TEDxMcGill: Redefining Reality

Yesterday I was thrilled to attend TEDxMcGill 2011. I’ve always been a huge fan of the TED community, and being able to go to the conference in my city two years in a row has been an an amazing experience. If you have an “X” conference where you live, I couldn’t encourage you more to take the opportunity to go and discover all the great ideas that your community is spreading and soaking up.

I would try and convince you to go, but I’ll hold back from telling you why it’s worth it. Hopefully by not desperately trying to convince you, it’ll ensure that those who do go are 100% enthusiastic and committed to the TED experience and are more than happy to donate their money and their whole day to the cause.

If you’re not familiar with the world of TED, get familiar! (This intro video for TEDxAmsterdam is pretty amazing too.)

The tagline of the organization is “ideas worth spreading”, and I’ve never failed to be either inspired, intrigued, informed or opened up after watching any of the talks. The “x” means “independently organized event”, and they’re held all over the world. The most creative and innovative people come together – people from art, science, philanthropy, engineering, healthcare – and share their ideas, and I find that process one of the most inspiring there is. What could be more beautiful than the sharing of ideas? It’s what makes us human.

Yesterday’s event was no different from my past experiences with TED. This year’s theme was redefining reality, and the speakers team really did an amazing job of organizing the talks into 3 sessions that mirror the process of how we can go about redefining our reality. While I enjoyed every single one of the talks, I want to focus on the ones that left the greatest impression so that I can keep this short and sweet! You can check out the rest of the speakers & their ideas here.

Act One: Diverge & Expand

The first session was really focused around opening up our minds, thinking about ways we could be bigger and better. The three talks that stood out for me were those of Morgan Weinberg, Craig Silverman, and Christian Elliott.

Morgan (only 19!) spoke about her experiences caring for children that were being exploited  in a Haitian orphanage. She told us about the head woman, “the spider”, who was treating the children like slaves, removing them from their existing families and using them for her own monetary gain.

The thing that made the most profound impact on me was Morgan’s inner strength and bravery. She spoke about how she’d been on the path to university her whole life, but she had the courage to defy that path and build one for herself. Although she did several heroic things while in Haiti, she was adamant than anyone would have been capable for caring for the children as she had done, if they had been in her position. Her message was that we should open our hearts and thoughts and consider what we may be able to offer others. 

Craig‘s talk was about the idea that if we as a society become better at sharing our flaws, failures and mistakes, we can become a more cohesive, stronger whole. He related this idea to the media, sharing statistics like that only 2% of errors are ever corrected, and that the general population has become less trusting of the media over time. He even shared that he was in therapy (in fact that was the very first thing he shared), and immediately I (and I know several others) felt closer and more connected to his message. Opening up and showing vulnerability is an amazing tool for connection.

He offered up this idea: “Embrace those things that scare you the most..and share those things so we can build stronger relationships.” He ended his talk by saying “live like you want them to know your mistakes.” Very powerful.

Christian (@chrstianelliott) talked about the power of social media, and how it puts us all in such a prime position to communicate widely, share messages, and ultimately evoke social change. He and a few friends started a website called Developing Pictures, whose first project was to travel to Haiti and film the destruction post-Earthquake, the lives of those involved, and what various organizations were doing to help. I really encourage you to check out some of their footage, it’s very informative and inspiring.

A couple of my favourite quotes from his talk: “Is our environment so pristine that we are afforded the luxury of complacency?” and “I challenge you to start something because you can”.

Act Two: Connect & Combine 

The second act was all about connecting and engaging with others and learning from different perspectives, using our active listening skills! 

Dr. Brenda Milner is an amazingly inspiring woman, one of the pioneers of the field of neuropsychology from the Montreal Neurological Institute. She’s 93 years old but she still has all her wits about her, and speaks with incredible passion and energy. Her talk was about the benefits of learning language and practicing without shame. A couple great quotes: “Language as a bridge to other people and language as a joy in itself.” and “We need to not be so self conscious with language, not be afraid to make mistakes. We learn by making mistakes!” Isn’t that a great idea? We’re all so nervous to practice our languages, but I like to remember that I never laugh out loud at someone trying to practice English, so why should I think anyone is laughing at me?

Marc Rowland is an improv master! His presentation was extremely funny, he had an improv partner and they did a couple of very entertaining sketches. His talk was about the power of “yes, and” in improv and in life. If we can learn to say yes to the ideas of others add to them, we can begin to create change. If we close our minds and block other people’s ideas, the conversation grinds to a halt and nothing can be created.

Act Three: Converge & Take Action

The last session was about ways that people can use the powers of opening their minds + connecting with others to start to evoke change. All of the ideas were very inspiring.

Pinny Gniwisch spoke about the power of reframing your limitations into strengths. He offered the example of his diagnosis of adult ADHD and the ways that symptoms of his disorder can actually be seen as positives in his life. I really liked this idea, of not letting people’s expectations get to you and trying to appreciate your real strengths.

Alex Pritz was a friend of Christian Elliott’s, and a co-founder of Developing Pictures. He spoke more about the organization, showed many great video clips, and talked about the power of connecting students across cultures to take appropriate action. In his Iwastology project, students from Haiti and Montreal work together to come up with solutions to deal with waste better worldwide. I liked this idea of bridging oceans to share perspectives and create change that works for all parties.

Matt Brightman is a co-founder of Developing Pictures and Moral Fibers. Moral Fibers is an amazing business idea: quality t-shirts that are printed with original art from Haitian artists, with proceeds going straight to the artists. The art is beautiful. His talk was all about perceived value, and how perception is everything. He shared a great story about a Haitian entrepreneur, starting by selling one bottle of water, saving the proceeds and buying two the next day. And how by the next week, he had a cooler with ice, juices, and just increasing his business day by day. I was really inspired by that story of third-world entrepreneurs and the subsequent creation of a middle class.

Finally, Craig Buntin, Olympic pairs figure skater gave a really inspiring talk about how we define success. The most exciting message I gained from his talk was choose a seemingly impossible goal, and work your butt off to achieve it. He asked us: “what’s your Olympics?” and really inspired me to start setting the bar higher in my life, and reach for the moon. I liked that he didn’t give up hope when he didn’t qualify for his second Olympics, but just came up with another impossible goal and worked toward achieving that instead. It’s all about determination and pushing yourself.

In Conclusion

Whew, I just wrote a lot! I hope I’ve conveyed to you some of the amazingly inspiring ideas that were shared yesterday. There were a few other great touches to the event (red velvet cupcakes!) but my two favourites were the performance by The Howling Gales and the ongoing interactive painting throughout the whole show.

The Howling Gales gave an incredible performance with their original songs being just as good as their covers. I love that they have a violin (the violinist is incredible) and a stand-up bass, as well as two incredible singers and a drummer. Definitely check out some of their music!

This is a picture of the unfinished interactive painting. Isn’t it beautiful!? There’s one panel for each session, and all of the themes and symbols have been skilfully incorporated into each panel as far as I can tell! The artist worked on it all day, and audience members were encouraged to submit their ideas and pictures for him to incorporate. I can’t find the name of the artist but I’ll post it when I find out! I thought the painting was something so extra special and creative that they incorporated into the event.


So, what do you think of the TED community and its ideas? What’s YOUR Olympics? Will you be checking out a local TEDx event? What are some inspiring ideas that are getting you excited lately?

8 thoughts on “TEDxMcGill: Redefining Reality”

  1. Wow. I never knew what this was before, although I’d heard you and other people talk about it, but it sounds completely amazing! I love the idea of finding your “Olympics.” When I was younger and participating in gymnastics, I would watch the actual olympics with huge eyes, secretly dreaming about going there one day.

    While I have set that dream aside, that feeling of “wow, that’s so amazing, and I want to do that one day!” still sticks with me, and I just need to find a new “Olympics” to push for.

    1. It is completely amazing! There are some really life-changing ideas out there. :)

      My current Olympics is writing a book in a month. Maybe your Olympics is getting one of your published?!

    1. :) Maybe I should. I’ve definitely thought about it, my only problem would be coming up with something to talk about! But maybe I’ll put it on the resolutions list this winter and actually go through with it. Whew. Scary but awesome!

        1. That’s so cool, I didn’t know you did a talk! Awesome. I’d have to think carefully about what I wanted to talk about, but that would be really great, I would love that.

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