TEDx Inspiration

TEDx is independently organized conference that brings together individuals who are interested in new ideas and are keen to share these ideas with others. Being a TEDTalks fan, I could not miss an opportunity to participate in the recent TED Conference in Reykjavik and watch this inspirational event myself. This year’s theme was Light and Dark and the talks addressed the following topics: innovation, society, expressive living, upbringing and stage fighting. An interesting addition to the conference was an opportunity to participate in two workshops with the speakers who invited the avid audience for an open discussion.

Innovation is definitely one of the hottest topics in many fields. Bookshelves are bending under the weight of to do(s), to don’t(s), ideas, methods, and practices of how to become more innovative. However, Kyra Maya Philips one of the speakers, talked about innovation from an aberrant perspective. Usually, when given examples of successful innovators we tend to hear names such as Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, Richard Branson or Jeffrey Grossman. Philips studied the field of innovation from the viewpoint of former gang members, prisoners and those who operate in a darker side of the economy. These individuals have different views of the world around them and are certainly facing different challenges which brings them to innovative solutions.

Could you imagine being sentenced to prison for a year or two? For some it’s just a pit stop while for others it is a time for reflection and feedback of their own behavior. Do we really need a breaking point to stop or question our actions? Many individuals have to experience extreme lows such as sickness, depression, bankruptcy, loss of a job or a loved one before breaking the bad habits and having an awakening moment. But most of us function on autopilot, performing one routine activity after another. How many times during a day or a week do we reflect on our behavior? Philips encouraged the audience to turn off the autopilot and press pause. She gave an example of her now successful friend, a businessman and a former prisoner and shared  his thoughts on the prison experience. The core of her message was to pay attention to details. In prison that’s a skill that is acquired subconsciously, probably by the fact that there are limitations of the surroundings. However, in the real life we forget to press pause and think about actions that brought us to this very moment.

The next speaker was Birgitta Jonsdottir, a politician and a poet. She raised attention about the digital world, or what she referred to as the shadow. As an expat living here for more than six months I have never used Facebook as much as I am using it now. Of course there are the social purposes, however all the events from culture, music or business are promoted on social media. Simply stated, if you are not on Facebook, you just might miss an interesting conference, concert or art exhibition. It is no surprise that Icelanders are in top ranks when it comes to the use of Internet and social media. People use social media to share their moments, photos and sometimes inappropriate personal information with friends, family members and acquaintances. Surely we live in times of networking, sharing, connecting and co-creating, however all the information that is posted to the digital cloud is collected, used and stored as data. As Birgitta Jonsdottir stated we are naked in the system, almost everyone can find out information about one’s digital persona with just a few clicks.  She raised a question about how can we hamper the creation of our shadow. The efforts might seem futile, however she encouraged the audience to believe in individual power to change and voice their opinions about such issues. “What is impossible today, can be possible tomorrow.” Would you like to close your curtains?

Gísli Ólafsson a crisis manager, humanitarian aid worker and Kári Halldór a drama teacher talked about expressive living. Halldor pointed out that expression is man’s most important tool and that body language can have a significant impact on one’s behavior. Olafsson, stressed the struggle to make important decisions in situations that arise without expectations. He also talked about one the most desired behaviors, which is motivation. Most importantly, he reminded the audience that in everything they do, it is crucial to put focus on the right things. In setting goals people should focus on small projects instead of targeting objectives, which from a current perspective might seem unobtainable.

The following speakers brought up a challenging and important topic for every parent which is upbringing. Pall Olafsson is a social worker specializing in child protection. Every day work he deals with different kinds of children representing whimsical, obtuse and unruly behaviors. In very jocular mode he motivated the audience to make grownups’ world more exiting. Forcing children to eat the green stuff? Forget it! Children can survive on corn syrup for a few years. In his experience children lose faith therefore adults should provide them with guidance that they need. Instead of scolding the children for every bad behavior Olafsson pointed out that adults should give children room for mistakes and room for second chances. Improvement of behavior or a wrongdoing will make children proud if they can make things right on they own.

Arnoddur Magnús Danks a stage fight teacher and a combat instructor shared his view on work with difficult children. He stated that very often people perceive failure negatively. This perception of failure or perceiving oneself as a loser has a strong impact on children’s self esteem.  He pointed out that there is a major difference between quitting and giving up. Also he remarked that children in schools should be taught interactive social skills instead of putting the emphasis of fill in the blanks. “No matter how difficult life is, you can always go a bit further.”

Another speaker Hermann Jónsson had set a goal for himself when his firstborn came to this world. His goal was to become the world’s greatest dad. As you might imagine this objective is very inspiring, and Jónsson had to define his goal objectively. He wanted to raise his children to adopt certain values, even those that he is still working on. Creating values and working on his everyday communication became another objective. He realized that everything he had done was a direct message to his children. As he told the audience he wanted to create a communication channel so his children could come and talk to him about anything. One of his parenting techniques, which most parents found implausible to agree with, was the fact that he always agreed when one of his kids did not want to go to school because of sickness or another excuse. His reasoning for that was that the child was trying to send him a message and his response was I’ll listen and treat you seriously. Even if the excuse was just a lie, he said that there had to be a reason for the child not wanting to go to school and he wanted to find out why. Most children would find this an easy escape from school but in reality it is a long term process to build such a relationship.

Two young entrepreneurs Búi Aðalsteinsson and Stefán Thoroddsen, inspired by healthy trends came up with the idea of selling insects, which would satisfy people’s nutritious needs. Insects are a great source of protein and take less space and energy to produce than other options. An issue with insects, which they faced was to persuade people to eat them. As it turned out people were willing to eat insects in a form other than the one originally proposed. Bui and Stefan started producing crunchy bars in which insects were the main ingredient. As a result they hope that by educating people about the small nutritious creatures their product will become a success.

Selma Bjork Harmannsdottir brought to light a topic that many children struggle with. Bullying is definitely an issue which has caused many children to suffer. Selma, born with a cleft lip, experienced bullying for many years, but now she is a survivor and a young inspirational women giving speeches about bullying and its consequences. She said that all her bullies made her feel different.  Now she realizes that their actions had nothing to do with her, they were trying to draw attention from themselves. She encouraged the audience to never let anyone stop them. Her experience has shaped who she has become. She forgave her bullies for herself, as she deserved peace.

Surely food for reflection!

Karolina Rozmus, writing from Reykjavik, Iceland