THERE aren’t many conferences whose agendas range from the future of television to “propaganda gardens” and orang-utans. But then, Tedx Liverpool prides itself on being different.
The event, the third of its kind, saw hundreds of people from the creative and digital communities gather at Liverpool John Moores University’s Art and Design Academy (ADA) for a programme of inspirational talks.
Tedx is a spin-off from the international Ted conferences in California that have attracted speakers from Bill Gates to Bill Clinton.
Herb Kim and Dave Brown, who organised the Liverpool event, gave it the theme of “journeys”.
Its eight speakers spoke about the journeys their lives had taken. And the warmest response was given to Peter Hooton, the lead singer of The Farm, who talked about the path to justice for the families of the 96 who died at Hillsborough.
The first speaker was Prof Serge Wich, of LJMU, who told the crowd how he helped to come up with the idea of using unmanned drone aircraft for conservation work.
Prof Wich explained that he had been working on orang-utan conservation projects for 20 years, spending much of that time looking up trees to spot the shy creatures. “You get a lot of neck pain when you start working with this species,” he said.
While Mr Wich loves tramping through jungles and over mountains to discover orang-utans, he also acknowledged that it was hard and inefficient work. That gave him and his colleagues a brighter idea: “What if you put a camera on a plane?”
They discovered a “do-it-yourself drone” site that helped them build one for £650 – and found it was so useful that they suggested it to other projects. Just a year later, their Conservation Drones are in use as far afield as Germany, Gabon and Madagascar.
Next came Graham Thomas, former vice-chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi, who discussed “Why brands need sex to survive – and why agile methodology is the new sex”.
Brands, said Thomas, need to innovate to survive. He added: He said: “Futurologists are a waste of time. What you should be doing is just doing stuff now.”
Next, Janet Harrison told her “three-act story” of how she moved from the insurance trade to setting up Cofilmic, a talent network for comedy.
As a teenager, Harrison wanted to be a actor – but a temporary job she took at an insurance film turned into a 22-year career in the insurance sector.
The second act of her life came when she set up a business, but still felt unsatisfied. “I didn’t feel like the best thing since sliced bread,” she said.
So she came up with a new ambition – to write and direct a feature film.
After joining a screenwriting class, she began the third act of her journey by making a short comedy film before setting up Cofilmic to help other newcomers into comedy.
Next, organisers played a video of Dan Pink’s speech to the Ted conference in Oxford in 2009.
Pink, a former speechwriter for Al Gore, told the crowd that there was a mismatch between what business does and what behavioural science shows.
All research, he says, shows that traditional ways of rewarding and incentivising staff, such as bonuses, simply do not work.
He said: “If you want people to perform better, you reward them, right? Bonuses, commissions, their own reality show. Incentivise them . . . But that’s not happening here. You’ve got an incentive designed to sharpen thinking and accelerate creativity, and it does just the opposite. It dulls thinking and blocks creativity.”
Next came the passionate Pam Warhurst, who told how she had helped her home town of Todmorden become an “edible landscape” studded with vegetable and herb gardens.
Warhust became frustrated at the lack of political action to protect the environment, and decided that grassroots action was the way forward. So she and her friends set about planting vegetable patches throughout the Yorkshire town.
Warhurst said the Incredible Edible team sometimes pushed ahead and planted before getting official permission as they did not want the project to get bogged down in red tape. In a phrase that resonated with the whole audience, she said: “Never ask a question when the answer is going to be no. Just do it.”
Todmorden’s “propaganda gardens” proved a hit and the project soon grew to include horticulture classes in schools and business projects. And some 100 communities around the world now have Incredible Edible projects of their own.
Tedx’s second half started with Wirral author Gary Smailes talking about the journeys writers go through in getting their books to print.
Smailes, who worked as a researcher on Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories series before starting his own writing career, said publishers have created a “best-seller creation myth” that encourages people to write even though there is only a slim chance they will be published.
He said: “It goes something like this – the writer struggled writing their book. They have been rejected lots of times. They’re about to give up.
“Then some agent will see through the slush pile and notice the genius of the writer.
“They’ll pluck them from obscurity and everyone lives happily ever after.”
Kathleen Beedles, a producer at Lime Pictures who has worked on more than 2,500 episodes of “continuing dramas” and soaps, next explained that producers really pull the strings in soap opera.
Ms Beedles, who has worked on programmes including Emmerdale, Coronation Street and EastEnders, said: “It’s the producer who has the ability to shape the entire narrative.”
TV is now, she said, “facing its most challenging time” thanks to the rise of social media. During the Olympics last year, for example, millions watched the television while commenting on it online – a phenomenon known as “dual screening”.
But, she said, television was adapting to the new era. Emmerdale dedicated an online channel to its “Who Killed Tom King?” strand, while Lime’s own Digital Fiction Factory is developing new ways of telling stories.
Jenny Radcliffe told how she was inspired to became an expert in non- verbal communication after she attended a meeting in China and could recognise that everyone was lying despite not knowing a word of Chinese.
She taught herself the ways in which people give away true feelings, including “micro-facial expressions” and stress signals. She added: “I self- educated myself out of a job that I hated.”
Through her company, Negotiation Intelligence, Ms Radcliffe now works with corporations, high net-worth individuals, the military and law enforcement agencies.
There are, however, some downsides to being able to understand what people are really thinking.
“Strange things happen to you in terms of your close relationships,” she said. “Your family know that you know what they’re thinking. If you say ‘Does my bum look big in this?,” they’ll say ‘Yes’. What’s the point in lying?”
Finally, Peter Hooton talked about the years of campaigning that eventually led to last year’s Hillsborough Independent Panel report into the tragic events of April 1989.
And he explained how a group of people, including himself and Walton MP Steve Rotheram, came up with the idea of bidding for a Christmas number one in the wake of the release of the panel’s report in September.
They chose the song, He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother, which was used in an emotional tribute at Goodison Park soon after the report’s release.
Mr Hooton said: “You see the lyrics – ‘the road is long, with many a winding turn’. It sums up perfectly what happened in the Hillsborough story.”
They only started work on the project in October – but, after recruiting producer Guy Chambers, it soon picked up momentum and saw some of the biggest names in music take part.
And, despite tough competition from X Factor winner James Arthur, the single made it to number one – meaning, Hooton recalled with pride, that it would be shown on television immediately before the Queen’s Speech.
He said: “We had a zero marketing budget. We were taking on the X Factor. We were taking on the music industry.
“But people in the music industry wanted it to happen.”
DAN PINK is returning to the ADA later this month to launch his book, To Sell is Human. For details on the free event, visit www.amiando.com/DanPinkLiverpool