TEDx Perth is an independently organised TED event bringing together speakers and ideas from all backgrounds for a one day, conference style, series of talks. It’s existed in its current format for the last four years, but after being an avid TED watcher, this was my first event and what a ride it was. Equal parts fulfilling and exhausting, it was a long day of listening to diverse talks on many topics you’d never think to explore.
It started on an interesting note with a “Stranger Danger” breakfast. Upon arrival, everyone is allocated a table of strangers with whom to share breakfast. Conversation cards prompt participants to ask questions and learn more about one another. As it turns out, the need to constantly engage with people you don’t know is tiring and less fun than it sounds. That said, I really liked the concept and hope to try one of their dinners in a more casual setting.
The talks were off to a youthful and energetic start. Ky Sinclair talked about “The Homelove Project” he founded, which aims to bring together communities and empower people through education. Another young energiser spoke on the theme of disruption. Peter Sharp opened by cutting his neck tie off, leading him to discuss various experiments he’s run to challenge notions of the everyday. His talk ended in a spontaneous dance party, naturally.
What I expected to be two of the more dull talks, turned out to be the most engaging. Laura Boykin opened her talk declaring, “there are two days in your life, the day you were born and the day you realise what you are born to do.” She discussed research to control whiteflies that affect cassava crops sustaining large populations in sub-Saharan Africa. And who knew rock art could be so fascinating? But Jo McDonald made the case for preserving this heritage, arguing rock art is one of the earliest forms of human communication and knowledge sharing, relating it back to how we use modern day symbols. I enjoyed these talks immensely because both speakers were so dedicated to their topics, their passion was infectious.
The highlight of the day was a good friend Callum Ormonde, who delivered a rousing talk on how he chanced upon a formula to unfold proteins and subsequently unboil an egg. It seems the idea is so unfathomable that my spell check tries to correct the word “unboil”. The research won an Ig Nobel Prize for chemistry, an award for science that makes people laugh, then think. But what resonated most was Callum declaring his weakest subject to be chemistry. He concluded, “never shy away from your weaknesses [because] who knows, that could just be where you find your most memorable achievements yet.”
In the end, the best was truly saved for last. Paula Constant spoke of how her expedition to walk from London across the Sahara was cut short by a civil war in Niger. She felt she had failed in her goal, but what happened next was unexpected. Through writing books and giving talks, she concluded that our modern definition of success and how we go about achieving it is woefully inadequate. Instead, she argued our definition of success is flawed because “nothing lasts, nothing finishes and nothing is perfect”. Much like the Japanese concept of Wabi-sabi, we should embrace failure and learn to find beauty in imperfection.