#TEDxBrighton: a buffet for the brain and a curate’s egg

Long Beach was twinned with Brighton beach (not the nudist bit) on Halloween, as the TED roadshow rolled into town, annexed the Dome, and treated open-minded Sussex folk to a buffet for the brain.

Truth be told, it was also the very definition of a curate’s egg. Good in parts – at times exceptional – with memorable, challenging, fascinating ideas. And plenty, equally, that was so eminently forgettable – either in form or in content – that it’s already gone, some of it thankfully. But it takes all sorts.

Like a fine wine, the event matured over its lifetime, starting out unformed and unstructured, maturing in its adolescence, coming to full bloom in its adulthood, and perhaps a little off as it drew to its close. God I’m being (uncharacteristically) diplomatic.

TEDxBrighton was my first TED event. And while I appreciate that the all-important “x” denotes ‘an independently organized event’, my anticipations were high. If they weren’t through the roof, they were certainly bouncing along the ceiling.

Ever since I created my corporate and brand storytelling business, Insight Agents, a little under a year back, I’ve regularly sought inspiration from the TED video archives, and I never regret it. Learning more about ideas, learning more about how to share ideas with impact, learning more about impactful storytelling.

So it was that I pounced into Brighton like Tigger on Christmas morning, expecting to see brilliant presentations of amazing ideas from challenging thinkers. We got some of that – of course we did, sometimes in spades – but we also got several lessons in how or what not to present. There were also numerous ruptures of the TED commandments on what to say and how to say it – particularly commandments 4, 7, 9 and 10. Had they been circulated in advance?

I was left wondering whether a TEDx event actually needs a theme. Ours was “Many Hands”, and this was due to cover community, connectivity and convergence. At times this theme felt more forced, forged and false; a convention followed for its own sake.

Indeed, at turns, TEDxBrighton seemed to have an identity crisis and it felt more like Hay Literary Festival. @DeannaRodger performed brilliantly, particularly her polemic pome “How to be a feminist”. And 50-million-selling crime novelist @PeterJamesUK taught us lots about the hidden side of policing, and its impact on the individuals who make up for the force. Great talks, great entertainment, but TEDs? Maybe.

On balance, I’m delighted I went. To learn about @hisBe’s attempts to rewrite the rules of supermarket retail, and to hear how @BlockBuildersUK have harnessed kids’ creativity and love of Minecraft to both build a complete model of Lewes in that medium and – much more importantly – challenge what we should be getting out of urban planning. Particularly unencumbered, free-thinking Generation Next.

And the rich, mellifluous, post-lunch session was a treat for all, particularly those of us who aren’t privileged enough to inhabit the world of making. We met a luthier, spoon and knife makers, the country’s finest truffle hunter (and his dog), and craftsmen of fine wooden surfboards and – truth be told – bikes. We horny-axoned slaves to the brain also learned how the act of making is utterly transcendent in the way that mere intellectual pursuits never can be. Apparently.

It was of course lovely to network with such interesting, interested folk, and most notably to reconnect with @andrewmanson1, @alicesstudio, @welovelean and @lucyjpaine.

A new blog will follow next week on “What I learned from TEDxBrighton”. Keep this frequency clear.