C is for Chaos

24 05 2012

TEDxMongKok: chaos.

Chaos Strikes TEDxMongKok!

But not to worry – something good came out of it: ideas worth spreading.

C is for Chaos, but it’s also for choice, consumption, creativity, control, challenge, change, community, crowd-sourcing, and construction. In a world of confusion and mayhem (and might I add, a world that is supposed to end this year), TEDxMongKok today posed the very crucial question: how can we thrive if the new world order is chaos? Together, speakers, participants, organisers and volunteers all searched for the elusive answer.

Let’s start with the first C: choice.

What role will choices play in a world defined by chaos?
Dr Sheena Iyengar enlightened us all with a most fascinating talk about choices.  Here’s what stood out for me from her presentation:

  • Something to think about: How many decisions do we make a day – small decisions, large decisions, quick decisions, slow decisions?
  • Leadership and choices:Leaders today have to make decisions all the time, day in day out – but are they making the right choices? In today’s complex world, it’s no longer about economies of scale, but rather economies of networks. To manage complexity, we need good leaders who can make good choices.
  • Today’s three leadership problems: 1) What should be done? 2) What information is needed? 3) Who can help me, who can I help?
  • Information overload: the information overload we are experiencing is the equivalent of 174 newspapers a day. Yep. The question is,  how can we best use human social and institutional capital to make the best decisions?
  • Networks: How did Mark Zuckerberg go from a socially awkward guy to a multibillionaire? He understood networks. Leaders today are the DNA of their networks – so the importance of making good choices is all the greater.

As I make my choices from now on, I’ll consciously be asking myself – how have I arrived at making this choice? Have I used enough information to make my choice? Am I leveraging networks in making this choice?

China: what’s her place in a world of chaos?
Zhang Lijia 
then posed the question, what’s China’s place in the world today? The most memorable snippet from her deeply personal presentation was her reminder that much of the fear over China’s relentless rise is understandable, and yet much of it is also due to ignorance. To understand China, one must think out of the box. So let’s educate ourselves about China, approach it with an open mind, and acknowledge that China – whether we like it or not – is here to stay in today’s chaotic world. Whether she can make the world less chaotic or worsen the chaos remains to be seen…

A monk, a hippie and a baby. Chaotic combo? Not if you’re at TEDxMongKok!

Chaos of Consumption
Consumption. We all need it. We need to consume to survive. And yet this word has gathered so much negativity that it has evolved to carry connotations of gluttony, greed, selfish indulgence. Chandran Nair very perceptively presented us with a paradox: Asian countries have been urged to consume to boost the world economy, and yet are slammed for skyrocketing emissions. What does this say about the consumption-driven growth model?

  • The consumption model is outdated. It shaped the 19th and 20th centuries, but the 21st century is desperately calling for a new model.
  • 4 major trends of the 21st century: 1) the human population peaking 2) CO2 levels reaching unprecedented heights 3) technology everywhere 4) the old economic model crumbling….together these four trends mean that we can no longer rely on consumption.
  • Resource management as the center of all policy making. Asia needs a new model – not the consumption model, but one that is real, that manages limited resources, and that strengthens the state – because only governments can effectively do sustainability.

The 8th Mass Medium
We started with print, recordings, cinema, radio, TV, internet and mobile as the 7 mass mediums. What’s the eighth going to be? Tomi Ahonen  proposes that is is augmented reality. He raised a very interesting point about the advance of mobile technology: back in the 60s NASA used computer power to launch shuttles…today we use the iPhone to launch Angry Birds! Mobile has exploded (in a good way) – now it’s time for augmented reality to trot along. Some questions that I asked myself during the presentation:

  • How will augmented reality redefine the world?
  • Will augmented reality really redefine the world?
  • If so, will augmented interfere with our intellectual sovereignty?

It’s all a bit abstract for the moment, but I’ll make sure to keep an eye on the development of augmented reality.

Brr…don’t we love that wonderful word. Work. In fact, we spend an average of 81,000 hours at work in our lifetime. So we’d better work on something we love then, hadn’t we? Jared King gave us a shocking statistic: only 20% of us are actively engaged in work. There is an absolute epidemic of boredom at work – and this is a problem. Time and resources are being wasted. More importantly, talent is being wasted.

“The most wasted resource on earth is talent” – Jared King

What we need, therefore, is a way to revolutionise the concept of work, to re-engineer the world of work, to change the way we work in order to effect good, positive results. The secret to great work, says Jared, is to find that sweetspot between chaos and control.

Dancers flood the stage, disrupting Professor Kay Ottik’s (get it?) ‘presentation’. It’s all part of the chaos!


I couldn’t stay for the entire conference, but here’s the conclusion I’ve drawn from today’s stimulating presentations:





TEDxWanChai: an intern behind the scenes

6 08 2011

TEDxWanChai: Rehearsing the day before.

Today’s inaugural TEDxWanChai on the theme of charitable impact was nothing short of a big success…but that’s not what I’m going to write about. (You can find out all about the event through tweets tagged #TEDxWanChai.) This is my take on TEDxWanChai from behind the scenes as an intern.

I’ve learnt so much throughout the two weeks leading up to today’s event. Perhaps I could put it into a nutshell:

  1. People. With an event this big, you need people to help.
  2. Social network. You need a social network to find people to help you.
  3. People, people, people – it’s all about people.

But it’s not enough to just have people. The team needs to gel, cooperate and really just fit together like pieces in an intricate jigsaw puzzle – which is where the macro/micromanagement bit comes in.

There were a load of teams all working together, yet at the same time focusing on entirely different aspects of the event: registration and security. Food and beverage. Audio visual. Social media. Stage management. Event management. Production. Organisation. All these separate teams working in micro units to create a successful TEDx event on a macro scale – even the process of TEDxWanChai in the making is awe-inspiring, let alone the event itself!

Some of the TEDxWanChai crew

Experiencing the process of planning, organising and finally executing a TEDx also taught me to think along some important lines:

  • Think ‘brand’. TEDxWanChai is special because it is TEDx and not just any other conference – so we need to constantly show this. Hence, on goes the TEDxWanChai logo on everything you can possibly imagine! (including wooden clothes pegs. Yes.)
  • Think ‘extra’. Just as small things make a difference in the social enterprise context, the same applies to event management. We had bamboo steamers dotted around the venue to emphasise the local culture surrounding the event, and also made an ‘X-marks-the-spot’ bamboo structure for people to hang their ideas onto. Ideas worth spreading…ideas worth hanging – get it?

Ideas Worth Hanging.

  • Think ‘connection’. Twitter and Facebook – the usual biggies to help us spread the word about our event and also connect with fellow TEDx-ers from around the world.
  • Think ‘contingency’. What if there’s a technical error? A black out? Obviously you can’t just have the audience sitting there twiddling their thumbs, so we had games up our sleeves to keep everyone occupied…just in case! This would never have occurred to me until a black out actually occurred, and then I would have been left feeling extremely sheepish.

TEDx-ican Wave! photo by @hypercasey

  • Think ‘out of the box’. This is an age old cliché, I know, but the event has just reminded me of its importance once again. The thing is, our venue was a bit of a blackhole: no reliable WiFi, and no coverage for all but one phone network! How were we supposed to live-tweet and connect with the world without access to the Internet? Luckily, @JayOatway came to the rescue. We had people on the CSL network create hotspots to share with 4 others, and distributed network passwords out to those who wanted to tweet. Not the most straightforward situation, but it sure was an ingenious way around a frustrating problem.
  • Finally, think ‘luck’ – so much is beyond control and so much depends on it!

Photo by Casey Lau

What an experience. I’m sure I have unconsciously absorbed a whole lot more of information than what I’ve briefly summarised here – in fact, I’m looking forward to the debrief to see if I can pick up anything that I’ve missed out!

TEDx’s are extraordinary as they are, but to actually be at the core of the action, witnessing the making of something amazing? That’s……movement.