TEDxWarwick Blog

Creativity in Society

Tue 16 Dec 2014

Opportunities to be creative and playful can be reinvigorating not only for the self but for the community too. After interviewing both Maria Saridaki, speaker at TEDxWarwick’s 2014 Main Event, and Onur Uz, speaker at this year’s Salon themed ‘Evolution of the Arts’, it is clear they actively encourage participation in activities that will inspire innovation and social interaction.

Maria is the co-founder of Athens Plaython, an organised street festival in Greece that incorporates gaming and technological workshops for an inclusive experience in an urban setting. Onur is involved with ‘Roots for Routes’, an international project which promotes the cultural and social diversity in contemporary performing arts and media.

Asking them both the question, ‘Why do you feel there is a need for such an initiative as this?’ in regards to the Athens Plaython and Roots for Routes, respectively, these were their responses:

Maria Saridaki

'In general, all around the globe, in almost every big city, you will find playful communities with people who want to design games, urban games or ‘big’ games and hold conferences about them. It’s not just an Athenian thing. Playfulness has a huge impact on us, old or young. The meaning of playfulness is how to be open and cooperative and eager to embrace change one way or another by testing things. By creating events such as the Athens Plaython it allows people to be playful in difficult settings. Since 2008 there’s been a lot of turmoil in Greece and there was a need for people to reclaim the streets in a non-violent way, so playing a game would do that.'

Onur Uz

'Roots for Routes was a very important step in my life. It was a multi-cultural gathering of people from across Europe with only art as our communication skill. There were people with backgrounds in theatre, media, visual art, musicians like me, and lots of other creative and artistic field representatives. We learnt that we don’t need to talk in order to create something beneficial that has a message for society, politics and today’s understanding of the whole structure. For example, last year’s topic was ‘immigration’ and we only composed, acted and danced our interpretation of the theme. There was a standing ovation from the audience at the end of the show, despite no word being spoken. I think Roots for Routes is needed because it reminds us that creativity is the very essential part of being a human being.'

Evolution of the Arts Salon Interview: Jenny Sealey

Wed 10 Dec 2014

Jenny Sealey is Artistic Director and CEO of Graeae. She co-directed the London 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremony and was the Artistic Director for Unlimited 2012 Festival. In 2009, she was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Honours.

Since becoming the Artistic Director of Graeae, how has the Theatre Company and its people evolved?

Graeae is a company that has evolved in the last 30 years. It started with a revolution because disabled people were not allowed to be on the stage 30 years ago. The general public have become more used to seeing disabled people on stage, but in the dance world it has been much more accepted in terms of physical difference and bodies being in abstract spaces. There’s something about the theatre that’s rooted in naturalism where people think you must look exactly right for the part. Well, only half of my actors look ‘right’, we are who we are. That is the hardest thing to change in theatre, the challenge of those perceptions is still in the building even though it is 2014 and we should have actually got over ourselves.

When you became the co-director of the Paralympic Opening Ceremony, was there any specific idea for the performance that you came up with from the start, which you saw right through to the end, in the stadium?

We knew that we wanted to be political and have a good story that was local, national and international, something that had global resonance. We knew we wanted to have Stephen Hawking, Alison Lapper, Spasticus Autisticus and ‘I am What I am’ and it would be a story of Enlightenment. But one of the original ideas that stayed all the way through was ironically, or whether it was serendipity, Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’. When the character Miranda says, ‘o brave new world/that has such people in it’, Miranda looked without judging, and that’s exactly what we wanted from our audience. What we didn’t know was that Danny Boyle and Kim Gavin had also gone to their very first interview thinking about The Tempest. We had no idea, so when we mentioned Miranda our interview panel just fell about laughing. How wonderful is that? All four ceremonies using the Tempest.

The motto for the games was ‘Inspire a Generation’. In relation to the arts, do you think the games have been successful in fulfilling the motto?

I think the games certainly did inspire a generation, and I would hope that the arts also inspired a generation. In the artistic world, we had the opening ceremony of the Paralympics and a fantastic festival called ‘Unlimited’ where deaf and disabled people took over the whole of the Southbank centre. Graeae were very prominent with ‘The Garden’, our outdoor show, and ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’. The whole of those few weeks were quite extraordinary. Bu in the sporting world and the theatre world things have come down to an almighty crash because of government cuts in provision for deaf and disabled people.

How has your artistic vision for the Paralympic Opening Ceremony influenced your work since?

That’s a hard one because, I actually crashed myself when that finished, I didn’t want to do anything big ever again, I just wanted to be in a room with some five year olds and create theatre from them. But then obviously we have to get back on the horse, so we did Threepenny Opera, which was massive, and that came from working with a bigger cast which is definitely growing and evolving. Graeae’s place in something political in the Olympic stadium that was seen by over a billion people worldwide has brought Graeae back full circle because we are getting political and campaigning again. I suppose I’m much more confident about being out there, I’m telling people as it is.

In line with the theme, ‘Evolution of the Arts’, where would you like to see accessible theatre and performance go in the future?

I want it to be able to continue to evolve, but there is a real threat that it will all stop because we will not have equal access or access at work to be able to do our jobs properly. I’ll be very public in saying that if the current threats to Graeae Theatre continue and the company is expected to cover the costs for just my access, the company will close in just six years’ time. We’re in this horrible low-level panic and fear but there is a battle to be won. I hope it is a battle will we win and therefore the whole issue in and around accessible theatre-making continues because it has to. It’s too important.

Don't forget, tickets for our main event, TEDxWarwick 2015 are now on sale!

Evolution of the Arts Salon Interview: Onur Uz

Wed 3 Dec 2014

Studying for his MA in Creative and Media Enterprises at the University of Warwick, Onur Uz is the co-founder of the award-winning, student-run radio station ‘RadyoVesaire’ at Istanbul Bilgi University. Onur specialises in creative entrepreneurship and music as a tool of business interaction and communication.

You’re the founder of a student-run radio station in Turkey, what are your top tips for someone who’s a part of a student-run radio station?

I’d never had managerial experience before finding out about school radio, but what I did have was my creativity and my will to contribute to something diverse. One of my top tips would be to stick with your creativity by finding your creative point and try to direct that onto what you are managing. When I established my school’s radio I had five other people assisting me and we had this amazing opportunity to see how creativity can turn into business. We were composing our business instead of establishing a commodity. I suggest you go for arts and creativity first and then establish something that can be defined as a commodity.

Can the question ‘What would you do if you weren’t afraid?’ only be answered once? Or is it an ongoing process as life progresses and new experiences arise?

I think it’s an ongoing process when you experience the fear of being a part of something creative and innovative and you hold yourself back in order not to be caught. There’s a kind of oppression from society and its dogmas, norms and traditions that keep us in a jar. When we think outside the box and we get creative and innovative we can also relate to many political concerns. For me, seeing a big billboard in Istanbul stating the question ‘What would you do if you weren’t afraid?’ I can see that my life has changed since because I am constantly overcoming my fears and hesitations. My personal amendment to the question is ‘What would you do if you weren’t hesitant?’ because when you say ‘afraid’ it can refer to the fear of being a coward. But it’s not about that, it’s about the hesitations we have and what we deny in our lives.

How do you think people who see creativity and business as two separate spheres be persuaded to see that they can actually go hand in hand?

We are now seeing a lot of creative entrepreneurship and creative enterprise modules in the field of academics. In the business field there’s a gap between strategic planning and creative planning, in which I think something like strategic creativity or creative strategy could feature, despite there being a lot of rhetoric suggesting otherwise. I’d like to think that we are living in an era where the field of business is integrating creativity into their own scope. This is very promising and helpful for creative people like me because I would personally like to take my place in the world of business. But when I say I am a pianist I don’t want to be treated like I am an alien.

Evolution of the Arts Salon Interview: Stine Nilsen

Wed 26 Nov 2014

Having completing an MA in Professional Practice (Inclusive Dance Practice) in 2006, Stine Nilsen is the Co-Artistic Director of Candoco, a contemporary dance company of disabled and non-disabled dancers.

Where did your passion for dance originally come from? How did you know it was what you wanted to pursue?

It was a case of ‘when I was four I saw dance performers in my local town in the north of Norway and the neighbours’ daughters would perform’. Somehow it connected with me so I started on the local evening classes and did jazz, ballet and tap. I think I liked the idea of moving, the expression and the music, and I pursued it very heavily in an amateur fashion until I was about eighteen. I had some great teachers who suggested I could always give it a go [professionally] if that’s what I was interested in, and up until then I hadn’t really considered it a career choice because it’s a hard to go into the arts. My family doesn’t come from an artistic background, it wasn’t part of what we did. We had much more vocational, straightforward jobs, like teachers and nurses. But I think somehow dance still had a strong hold of over what it meant to me to move and express myself in that way.

In what ways has your MA in Professional Practice of Inclusive Dance influenced your role as Co-Director of Candoco?

I did the Masters whilst I was still dancing in the company, but I was really interested in understanding dance from a more theatrical point of view. I was keen to see if I had skills that could go beyond just being a dancer in the studio. I started thinking about the transferable skills of a very practical degree from a practical profession into a more managerial role and how I could find my voice for what I thought was important for the company’s future. In those terms the MA offered a level of reflection and investigation into both the practicality of teaching a class of disabled and non-disabled dancers, and the solutions to the practical challenges in a room where different people would react to different things.

It has always been of interest: how do you start with something that is quite set and non-changeable, not up for discussion? Actually, you come to realise that you have to makes some changes, you have to allow the principles to change form and you have to allow the subject you are working with to influence what you are trying to achieve. It influenced my application to become artistic co-director of Candoco because I think it had given me time to reflect on my skills and realise that I actually loved being a dancer and I loved being in that world.

What are your long-term goals for Candoco?

We’re a dance company of seven who have been able to tour around the world to show contemporary dance with disabled and non-disabled dancers. I really want that impact to go beyond the niche of contemporary dance. I think we have, to a certain extent, a look or message around difference and the positive perception around difference which I think can go beyond the arts world. I always think about the Coen brothers’ films and how they manage somehow to get their arts films out to a really wide audience, and I guess if I had to put it into a nutshell that’s what I want to do with Candoco. I want the contemporary form to expand and reach a wider audience.

How does diversity enhance art?

I think diversity across almost anything, whether its age, gender, race, ethnicity, disability, means that people come to something not quite from the same starting point. So ultimately, for me, it always sets up a point of having to be in dialogue and having to collaborate in order to find the way forwards. Therefore the diversity in a room where people are different enriches the conversations, the dialogue, the starting points because they will be wider than a more homogenous group put together.

Do you see the arts as a medium of expression, tool of influence, or a form of revolution?

It is definitely a medium of expression whether that expression is quite pedestrian and understated, or whether it’s engaged, passionate and raw. I think what’s exciting about contemporary dance and contemporary art is that it has such a wide range of expressions. You have art that is based on more traditional techniques but then you have the art forms that are completely letting go of all those techniques and are much more conceptual. The arts have a huge potential to deliver to different types of expressions.

Art as a tool of influence, I think can exist on a very personal level. I think it influences to a certain extent everybody who sees it because they have to make a choice as to whether they like it or not, and why they like it or not. Hopefully art invokes some thinking, and if it deals with subject matters or content or the people on stage make you think, then that is ultimately what will be achieved.

And then as a revolution. When Candoco started in 1991 it was one of the pioneers of doing dance with disabled dancers and it was kind of revolutionary at the time. Looking back we realise that maybe we didn’t think it very revolutionary at the time because we were just doing what we found interesting. But it made a change in how bodies were perceived within dance and now more and more disabled performers and artists are being presented on more mainstream stages. It’s been a slow revolution but it has had an impact.

TED is about ideas worth spreading. If there was one idea you could pick worth spreading personally to you, what would it be?

Diversity enriches the art form.

Creative Hesitancy

Mon 24 Nov 2014

A salon based on the ‘Evolution of the Arts’ immediately invites ideas of creativity and performance. And with two Artistic Directors and a musical composer as speakers at TEDxWarwick’s latest Salon event, artistic demonstrations naturally facilitated their talks, including a musical performance from Onur Uz who composed the song ‘The Epic Devotion’ especially for the Salon. Whilst the performativity of the speakers made for an engaging and entertaining Salon, it was their concerns for how creativity is being treated in society that dominated their talks and subsequent panel discussion.

Both Stine Nilsen and Jenny Sealey drew attention to the problems that arise for deaf and disabled dancers and actors in the creative world. Though contemporary dance and theatre has become more accepting of featuring such performers over the last few decades, people with disabilities still face the threat of being unable to pursue their artistic interests due to cuts to government funding for access support general public ignorance. What is needed, as Jenny stated, is a major public figure actively promoting the involvement of deaf and disabled performers in their artwork to demonstrate they can be just as successful as their able-bodied peers.

Onur Uz highlighted how creativity is a vital element for successful business management, yet businesses are not utilising such a concept. As he looks to enter the business world after graduating, he does not wish to de defined solely by his artistic interests, but hopes to use them to influence the combination of innovation and strategy in the workplace. It is the initial steps that must be taken by organisations and companies to include such creativity which will allow for a greater interaction between the two. What the obstacle appears to be, Onur claims, is hesitancy and fear.

With three speakers so passionate about their forms of art and expressive over their concerns for the way it is evolving, the participation of one attendee created an unexpected dialogue involving the two spheres each speaker had commented on: business and the arts. As a businesswoman herself, the attendee was quick to suggest that perhaps the minimal involvement of commercial companies within the creative world is due to a lack of awareness that such an interaction can exist. Her recommendation for artistic companies to make themselves more visible and vocal about their desire to work with businesses was well-received and appreciated.

It is moments like these, where a Salon attendee engages directly with a Salon speaker, that demonstrates how successful such events can be in providing the platforms for evolving discussions. The next step is to overcome the hesitancy of acting upon them.

Luke Bawazer: Preparing to Spread Ideas Worth Spreading - TEDxWarwick 2014-15 Blog Nine

Sat 22 Nov 2014

Luke Bawazer spoke at TEDxWarwick’s Main Event in 2013 about Genetically Evolved Technology. For the 2014 TEDxWarwick Magazine, he described his method of preparation for delivering a TED talk. Below is an abridged version of his article.

1. I made a slide deck that told a story.

Effective communication is, basically, good storytelling. Curiosity is the protagonist of scientific stories. For a scientific story to be compelling, however, it must resonate with the thoughts and experiences of the listener. The goal is to introduce the story, to hopefully inspire others to begin learning more deeply about the idea. The most compelling science is the science that consciously cares about improving our world.

I made a point at the end of the talk to emphasize the conceptual nature of the idea I was presenting. I also noted the need of future collaboration to drive the idea forward. These global challenges are a key part of the story within the presentation. They are real-world issues that people can relate to, and they are truly the biggest motivations behind the research. Moreover, I truly believe that Genetically Evolved Technology has far-reaching implications, and will eventually transform society for the better. If I weren’t convinced of this, I wouldn’t have been on stage.

Thus, overall, my slide deck was meant to present a story with a backdrop, a conflict, a description of a possibly important solution, and a brief prospectus of how this solution might develop and what benefits it might bring to society.

2. I wrote a script and committed it to heart.

I care deeply about my idea, I believe it can make a positive difference in the world, and I want to do all I can to help it reach the largest possible audience. I wanted my words to count, and my thoughts to come across as smoothly as possible. Writing a script and learning it word-for-word seemed to me the most diligent way of caring for the idea I was sharing. I studied my script as faithfully as an actor studies his lines for a performance.

3. I tried my best to listen to the advice of TEDxWarwick team.

I sent my first script to the team a couple weeks before the talk, and they took care to help me shape my script, word by word, until it was finalized. It was evident that the team cared deeply about organizing a great event. They were able to tell me in a friendly but straightforward manner whether what I was saying was clear or not. It was sometimes difficult for me to let go of certain phrases, concepts, or diagrams that I wanted to include. In those moments, I decided I would put my trust in the feedback I received, and try my best to honour their suggestions.

4. I practised my delivery (a lot).

I went through the talk so many times that the script solidified itself in my mind. The words reached my lips increasingly easily in the transitions from slide to slide. A potential criticism of memorizing a talk word-for-word is the risk that the talk might come across as rote or stale. However, just as an actor can give life to a fixed set of words, it is possible to infuse emotion and spontaneity into a memorized talk. As I memorized my script by presenting it out loud over and over again, I began as well to focus on various aspects of my delivery.

Two sources that provide a lot of useful information for public speaking include Trees, Maps, and Theorems by Jean-luc Doumont and The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane. Based on their tips, I took care to focus on my posture, pace, and voice tone. I practiced standing tall, I made sure to avoid closed body language and I tried to vary my voice tone.

A useful tip from Cabane’s book is that speakers who smile more are generally better received. Even for certain personalities who are not inclined to show emotion, the mere act of thinking about smiling has been shown to improve an audience’s perception of a speaker. Another useful tip from Cabane was to make eye contact with the entire audience. Even in front of a large crowd, and even in the bright lights of the TEDx stage, it is possible to give each part of the audience equal attention, and imagine that you are making eye contact with each and every person.

5. I visualized myself giving a great talk, starting several months before the event.

I would imagine myself walking off stage, satisfied that I had successfully conveyed my message, or imagine myself mid-speech, enjoying myself in front of the audience. I did a Google search for an image of the Butterworth Hall where the event was to be held. The image was from the perspective of someone on stage, facing the audience. I made that image the desktop background on my laptop, making a mental effort to become comfortable on stage in that particular auditorium, beginning months before I stepped foot in the physical space.

6. I breathed, and let it be.

Prepared or not, my heart was beating rapidly as I stood off-stage, waiting for my turn to walk out onto that small red circle. My response to the anxious anticipation was to begin taking very deep breaths, and clearing my mind. This action was in part bolstered by regular relaxation habits I have incorporated into my daily routine. Each night before falling asleep in bed, I would consciously take at least five very deep breaths. I ended up reaping a lot of benefit from this daily habit.

In addition to this deep breathing, I also utilized another tip that is related to one described by Cabane. It’s an exercise that she calls “the responsibility transfer”. Anxiety that we might mess up is often associated with a deep sense of personal responsibility over external outcomes. Releasing ourselves from this sense responsibility can be liberating, allowing us to be more present and to access a sense of flow.

The responsibility transfer exercise involves taking a moment to collect one’s thoughts, and making a concerted mental effort to recognize that, in the grand scheme of things, responsibility for the upcoming moments belongs to a power that is greater than any one person. In the moment of the responsibility transfer, simply make the effort to emotionally transfer a sense of responsibility for the upcoming event to a greater power, whether God, a guru, or the unknown source of human hope.

Buoyed by deep breaths and my own version of the responsibility transfer, I endeavored, while walking across the stage, to simply let things be. I stepped onto the circle, peering through the bright lights, and began to speak.

See how Luke Bawazer successfully employed these tips in his TEDxWarwick talk watch it YouTube.

Identity Salon Interview: Rikki Arundel Part 2

Sat 15 Nov 2014

Rikki Arundel, diversity expert and public speaking professional. Having experienced the process and challenges of changing gender, she facilitates transgender awareness workshops across the country.

Being a Professional Speaker is an obvious benefit for raising the awareness of transgender, but how has changing gender helped you become a better public speaker?

It helped me to understand why women had such a problem with public speaking, because I didn’t really get the issues that women face, as a man. I had no problem with walking down the street at 12 o’clock at night as a 19 year old man, but when I walked down the street as a woman, I could see how dangerous it was. And then I began to realise that when a woman stands up to speak, she’s starting to get the feelings of everybody looking at her and that can be very uncomfortable, especially if she’s experienced being looked at for the wrong reason.

So I began to realise that there’s a really big issue about being spotlighted, that women have a much bigger problem than men. There are a lot of confidence issues that women have, because men are constantly pushed to be confident whereas women are not. I found suddenly that I needed to take a different approach, so I’ve started to look at why women fear public speaking. And it has nothing to do with public speaking – it’s all about humiliation, embarrassment and that horrible sense of being isolated and being looked at.

I’m helping women to deal with those fears, mostly through getting people to understand that it’s actually about the content of the speech, not about making it into a performance. So if anything, changing gender has shifted me away from the performance-based public speaking, which is what a lot of men do and what I probably tended to do as a man, and more towards focusing on content, which is in any case what’s happened with the whole industry. We want to hear interesting content, challenging content, and thought-provoking content.

Was there anything particular about your Master’s in Gender Research that prompted you to pursue a profession in diversity?

More than anything else, the whole issue on gender identity was a big one while I did my Master’s degree. The feminist background is highly dominated by really vocal and quite powerful feminists from the 1960s whose voices are still here, such as Germaine Greer. They have a real problem with transgender issues because they believe that gender is all about society and the way society constructs us.

When somebody suddenly says ‘I feel as if I should have been a woman and therefore I want to wear dresses’ – what has that got to do with it? The fact that women wear dresses is socially constructed, it’s got nothing to do with the way you are. There’s this real conflict between transgender people saying ‘I feel as if I should have been born the other gender because I feel more comfortable there’ and the feminist movement saying it’s all a social construction. It’s an issue that needs to be fixed.

I found that conflict actually quite interesting, about trying to understand that actually gender identity comes from nature. Your gender identity is fixed before you are born. That isn’t a concept that the social constructionist view favours, and there is a huge battle on that point.

I started to look at how from a Western perspective, when I see the way Muslim people are treated, I find it very difficult to come to terms with it. I speak to some Muslim women who say ‘no it’s okay’ and then others say ‘no, I feel oppressed’. We’ve got all these areas you can’t not look at when you’re looking at gender, because there are parts of the world where a person’s gender very distinctly determines how they’re going to be expected to live their lives. And I found it unfair, that gender was used as a means for determining what you should do in your life. That led me necessarily to activism, so that was my fight.

Identity Salon Interview: Rikki Arundel Part 1

Thu 13 Nov 2014

Rikki Arundel, diversity expert and public speaking professional. Having experienced the process and challenges of changing gender, she facilitates transgender awareness workshops across the country.

Was there any one idea or notion that you kept in mind when you made the transition from your career in financial services to a diversity expert?

I had been very active with the transformation of the financial services industry into an electronic industry, doing workshops all around the country teaching financial advisors how to use computers. It was right through the 1990s when it was really new, as the internet had only arrived. When we got to the end of the decade things had changed, the dot-com boom was happening and people were making lots of money out of it, but I wasn’t as a speaker and consultant without a hold of the shares.

I just reached a point where I thought I couldn’t stop this whole gender thing. It had always been in the background. I think people don’t realise that you live throughout the whole of your life, if you’re transgender, in terror of somebody finding out, and that was what I was doing. I knew that the moment people found out, my career in the financial services and technology industry would be over. It’s a very male-dominated industry, so I kept it a big secret. I was surprised by how many people when I did come out actually were quite okay. But that said, afterwards all the work dried up, it all stopped.

I became a diversity expert because I suddenly realised that no one would book me as a speaker in the marketplace of financial services and technology, the things that I knew. No one would book me anymore. I had to find a new expertise, find a new way. The idea was to become an expert in a field where being transgender actually was the reason why people would book me, and that led to me to gender.

It states on your website that almost 80% of your workshop attendees are female. How do you go about encouraging more men to participate?

It’s really hard, and part of the problem is the issue around gender identity in the first place. It’s men who have the biggest problem in breaking gender rules. Women can wear pretty much whatever they want, but if any of the guys suddenly decided to wear a skirt? And that’s the big problem of fear for men, they don’t want anybody to think for one minute that they might be gay. They avoid anything that looks like they might be expressing femininity, because it really makes them uncomfortable.

We’ve had situations where men have changed gender but they work for an engineering company onsite, as engineers. I’ve done workshops that have been entirely male, like for the fire service and the police service, but I can feel the discomfort of the men sitting there thinking ‘I hope nobody knows that I’m at this workshop’. All the time men are panicking about what are other people are going to think. And the only way we can tackle this is to start breaking down the problems of gender.

We have to stop harassing people. Stop bullying people. Stop making an issue over somebody wearing something that doesn’t conform to that very tight ‘what’s okay’ for men.

Identity Salon Interview: David Stillwell

Tue 11 Nov 2014

Research Manager at the Psychometrics Centre in Cambridge University, David Stillwell looks into how our online profiles can predict our personalities, and how they can be applied to the wider context of society too.

You have a BSc in Psychology, what were your initial thoughts on choosing that degree to study, where did you want to go with it?

The reason I did my degree in psychology was because I read a text book about economics. One of their interests is in behavioural economics, game theory and economics of what people do as individuals. What was obvious from the textbook was that people do things that economics says they’re not meant to do, so it seems really reasonable that people do things that benefit them the most. But actually quite often people are not so smart when it comes to making those decisions and they do things that you don’t expect them to. For example, they help strangers even though those strangers will never help them back again. I went into psychology because it was obvious that they needed psychologists to explain that.

Have there been any ideas gained from that degree which has stayed with you?

My PhD was in decision making, which is between psychology and economics. During that time I started a Facebook application that allowed people to take a personality test about themselves, which is how I ended up in the personality side of things. My interest is still individuals’ personalities, the decisions they make and the economic consequences of it, so I’m bringing these disciplines together.

Where identity is concerned, authenticity comes to mind – social media accounts are not always true representations of the people behind them – how do you keep your tests and statistics as accurate as possible?

I think in the main social media accounts are actually accurate representations of people. You get some people like journalists who have set up an account for specific purposes, it’s a work persona rather than a real persona. If you think of most digital identities, it is real things that you are actually doing, like your web browsing, you don’t browse separate sites just because someone else might record that information or the things that you search for in search engines. It goes beyond that as well, like your use of your mobile phone. All of this brings up your digital identity.

The main study that we did recently was about Facebook likes and personality. We showed that Facebook likes predict peoples’ self-imported personalities. They were accurate representations of what people say their personalities are like. It may be that you change your personality online on Facebook, but if everyone does that then you can still get an accurate representation of what someone is like from their likes. It’s like job interviews, most people make themselves slightly more extroverted and slightly more conscientious, but if everyone does that then the most conscientious people are still the most conscientious and the most extroverted are still the most extroverted. It just moves the scores up but the ranking is still the same.

What is the greatest anomaly that you have come across when testing for predictions in personality?

Curly fries were predictive of high IQ. There are people who have come up with different reasons for that. One researcher said it’s because curly fries are like a double helix, so it must be that smart people like a double helix shape. Someone else said maybe originally one smart person liked curly fries, and their friends were also smart, and they followed them, so eventually the smart people followed each other and it led to smart people liking curly fries. I’m not sure I believe in either of those explanations.

What are you plans for the next stage of your research? Is there a specific area or correlation you would like to investigate most?

One of the things I’m looking at is health. Can we take peoples’ health records and link them to social networks? Then try to predict health outcomes from people’s behaviour on social networks? Maybe there is something that people do when they are 17 that might predict outcomes when they are 21 or even beyond, such that you could intervene. Let’s say, someone’s friend starts talking about smoking, which then puts that individual at high risk for smoking themselves. Can you intervene in the mean time? Either stop the friend smoking or do something to help that individual to avoid it themselves? It’s about taking the big social data and linking it to important outcomes, but not just making questions between them, also thinking ‘what can we do about it?’

Identity Salon Interview: Roanna Mitchell

Mon 10 Nov 2014

Roanna Mitchell, artistic director of AnyBody UK, part of an initiative called Endangered Bodies, works on combatting the culture of body hatred inherent within our society today.

On your website, it states that you have a ‘love of movement and curiosity about the human experience of sense and memory’ – where did this passion and interest originally come from?

It developed through my work, I'm a theatre maker. I've always engaged with the world through the body and I've continued to do that in my work as a theatre maker. I became very interested in the actor’s body and what the actor has to do to their body in a capitalist society in order to be able to work. That brought me to work with AnyBody. So all the strands in which I work link up around the same topic in lots of different ways, and are useful in giving perspectives on each other.

Having worked in several universities, what types of body anxieties do you feel are most prominent amongst students? What do you think should be done within universities to reduce these anxieties, or even to prevent them?

That’s the big question. In terms of what types of body anxiety, I believe that there is a general increase in body anxiety that just manifests in different ways. So I see things like obesity, bulimia and anorexia as symptoms of a more underlying issue that’s going on in our society at the moment which comes out of the way we are isolated. It comes out of the way that media asks us to compare ourselves constantly to other things, and it comes from being trained when we’re really small to think of our bodies as a thing, a tool, to be improved all of the time rather than something through which we experience.

What are the benefits of ‘Endangered Bodies’ being a local-global initiative? What kind of work have you done with the other chapters of the movement?

The benefits of it being local and global is that we can link up across the globe to recognise trends that are happening across different countries, and also to run campaigns that are bigger which are usually social media campaigns that are more far-reaching. But at the same time we want to respond to whatever is going on locally, so the needs in Argentina are quite drastically different to what they are in the UK. We feel like we have got a lot to deal with in the UK, but Argentina has a completely different kettle of fish there – a woman can get plastic surgery on her husband’s health insurance. Being flexible enough to respond to what is needed locally, but also then reacting globally – it’s kind of similar to what TED is doing.

How did the idea for the ‘Ditching Dieting’ campaign come about?

Because diets don’t work. They just don’t work. If they did work, then nobody would make money from them because you would only have to do it once and then it would be done. Not eating just doesn’t work. It actually causes more harm than good. It has detrimental health effects, so we call on everyone to ditch dieting because it’s a completely pointless exercise and it just makes you feel miserable.

In your opinion, what is the most important/effective way that Endangered Bodies, and all its various initiatives within it, help with an individual’s identity?

We just want to open some doors and offer some support and some options of how things might be done differently, but really as a starting point for people to then figure out things by themselves. Sometimes it’s hard to take the first step because you don’t know where to start so we like to provide that and a support network. People’s identities are malleable, they’re constantly changing by the world that they interact with.

Hosting a Salon Event

Thu 6 Nov 2014

Zena Agha, student at Warwick University, has previously delivered talks at TEDxWarwick’s salon and main event about Islamic Feminism and identity. Here she talks about her experience of hosting a salon with a theme she has explored in detail both personally and professionally.

How does it feel to have hosted a salon, after giving talks in last year’s salon and main event?

I was very jealous for the whole of it! The adrenaline, the experience, the audience – I just wanted to do it again. I was very nostalgic, thinking of all the things I wanted to say about how identity was important. But then I was really excited to enjoy the salon without feeling the pressure, and hosting was nice because I felt like a privileged audience member. At the panel at the end I could talk to speakers and say my ideas without having to be limited by the question-answer format. So it’s quite liberating actually, I really enjoyed it, I thought the topics really complimented each other.

What are the differences in your approach to talking in a salon and hosting it?

Talking at a salon is quite good because, in terms of logistics at least, you don’t have any responsibilities apart from to turn up and say your parts. Whereas hosting, implicitly almost, people rely on you, they think the host is going to bridge the speakers, keep the audience engaged and be dignified and well-represented. It’s a different kind of pressure. Also, in a weird sort of way, I feel like I’m part of the team, which is nice, because every time I’ve ever been engaged with TEDxWarwick before it’s been me as an external factor or third party, but this is a kind of half-way-house.

What’s your interpretation of the theme ‘identity’?

I think that identity is something I grapple with more than most because of my heritage, being an Iraqi, Palestinian, Muslim, Arabic woman, so I think that it’s a very important issue to address. It’s also very interesting how many ways you can approach identity, how many things it feeds into – one could argue that it feeds into everything. From that perspective identity is a very interesting topic, and something that I’m very pleased to be a part of because I care about so much.

It’s very hard to define, it’s very hard to deal with, but it’s also quite beautiful when you’re trying to dissect it. So I’m glad there are events like this salon where we can have a discussion about it. Even if your ideas don’t change, the fact that you engage with people with other ideas means you might have helped them find something within themselves, and that’s quite an optimistic thought.

The Big Data Question

Sun 2 Nov 2014

Preparing to interview Kenneth Cukier, Data Editor of The Economist, during TEDxWarwick’s 2014 main event, I had no idea that several months later I would also be interviewing David Stillwell, Research Manager at the Psychometrics Centre in Cambridge University, at the recent TEDxWarwick Salon event. Initially you may think that their respective areas of research have no common ground, but in reality, our behaviour amongst technology and the mass of information it produces – or ‘big data’ as it is now described – allowed me to ask the same question to both speakers, producing overlapping responses from both.

Is there such thing as too much data, and how can we cope with it?

"There is too much data on an individual level, a person can have an overload of information – and that’s a real term where your memory is saturated and you can’t absorb any more information – that is possible. But the point is that many of the big data techniques that are being used right now are not being consumed by individuals, they’re being processed by computers. In computers it is not possible to have too much information. What we are finding is that these big data techniques work only when we have more information."

- Kenneth Cukier

"There’s only too much data if you don’t know how to analyse it. Realistically, we can deal with huge amounts of data from disciplines like physics, like the particle accelerators which produce gigabytes and gigabytes of data. The human data we produce doesn’t really compare to that amount of data. So is it possible to analyse it? Yes. The real question is, are we analysing it? Are we getting insights from that data and not just storing it away on a server somewhere? We’re not really. I think the reason is that the physics people know how to work with huge data, the computer scientists know how to collect data, and the social scientists know the questions we want to ask. It’s very difficult to bring those three things together to get insights into the data rather than just collecting it."

- David Stillwell

What are your thoughts on Big Data? And the privacy issues that arise from its use?

Sense of Self

Sat 25 Oct 2014

‘I never really thought about identity too much, but after today, I felt that there is so much we take for granted and so much we need to understand’

- Salon Attendee

When the focus is on identity you can guarantee every individual will have an opinion or an experience to contribute. How do you view yourself? How do you view others? Where do you situate yourself within constantly evolving cultures? With so many points of view, there are a multitude of directions a conversation on ‘the self’ can take. So when the panel discussion at the TEDxWarwickSalon (Identity) took place, the contributions made by panellists and attendees alike created quite the dynamic dialogue.

Areas such as transgenderism, digital identities and the relationship with our bodies were explored by the speakers Rikki Arundel, David Stillwell and Roanna Mitchell respectively. Launching straight into the problems that arise when trying to reconcile differing identities, host Zena Agha prompted the speakers to question the definition of identity and the difficulties that arise from trying to change your individuality. Almost instantly the debate between real and virtual identities became the basis of the problems we face today over how we convey ourselves in public.

The shift towards a consideration of online identities brought increasing involvement from the audience in the panel discussion. With the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram providing platforms to display our personality and showcase our daily activities, we risk becoming selective over how we portray ourselves, reducing the realistic nature of our perceived identity. And yet, our CVs and LinkedIn profiles create an altogether different problem – how do we as students retain our distinctiveness whilst also conforming to the idea of a ‘well-rounded individual’ that employers look for?

Speaking to attendees after the event, it was clear that whilst many were given much to think about concerning their own sense of self, some were leaving the Salon with unresolved ideas of what identity is and how significant a role it plays within our lives. But it is this ambiguity which makes the topic such an intriguing choice of conversation, and the more we debate about our identities, the more hope we have for progression in overcoming the issues that arise from them.

Developing an Identity

Fri 17 Oct 2014

Identity. A multi-faceted term that can be applied both individually and collectively. As the speakers at TEDxWarwick’s first Salon of the year describe and explain their unique experiences of identity, the TEDxWarwick team have worked on creating a group identity that will facilitate the delivery of events with ideas worth spreading.

Our first team meeting epitomises the varied nature of identity. Every member was given the chance to introduce themselves and describe what was unique about them, yet our key focus of the meeting was to jointly decide on a theme for this year’s main event. By determining our theme we were developing the character of our team too. Making suggestions and sharing views allowed us all to become aware of each other’s thought processes and perspectives, enabling us to proceed to the final decision over our event’s theme. And what a theme it is.

The start of the new academic year brought about the first opportunities to showcase our newly-formed team and its personality. The Orientation Week and the Societies Fair offered us the chance to work together in promoting our events and the TED ethos, as well as illustrating the type of TEDxWarwick this year will see. Our first social, an evening meal, gave us time to get to know each other on a more informal basis, cementing our nature as hard-working individuals who can also work together successfully as a team.

So what is our identity? It’s certainly no one thing: we’re ready for the challenge set by the precedents of previous years. We have new roles and fresh ideas that will take our events to greater heights. And we aim to get as many of you involved with TED as possible, for we know you all have ideas worth spreading.

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