Personal

The Five Most Popular TED Talks of All Time

I love TED talks. Sometimes I’ll spend an evening binge-watching them. I guess that makes me a bit of a geek, but to be fair I watch a lot of trash too. It’s a deliberate decision to stop myself from getting any smarter… really…

A friend on Facebook just posted an article by Entrepreneur magazine of the five most popular TED talks of all time.

Number one on the list I’ve already seen – a couple of times actually – and I’ve just re-watched it. Ken Robinson on how schools destroy creativity. It’s superb – not only spot on, but wonderfully warm and funny too.

It really is a brilliant talk and chimes with the problems I’ve had with the education system since I was a child myself (ie, too often it’s a one-size-fits-all system and tough for you if you don’t fit in)

Ken makes the very valid point that the people who benefit the most from our current style of education system are those who want to end up back in it teaching.

I’ve nothing against educators of course, it’s a vital role. But I’ve never liked the idea of people who spend their whole life in the system without gaining non-academic experience at some point – certainly not people teaching children (it’s not as big a problem at a higher level of education I’m sure).

An old school girlfriend of mine, who was in my year at school, went to college, went to university, did teacher training, and then went back to teach at the same school we’d left a few years before.

I believe she’s still there now over 25 years after leaving as a pupil. Actually, last I saw there was more than one ex-pupil back there teaching. I’m not questioning her ability as a teacher – she may be superb, I have no idea – but surely it would be better for people like her to gain experience somewhere else, even if only at another school.

It seems a case of exit stage left, walk around the back picking up a few more pages of the script on the way, and re-entering stage right. Then hanging around until the curtain drops. And the focus too often, at least when I was at school, is on pupils who show signs they want to do the same.

Anyway, Ken’s talk is much better than my ramblings and it’s well worth a watch.

Another stand-out video on that list is Brené Brown’s The Power of Vulnerability. I’ve not seen that talk before, but it fits in with how I’ve been trying (not always successfully) to lead my life in recent years.

I’ll leave it to you to watch without going on too much about it but one great take-away is that we numb ourselves to vulnerability (through drink, drugs, food etc) but we can’t selectively numb our emotions. So when we numb our fears, we also numb our capability for love, joy, gratitude and happiness too. And then we become miserable, feel vulnerable again, and numb ourselves further – entering a dangerous cycle.

There’s more to it than that though and, like Ken’s talk, it’s also very funny as well as informative.

The only thing wrong with the Top 5 list is there was no Rory Sutherland! What an omission – his talks are superb. Try Perspective Is Everything as an example.

Now I must go watch the other three videos on the list. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Personal

Apologies for the lack of posts – it’s been a pretty hectic and stressful month.

Firstly, and most importantly, my Mum had a stroke a few weeks ago. Thankfully it was mild, but then she had another one – again, mild thankfully – during a ‘simple 30 minute’ procedure that turned into a 5-hour operation under a local anaesthetic. She was ‘due home’ every day for weeks, but she’s now finally home and on the mend. But obviously it’s been stressful for everyone. Thankfully she hasn’t suffered any major paralyses and the operation she has had should help prevent further strokes – we should all be thankful it wasn’t much worse.

On top of that I’ve moved house. Last year I took over my ex’s villa on a month-by-month basis at a reduced rate when she moved to her new house, on the basis that if the agents found a long-term renter at the full price, I’d leave with a month’s notice. Good while it lasted 😉 But obviously they found someone in the end.

Even though I had a month to find somewhere, I stuck to my usual lastminute.john nickname and didn’t find a new house until the Monday before I had to leave on the Thursday! It’s a great villa though, I’m really happy with it and it’s even cheaper at the full-price than the reduced rate I was paying on the last place.

The only downside is it doesn’t have a pool – the first time I’ve not had a pool in Spain – but I’m sure I’ll live (#firstworldproblem). I’m a ‘fair-weather’ swimmer anyway so I only use it a few months a year at best.

The new house is 700 metres away from the old house as the crow flies! So not much has changed other than I am aching all over from moving.

I’ve also been busy doing ‘new house’ stuff including restoring some old furniture – I’ll blog about that again soon.

Work-wise though I’ve been on a bit of a ‘holiday’ (perhaps ‘maintenance mode’ is a better way to put it – just doing the basics) but, sticking with the swimming pool theme, I jumped in at the deep-end today.

We now have a fantastic alcohol-free craft wheat beer at The Alcohol-Free Shop called Arcobräu. We also have Erdinger, which has been in the UK for some years. We’re convinced Arcobräu is a much better beer but we need to get people to know that.

So, thinking cap well and tightly screwed on… and this morning I had the idea to put them up against each other in a head-to-head fight.

We’ve created a mixed case, 12 bottles of each, and set it up as a boxing fight. We’re even including a score card for up-to 3 judges to use to rate the beers. And there’s an online survey customers can complete to give us their scores and their winner, and also enter a competition to win a case of their favourite.

The whole thing was conceived, produced and made live in a few hours today. I’m really happy with it. I’ve done more work today than I have for … well… 😉

If you like alcohol-free wheat beers, why not give the Big Fight a go?

And I promise I’ll blog sooner next time! Just try and stop me telling you about my furniture repairs… 😉

Technology

The Times They Are a-Changin’

A couple of weeks ago I heard about a feature-length documentary being produced by respected British journalist Paul Mason and directed by Theopi Skarlatos.

“Greece: Dreams Take Revenge” is being filmed right now. It’s unscripted, the events are taking place live, and no one knows where the story will go or how it will end.

What makes this documentary special is how it’s being funded. Rather than rely on a traditional broadcaster to commission and pay for it, Mason is crowdfunding it.

As a long-time fan of his journalism, I didn’t hesitate to donate.

What’s happening in Greece right now has implications far beyond just the Greek economy, further even than just the future of EU. The outcome could affect the global economy and the social stability of the entire world.

How the documentary is being funded has similar implications for the future of broadcasting, and it’s just one of many challenges facing traditional models.

This evening I finished binge-watching Season 3 of House of Cards on Netflix. I did it in two evenings straight. An incredible performance (both House of Cards and my stamina).

Dodgy politics, corruption, intrigue, scandal. But enough about Greece for the moment, and back to House of Cards.

It’s created and funded by Netflix themselves – as they have with Orange is the New Black, Lilyhammer, and a whole range of comedy specials and documentaries – with many more productions due for release in 2015 and beyond.

The Netflix model is helping to shape the future of on-demand TV. Whole seasons released at once, programmes designed for a wider audience than just the US domestic market (Lilyhammer is a good example of this), and created without the pressure of conventional advertising slots.

By way of contrast, I’ve just watched Carl Frampton beat Chris Avalos on ITV (boxing is a weakness of mine – one of those areas where my commonsense is overridden by my raw enjoyment of a brutal sport). A decent fight, but ruined as a TV experience by the adverts between every round, leading to a lack of in-fight analysis.

In 1963, between the seminal events of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and Kennedy’s assassination, Bob Dylan wrote “The Times They Are a-Changin'”.

It was a shot across the bows to the old guard who Dylan, and many others, saw as complacent, self-serving and out-of-touch. He spoke for the down-trodden, and especially the younger generation, who believed their time was coming. An anthem of hope for a better way of living.

But Dylan’s words wouldn’t have been so widely heard if it wasn’t for the desire for Columbia Records to make money. They didn’t release his songs for the message in the lyrics. They released them for the profit from the record sales. And without a record label behind him, Dylan would still have been playing to small audiences in Greenwich village.

Although he had the support of Columbia’s John Hammond, who signed him, Columbia executives didn’t share that faith and they could just as easily prevented Dylan’s message from being heard if they’d decided to. And of course this was only a few years after McCarthyism officially came to an end.

Publishing was historically the preserve of the rich. Newspapers and books were printed by those who could afford the huge investments in presses and distribution. And many publishers still give too much editorial consideration to advertisers, as highlighted by the recent resignation of Peter Oborne from The Telegraph.

But we’re now in an era when anyone can publish.

A good friend of mine, Dom Conlon, has self-published his superb children’s books which are every bit as professional as any produced by traditional publishers. Production and distribution are no longer a barrier. Marketing and promotion are now the key challenges.

Since the invention of radio, and then television, broadcasting was controlled, depending on where you lived in the world, by the either the state and/or the advertisers who funded the programming.

But in recent years the internet has helped to level the playing field. We’ve reached the point where more-or-less anyone who wants to is able to publish their views.

Of course, not every view is worthy of a wider audience, but social media (or word-of-mouth as we used to call it), has a natural way of separating the wheat from the chaff.

Technology has become so cheap and easy-to-use, at least to those of us in the developed countries, that we can all publish.

What really excites me though is projects like Paul Mason’s.

He’s producing this documentary with a small team and minimal costs.

As he explains on the funding page, “Even the best of the networks can’t tell this story in the detail it deserves. We have low-profile camera crews, Greek speakers, with unparalleled access. And we are shooting now.”

The really exciting aspect is the total lack of potential editorial influence from any owner whose business interests may conflict with the story. We are all the owners of this documentary. Every one of us who funds it. But none of us can control the content or demand edits. In Mason, I know we have a producer who will make the best, most honest, documentary he can.

At the moment, there are five days left to reach the funding goal of £35,000 (Update 3rd March – the deadline has been extended until 26th March!) A tiny amount by normal broadcasting standards. As I type, the figure has just reached 51%. But it’s a flexible funding campaign and all money donated will go to the project regardless of whether it reaches the goal. The documentary will expand or shrink given the funds available.

This project sums up what’s great about the convergence of low-cost broadcast-quality technology, the internet, and crowdfunding.

Experienced journalists can now break free from the control of state broadcasters worried about political funding, and from commercial broadcasters worried about advertiser funding.

I urge you to help fund this project, even if it’s only a small amount. Every little helps and you’re not just funding Paul Mason’s documentary on Greece (although I’m sure it will be superb), you’re helping to shape the very future of journalism.

The Times They Are a-Changin’ – and we can all do our small bit to help. Please donate here.