“Ideas Worth Spreading” is the TED strapline, but usually I find the TED experience to be much more profound even than that. TED talks can radically change the way you look at the world, in the space of just 20 minutes! They rewire your brain on one issue or another in a way that very rarely reverses. TEDx Sydney last month was no exception.

While I wasn’t able to attend in person, the event is streamed live over the web now and so you can watch it from the comfort of your desk. I managed to “attend” most of the day in this fashion, but four talks stood out in particular. Four talks that changed my brain.

  1. Dylan Alcott - “There’s nothing wrong with being in a wheel chair!” 

Because Dylan’s family refused to treat him any differently just because he was in a wheelchair - not least his little brother - Dylan Alcott’s bullish attitude to life more than made up for his disability. This explains why he “has so many trophies he has to alphabetize them.” Dylan is a Olympic Gold Medal winner (Bejing 2008) as well as a World Record Holder in both Wheelchair Tennis and Basketball. Dylan strongly made the point that a our perception of a wheelchair existence needed to be revised. He is a living contradiction to the common misconception that to be in a wheelchair is “the worst thing that can happen to you”. (Indeed he joked that to be a supporter of English cricket was a far worse fate - something that I know a thing or two about sadly).  


2. Chris Darwin - “Australia has the worst rate of mammal extinctions in the world!”

When asked what his “Unfair Advantage” was, Chris confessed that the impact his famous descendant Charles made on the world was one of two, bravery being the other. “The Origin of the Species” completely changed humanity’s view of how it understands its own very genesis. Much of that revolutionary research was conducted here in Australia. So it was an arresting and depressing reality for that great thinker’s great-great-grandson to visit Sydney a century later and tell us that more mammal species are suffering extinction here than anywhere else. Chris will need all his bravery in his battle to halt this mass extinction of species, but it was very inspiring to see someone so dedicated...even with a stuffed Dodo on his shoulder!

Helen Durham - “There is an area of law that seeks to create a space for humanity”

Alongside the mindbending truth-bombs that you hear at TED, the other great treat is to enjoy the heartfelt passion of the speakers. Helen Durham is head of International Law and Policy at the Red Cross and spoke with tremendous love for the way law is used so that even “war has limits.” She has dedicated all her professional energies to humanitarian law, focussing much of her career in the warzones of Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq documenting and prosecuting war crimes. You wouldn’t imagine you would leave a talk on such grim topics with any hope whatsoever, but Helen was infectious in her optimism that while we are quick to dismiss it when it fails, law has wonderful power to bring humanity to such terrible conflicts.

Nadine Champion - “It isn’t the whole event that requires courage, just the first part” 

Probably the longest lasting impression anyone lucky enough to enjoy this year’s TEDx will remember was the sight of a brave, psyched up Nadine Champion smashing a block of wood in half with her bare hands.  Nadine’s story began very much as a female “Karate Kid” type yarn - of a determined girl obsessed with martial arts, and a wise old mentor guiding her on a path to glory and self-fulfillment. A powerful fighter - she remains undefeated - Nadine is also an inspirational speaker. But along the way her story tragically diverges from the Hollywood fairytale when she was forced to do battle with her most formidable opponent yet - Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. That fight required all the courage she could muster but she chanelled what she had learned in the ring to keep her strong. “In the ring, you have to face yourself. But you have to get into the ring first.” I don’t think I’ll ever forget that final image of her overcoming her fears to shatter a block of wood in front of 1,200 people. It serves as an inspiration for us all to face our fears.

You can have too much of a good thing, and the sheer incessant flow of such wonderfully enriching content left some people exhausted by the end of the day. Or “TEDxhausted” in fact, as MC Julian Morrow joked! But when everyone’s recovered, their brains like mine still won’t be the same - rewired forever!

The one thing all of these TEDx Sydney speakers had in common is innovative thinking. Innovative thinkers give themselves a clear #unfairadvantage. If you want to find out more about how to think differently for your business, visit Salesforce to find out how to get yours.