfly

[tweetmeme source=”ChazGunningham” only_single=false] A young girl asked her Mum “what’s 5 and 5 Mum?”, to which the Mum replied “Why don’t you tell me darling?” to which the daughter said, “It’s a butterfly!”. Her Mum looked at her quizzically and replied “How so?”. The little girl held her hands up together and made a butterfly by interlinking her thumbs and splaying her hands wide, waggling her fingers.

I spent yesterday morning at our local primary school in a strategy/branding workshop with fellow Board and P&C members. The moderator did a great job and soon has us moulding with PlayDoh (boy, that smell took me back), bending pipe cleaners, creating visions and positioning statements.

It got a few of us thinking about what it is like to be 8 again, allowed to run and skip and create, and how we had become straight jacketed by our post primary schooling and university and adult life to think in predictable straight lines.

5 plus 5 is a butterfly. Precisely.

iPad toddlers

We continually see things that would never have been possible just a few years ago. We rarely stop to even notice…

A few days ago I was sitting at a coffee shop with some friends, and to the right and behind me a rather hassled young mother hurridly put an iPad in front of her two toddlers, who were sitting grouchily in their double push chair. The toddler to the right had the iPad on her lap, and her twin brother (both were no more than 12 months old) was bawling his eyes out. The sister immediately started swiping at the game, and the brother stopped crying and watched intently.

Immediate. Instinctive. Bam!

I almost dropped my cup and saucer. Those at the table had caught this too. Not only the fact that the mother had the iPad to shove in front of the screaming duo, but the fact they both tuned in, knew what to do and were at peace.

The iPad 3 comes out next week, and the whole product category is not yet two years old. When a new device can be used so naturally by 1 year olds, you know it’s been built to perfection. No instructions, just instinct. An extension of the human brain. A natural plugin.

Incredible. Makes me feel very humble and worthless, as we struggle to improve the user experience of the online systems and sites we develop daily. As Apple say “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication“.

Oh, and by the way, there is a Blog (Babies with iPads) dedicated to this subject… of course.

BANNED – ‘Because we’ve always done it like that’

One of the silliest things people say when asked why things are done in a certain way: “Because we’ve always done it like that.” This is NEVER the answer, and always stifles creative thinking.

Ban it from your workplace! Not just $1 in the cookie jar, ban people from saying it. Ever. Shift their thinking towards the new. Look at things afresh. See how they might be. Not how they are. Don’t concentrate on the job getting people to change. Think about how greater things can be.

If in doubt, read this. And then this. And never utter it again. Full stop!

Ooowww… I feel better now that’s out of my system 🙂

Ideas and the Team

A good day today.

I had some meetings out of the office with some inspiring people, and also some great meetings at work, where we discussed new projects and some innovative new ideas we are developing. That’s the fun bit for me. Coming up with new ideas, fashioning them, bouncing them off others, shaping them further and then seeing them come to fruition.

In my line of work, as in all perhaps, there is always a fight between income generation and R&D (where new stuff comes). As Economics 101 tells you, the world has a scarce amount of resources and there are always many things you want to do. Same in every organisation I guess.

Paradoxically, I have found that the more income you generate, the more time you have for R&D, so the more ideas are created and the more money is created. A virtuous circle. Away from the stress of making ends meet, the brain can relax, declutter and create new ideas. This means you end up doing more of both (making money and creating new stuff), and that is when the real fun begins. The best of both worlds. Concentrate only on the creation bit, and you will R&D yourself into bankruptcy. Concentrate on money only, and you won’t last long. All companies and products need reinvention if they are to last.

Photo credit: svgorange

Doodling is good for you

Have you discovered TED Talks yet? Standing for “Technology Entertainment Design”,  TED is a not for profit devoted to spreading new ideas, and brings together some awesome speakers at various venues all year round.

Their best talks are all online (www.ted.com) and they are extremely good, and short! Usually 10 minutes, no more.

A friend on Facebook put up one today, which I have now watched twice, and sent around to some colleagues at work. ‘Doodlers, Unite!’ by Sunni Brown. As Sunni says, “studies show that sketching and doodling improves our comprehension — and our creative thinking. So why do we still feel embarrassed when we’re caught doodling in a meeting? Unlock your brain via pad and pen. Doodle!”

So often doodling a during a meeting is seen as a sign that you are not listening, worse, you are being rude, aloof and acting all high and mighty. In fact, doodlers remember 29% MORE verbal information than non doodlers. This is because it allows the brain to focus (not wander), stay in touch, and your doodles can often highlight, and creatively mind map what is being relayed at the time.

Doodling is also a key part of the way we learn – it’s not just for kids! So, doodle away Earthlings. Be not afraid, and if someone ‘catches you’ doodling in a meeting, just calmly explain that you are helping yourself to process information visually so as to solve problems . So there.