Taking responsibility for our own statistics

Last year I started a series of blogs on things that interest me which have a TED or TEDx angle. These might be my responses to watching TED and TEDx talks, or interesting things that TED and TEDx talks could shed some light on.

I haven’t had time to watch many new TED talks this year. But this week I have made some space for statistics in honour of Hans Rosling, who died on 7th February. He was a TED favourite, lighting up the stage with his passion for communicating statistics about important things to the world. Here he is in action…

It struck me as interesting timing that Alan Smith’s talk on “Why you should love statistics” at TEDxExeter 2016 was published on TED.com just before Rosling’s death. Perhaps there is a baton being handed on here.

It also struck me that we have a responsibility for our own data and statistics, because they reflect ourselves and the way we see the world. Whether it’s how we take care of our bodies – data on types of calories we eat, and calories we burn off in exercise – or our minds – minutes during the day we allow ourselves to switch off, or number of TED talks we watch per month! – or how we take care of the world – our carbon footprint, or how much time or money we give to others.

The Iona Community is “An ecumenical Christian community of men and women from different walks of life and different traditions in the Church engaged together, and with people of goodwill across the world, in acting, reflecting and praying for justice, peace and the integrity of creation; convinced that the inclusive community we seek must be embodied in the community we practice.” Its Members commit themselves to a short Rule of life which includes “accounting with one another for the use of our gifts, money and time, our use of the earth’s resources…”

Whether or not you share the Christian faith, these words describe a helpful discipline, which also harks back to Mike Dickson’s talk at TEDxExeter 2012 on “What is Enough?”. Alan Smith’s talk encouraged us to think about our local communities, about what we know and what we think we know. And then… all our lifestyle choices affect others. The inclusive community we seek must be embodied in the community we practice.

Clare Bryden, TEDxExeter Storyteller

Introverted Leadership

Amongst the spate of celebrity deaths over Christmas was one that only slightly stippled the sea of press coverage. On Christmas Eve, the author Richard Adams died at the ripe old age of 96. He was best known for writing Watership Down, a tale of rabbits.

Not promising, but it is such a tale of rabbits. When I was a child I must have read it dozens of times, to the extent that it became a running joke with family friends. I still have my bruised and battered copy signed by Adams. But it is not a children’s book. The themes are of prophets and prophecy, politics and leadership, refugees seeking a new home, religion and story, freedom and well-being, dictatorship and social control, war and peace, human relationship with the rest of nature, and many others. These I can now understand, having recently reread it as an adult.

Why did I enjoy reading and rereading it so much? Partly because the setting was not far from my childhood home – I knew the country. Partly because it is a great story – *** SPOILER ALERT *** the good guys hoodwink the bad guys big league, and peace wins. And partly because it reflected an important part of my character back at me.

That’s only something I came to understand when I read an article by Susan Cain, following up on her TED talk on “The Power of Introverts”. Cain’s original message – that we introverts exist and have plenty to offer – was not new to me. I was very glad that she shared it, and that it has been heard and embraced by so many. The theme of her article, though, opened my eyes to what I value in leadership, what I see and experience as good leadership, and why Watership Down was perhaps so unusual and appealing.

If only I could find that article again! My memory of it was as a coherent and focused overview of introverted leadership, assuming that the basic message about introverts was already understood. If you find it, please send me the link!

It might have been this article in the NY Times, in which Cain quotes management guru quoted Peter Drucker: “The one and only personality trait the effective [leaders] I have encountered did have in common was something they did not have: They had little or no ‘charisma’ and little use either for the term or for what it signifies.” She also name-checked Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great”, who described the best leaders as “somewhat self-effacing individuals” possessing “a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will”.

Here is some other stuff she might have written, or I might have just made up based on my experience of small to reasonably large organisations:

  • The best leaders are not cheer leaders and tub-thumpers with big personalities
  • The best leaders do not jump in, make hasty decisions, act before thinking
  • The best leaders do not expect everyone to conform to their own point of view, style, and approach
  • The best leaders are not be in the faces of their staff all the time, relentlessly expecting team-building
  • The best leaders are more likely to be thinking, weighing up options, considering what is best for their people, and valuing each of them as individuals
  • The best leaders are less likely to lead from the front, to take all the responsibilities and glory to themselves
  • The best leaders are more likely to draw on others’ experience and skills; to bear the burden, yes, but to listen and delegate

So back to Watership Down. In the original cohort of rabbits, there were two potential leaders: Hazel and Bigwig. Bigwig was the extravert; always ready to jump in, say his bit, and preferably cuff his subordinate; the fighter seeking glory and honour, and willing to sacrifice himself for the cause. Hazel was the introvert; younger, less experienced, reticent; willing to listen to the weaker members of the group, and value everything that others have to offer; willing to try new things, to venture into the unknown both geographically and sociologically; to strategise and problem solve, rather than confront directly; to seek peace and cooperation, rather than war and empire building, but not afraid to fight where necessary; and to sacrifice himself to protect his own.

The genius of Adams in Watership Down is that Hazel is chosen as the leader. That is probably why I found it so appealing as an introverted and shy child, and why I think it should be first on the reading list of anyone on any management and leadership programme, whether in government, military, business, or third sector.

Clare Bryden, TEDxExeter Storyteller

Giving TED talks to know you’re not alone

I recently opined that deep down we watch TED talks to know we’re not alone. It subsequently struck me that because we can see the number of views, and comment and read other’s comments on each talk, we can be certain that we are not alone in watching TED talks.

And that led me to reflecting on the speakers’ perspective. Now that so many statistics are collected on the number of times a talk is viewed and the related web pages are accessed, the speaker knows they are not alone too. There are dangers: that they compare themselves to others, or they feel under extreme pressure not to fail and let their viewers down, or they are Brené Brown. But I’m hoping that it would a great encouragement to them to keep on keeping on.

More than that; it’s not just the speakers. At TEDxExeter 2014, Karima Bennoune told four powerful stories of people who are living under Islamist fundamentalist repression. A year later, in her update she said: “Cherifa Kheddar and other victims’ families counted the number of views of my TED talk – the talk containing their stories – as those views accumulated. And I did not realize how much it would mean to them that hundreds of thousands of people around the world would listen, so please keep sharing that talk and this one as a sign of your support not of me but of them.”

So do keep watching, keep sharing, keep commenting (constructively!), and keep encouraging each other.

Clare Bryden, TEDxExeter Storyteller

Watching TED talks to know you’re not alone

There are myriads of reasons why people watch TED and TEDx talks, and myriads of outcomes.

Some might want to be entertained with interesting facts about the world, or music or humour, or to be challenged to think in new ways about the world.

Others might want to find a campaign to support, and there are plenty of talks describing plenty of opportunities, not least the talks at TEDxExeter 2015 by Matthew Owen about Cool Earth and by Carmel McConnell about Magic Breakfast. Of course, it’s possible that it’s the talk which grabs the unsuspecting viewer by the scruff of the neck and makes them start the campaign. Bandi Mbubi’s talk at the first TEDxExeter inspired a group of people to coalesce around him and found Congo Calling.

Yet others might be looking for new ways of doing things in the workplace. Alan Smith’s talk at TEDxExeter this year may well be inspiring many to use more data visualisation in the decision-making process. Others might be looking for new ways of being and seeking to change themselves, or seeking to affirm themselves, but they are challenged anyway.

Scientists have found that “when we read a story and really understand it, we create a mental simulation of the events described by the story”. It is as though reading a novel or biography adds to our experience of the world, a safe way of trying things out. Perhaps watching TED talks also enables us to try on for size new approaches to working, living, viewing the world, or even new selves.

A talk like Manwar Ali’s on Jihad, also at TEDxExeter 2016, holds up a mirror to the choices we all face between light and dark, our potential for violence and for peace. Going off the TEDxExeter piste now, Brené Brown’s talk takes us through the experience of allowing our self to be vulnerable and life to be uncertain. Susan Cain asks us to empathise with introverts, recognise their strengths, and maybe gives some the lightbulb moment of realisation that that is who they are.

CS Lewis wrote of “the few” and “the many” readers. “The few” are those who seek out space to read, who must read, who often re-read books, and who are open to being deeply changed by what they read. “The many” read when there is nothing else claiming their attention, do not re-read, and show no sign of being changed by what they read. I would like to coin “the TED few”, who would be those who make space for new ideas, who often re-watch talks, and who are open to being deeply changed by what they see and hear.

Much of my reading is by people who have similar interests: who have or are seeking a sense of place; who are living and working prophetically; who have experienced the struggles and sometimes the successes. Recent examples include Spiritual Activism by Alastair McIntosh and Matt Carmichael, and Daybook, the Journey of an Artist by Anne Truitt. I am not reading in order to follow their example or recreate what they are doing, but because through their stories I learn that I am not particularly special or different, that others have similar goals to mine, and that they doubt and lack confidence and have struggles too. And that somehow gives me hope and the energy to persevere a while longer.

In a similar vein, my prime motivation for watching TED talks is to find other people who are risking and creating and doing great stuff. So I tend to gravitate to the talks on creativity and art, like Peter Randall-Page’s talk at TEDxExeter 2015, and two of my favourites by Janet Echelman and Stefan Sagmeister. It means I am often tempted towards envy, and thinking that I wish I could do or had done that. I need to remember that I won’t do the same thing, but I will do some thing, and I should focus on and celebrate that thing. What I am seeking from TED talks are stories of people who are blazing trails of possibility, and effectively giving me permission to do my own risking and creating and (hopefully great) stuff.

The film Shadowlands gave CS Lewis the phrase: “we read to know we are not alone”. I think it’s true. I also think that deep down we watch TED talks to know we are not alone.

Clare Bryden, TEDxExeter Storyteller

Five go to the voting booth

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Clare Bryden has been the TEDxExeter Storyteller since the beginning, mainly blogging articles inspired by each year’s theme, and then live-blogging from the back of the theatre during the event itself. Now she’s starting a new series of things that interest her which have a TED or TEDx angle. These might be her responses to watching TED and TEDx talks, or interesting things that TED and TEDx talks could shed some light on…

First up, Brexit and young people. This is a reworking of a post on Clare’s own blog, where you can also find the data behind the graphs.

 

In the fall-out from the EU Referendum, one particular graph has been much-shown and commented upon. It’s the graph of how three-quarters of young people polled said they would vote Remain, and used as evidence for how they have been sold out by older people voting Leave.

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But the graph doesn’t necessarily show the whole story. It doesn’t account for turnout, and Sky’s final poll says only about a third of people aged 18-24 may have voted.

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If that was the case, the votes for Remain as a percentage of eligible voters could actually have been the lowest in the 18-24 age group.

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Now, polls in advance of votes don’t always give an accurate picture. In general elections, the exit polls are generally much closer to the eventual outcome. But in yet another missed opportunity, there were no exit polls at the Referendum, the argument being that they could only usefully be compared to previous votes. And yet surely they would have given us much better information about who was voting and why?

Interestingly, this LSE survey of the ‘inside mind of the voter’ suggests a MUCH higher turnout among young people: “Young people cared and voted in very large numbers. We found turnout was very close to the national average, and much higher than in general and local elections. After correcting for over-reporting [people always say they vote more than they do], we found that the likely turnout of 18- to 24-year-olds was 70% – just 2.5% below the national average – and 67% for 25- to 29-year-olds.”

Between 1964 and 2010, turnout in general elections among young people was much lower than the national average. In his talk at TEDxHousesofParliament in 2014, Rick Edwards asked why, and suggested five solutions to get more young people to vote: introduce online voting; make it compulsory for first-time voters to vote; add a ‘none of the above’ option; improve information about parties’ policy positions; celebrate young people who have stood for and won office as role models.

What happened in the 2015 General Election? Well, although polls of voting intention suggested turnout among young people was as low as in the past, as with the Referendum, subsequent study indicates it may well have been much higher and close to the national average.

We can’t get complacent, though, and ideas like Rick Edwards’ need to be explored. The LSE survey also suggests that young people were extremely engaged in the Referendum, and reacted very strongly to the result. So it could boost political engagement and turnout. But equally it could further discourage young people if they feel their vote doesn’t make a difference or their voices are not heard.

Clare Bryden, TEDxExeter Storyteller