Ben Saunders: Why bother leaving the house?


Ben Saunders is a pioneering polar explorer and a record-breaking long-distance skier, covering more than 6,000km (3,730 miles) on foot in the polar regions since 2001.


Ben was posed the question: with constant information supply nowadays – why bother leaving the house? He uses a quote from George Mallory – possibly the first man to reach the top of Everest (he died near the summit, with conflicting evidence about whether he had reached it or not).

“People ask me, ‘What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?’ and my answer must at once be, ‘It is of no use.’There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behaviour of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron… If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to live. That is what life means and what life is for.”

Ben relates his own experience on a solo arctic expedition, disagreeing with Mallory’s quest for “joy”, and instead saying he felt only terror before his own journey. However, in his 10 weeks he saw a shifting and unique arctic landscape that noone will see again. He cannot explain it to us, we’d need to be there ourselves.

He also talks about another Mallory quote – about being driven by the challenge of climbing the mountain. Ben feels this – he is drawn to complete Scott’s walking journey to the South Pole and back to the Antarctic coast- a feat that has never been completed on foot. He will be blogging an reporting on the journey every step of the way- so people will be able to experience the journey to some extent through his eyes.

However, true inspiration and growth only comes from adversity and challenge – by stepping away from what is comfortable and familiar and into the unknown. We could all benefit from stepping out of the house if only we could find the courage.

Heather White: It’s Not About ‘Working the Room’


Heather White is the founder of Smarter Networking, which has been operating since 2001.


Heather consults about how to ‘work a room’ during networking events, and is constantly asked 3 things

  • How to break into a group
  • How to start a conversation
  • How to escape from someone

During networking, plenty of people try to look busy and hope not to be approached. Heather gives advice on how to talk to strangers – because at many points in our lives we need to be able to speak to strangers, and it’s good to have the ability to do so.

You can practise talking to people in queues, rather than awkward silence. You can talk to people behind you when shuffling in and out of a lecture theater, or waiting for the toilet, or waiting for food.

The three questions you should keep in the back of your head when talking to a stranger are

  • So what do you do?
  • What has happened? Talk about a shared experience (lecture or talk or presentation – the reason you are at the event)
  • What is about to happen that you could talk about?

To escape when stuck with someone, you can excuse yourself to go and get a drink or go to the toilet.

Heather’s networking has got her private tours of Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing St. While not every conversation will end so exceptionally, it is still helpful to be warm and easy to talk to. Try to talk to a random stranger, and see ‘how deep the rabbit hole goes’ (to quote Morpheus from The Matrix)

My Thoughts

This is a TedX talk, but an interesting topic. It looks like an introductory talk to a university event, and covers things at a very basic level. Nonetheless, her ‘3 questions’ guide to talking with someone is useful. As is the encouragement to try talking to strangers. As she alludes to in the end – only by trying will we work out the benefits.

Looking deeping into Heather’s work, I found a quote from an interview here:

Can you share any tips for any members for improving their careers through networking?

Educate yourself through reading, observing and testing what you have learnt.  Be patient because networking isn’t going to provide all the answers immediately – it takes time.  Be disciplined to do something for someone everyday.  Get clear about what you want your networking to do for you AND for others.  Know that you have an imagine/brand if you like within your community, know what it is and if you don’t like it, change it. Write down everything that you hate about networking, what scares you or takes you out of your comfort zone.  Then challenge your thinking about networking and instead become the type of networker you would feel proud of.  And everything that scares you, take it on, practice getting good at it.

Michael Pritchard: How to make filthy water drinkable


Michael Pritchard is an inventor and entrepreneur – the founder of LIFESAVER systems.


Half the people who drink unsafe water will suffer from diarrhea, and plenty of people die. In the aftermath of a major hurricane or tsunami the main focus is on restoring water, and building camps to provide it. Even during Hurricane Katrina in the USA, it took 5 days to get fresh water to the camps – people were shooting each other to get water until then. Disaster camps also spread disease quickly – forcing tens of thousands of people to stay so close together. Instead of congregating in one place, people would be better off staying near home and rebuilding their life.

To solve this problem, Michael built a hand powered filter – it looks like a bike pump built into a water bottle. Michael ran a demonstration – creating some disgusting water by mixing Thames water with algae from a pond, sewage effluent, and rabbit droppings. After filling and pumping a few times, a spray of clean water came out which he drank.

It filters down to 15nm – which is enough to remove viruses such as polio. Previous hand filters filtered to 200 nm – the same size as bacteria. This meant it was possible for bacteria to get through. It runs for 6,000 L, and then stops working (to protect users).

By shipping these to disaster sites, people can stay put and focus on their own home. Outside of disasters, this will reduce the need for building expensive water infrastructure. Michael estimates that everyone can have access to fresh drinking water for 20 billion dollars, and millennial goals can be achieved for 8 billion dollars.

My Thoughts

I am skeptical of a sales pitch dressed up as a TED talk, and disappointed this didn’t go more into the design or distribution side of things. The costs were also glossed over – at one point he said half a cent per day, but I’m unclear if that is an ongoing running cost (chemicals, cleaning, electricity) or the cost of the filter divided by its lifetime. As he didn’t detail the design of the filter, it’s hard to judge if other infrastructure or consumables are needed.

While it seems like a great idea for disaster relief, we’d need more details on the costs outside of this – I get the impression it could be high. There are also issues of distribution – disaster relief agencies that took 5 days to respond to hurricane Katrina would still need to distribute the bottles. Looking into his profile it looks like his current main clients are UK disaster relief, the military, and Malaysian government.

While I’m sure this is a worthy invention, it is disappointing that so little detail came from this talk. Did I learn anything from it? not much – it raises more questions than real ideas.

Will Marshall: Tiny satellites that photograph the entire planet, every day


Will Marshall is creator of


The famous first photos of the earth as a blue ball are beautiful, and remind us how important and fragile the Earth is. Since then we have photographed every point on the globe with high resolution technology, but the photos available to us now are typically years old. The problem is that satellites are massive – weighing 3Tonnes, costing $855 million, and needing a rocket to launch them – they are not scalable to a large satellite fleet. Will’s team has constructed a 4kg satellite, with dimensions of 10cm x 10cm x 30cm named Dove. It has advanced electronics, and takes photos of similar quality to the largest satellites. The tiny satellites can be built in a production line and launched en masse – he will launch 100 of these in the next year.

The satellites will scan the earth as it moves beneath them – taking a photo of every point on earth every day. This will vastly increase the amount of satellite photo data available, and it will be released freely to democratise the information. He is passionate about how this data can be used to improve humanity – how environmental or development groups can use the data.

He can track urban growth on a daily basis, water and crop availability. This can be used to optimise crop yields, or just track humanity. The photos will capture the daily news – being able to see every bushfire or flood or earthquake in a daily snapshot. There are many uses for the data, and Will is releasing it freely for anyone to discover the uses for it. App developers, NGOs, journalists will use it freely.

Together, we can take care of our ‘spaceship Earth’. If you could photograph the Earth every day, what would you do with that data?

My Thoughts

The satellites are a fascinating device, but the applications are more of a question than anything. The curious side in me is fascinated to construct stop motion animations of cities growing from nothing over the next hundred years, but difficult to find uses today. He has a ‘build it and they will come’ mindset, and while I share his optimism that someone will be able to use this data, I also worry that the people with the resources to use it (large IT companies, governments) are capable of building their own satellites.

I do like the idea of daily snapshots of major bushfires, floods. It will make these events feel more real – rather than just something that happens on TV occasionally.

Kare Anderson: Be an opportunity maker


A columnist for Forbes, Kare Anderson writes on behavioral research-based ways to become more deeply connected.


Kare grew up with crippling shyness, and was stuck observing others. She found some people wanted recognition and so talked about themselves. However others talked about the mutual ‘us’ – grow the connections between them and those they were talking to. Kare is calling to all of us to use our best talents with others, to make opportunities happen. Everyone is the best at something.

Kare met an actress who believed every new building in Los Angeles should have public art in it. This will let people connect, pose in front of it, and socialise. Kare referred the actress to a soon-to-be-released inmate with a passion for art and charisma to make things happen. She also found an architect to help them. The unexpected team were startling, compelling and credible, and together met with lawmakers to get art in every new building.

When she was a writer looking to spot trends, Kare had to build contacts from worlds very different to her own. She then had to translate this to relate to the reader – how these big trends affect them. While most people get more insular and connect with only those who feel the same as them, opportunity makers build connections with different people. They’re not affronted by differences, they’re excited by them.

It isn’t always the first connection with another person that is the best. Once you have worked together with someone and built a trust, more unexpected opportunities will arise. She related another story with the ex-con and actress from the public art job – the ex-con was fit and started teaching racquetball. When people work together, more opportunities will arise in the future.

3 Traits of opportunity makers

  • Opportunity makers keep honing their key strength.
  • They become pattern seekers. They deal with people outside their normal circle to find wider patterns.
  • Communicate to connect.

The world is hungry for opportunity makers to unite together and use our best talents in a team. We can accomplish greater things together than we can. “You can’t succeed coming to a pot luck with just a fork”

My Thoughts

My takeaway is to network and communicate. Help others build their ideas, and let them help you.

Pia Mancini: How to upgrade democracy for the Internet era


Using software to inspire public debate and enable voter engagement, Pia Mancini hopes to upgrade modern democracy in Argentina and beyond.


Democracy as a system is rooted in thinking and constraints from 500 years ago. Every few years it represents a few to make decisions on behalf of everyone else. It has high thresholds of entry: you need either a lot of resources or to devote your life to politics. The language is also complicated, so we can choose the authorities but are left out of how the decisions are made. The political system is 200 years old, and expects us to be passive recipients of the monologue. This attitude itself alienates citizens – giving them no opportunities to intervene except by protest’. People want their seat at the table.

The current generation has been good at using technology to organise protests, that have overthrown totalitarian governments and changed unpopular laws. However we have not yet used the technology to change the system itself. If the internet is the new printing press, then what is democracy for the internet era? Pia asks what institutions we need to build for the 21st century, and doesn’t know the answer.

Pia and some friends in Argentina were left thinking about how we can use technology to solve current political problems, rather than relying on the tools of the past. She developed an open source app ‘DemocracyOS’, which translates issues into easy-to-understand language and allows people to informally vote on them. They could compare citizen’s votes with the votes of their representatives to see the discrepancies. When she tried to get politicians on board with the idea of a 2 way conversation with voters, she failed. Reflecting, she says she was naieve to expect the political elite to go along with this – the problems are cultural and not purely technical.

Pia took a leap of faith and ran a politcal party in Buenos Aires, with the idea that they would always vote along the same lines as the voters from DemocracyOS. To change the system, they needed a seat at the table, which meant playing by the political rules. While they did not win a seat, they did pick up 1.2% of the vote and have used their influence to have 3 bills to be voted on by DemocracyOS. Congress would not be bound by the vote, but they are at least showing willingness to consider the results.

My Thoughts

It’s a brave product, but asking everyone to vote on a smartphone app has some issues of representation. It makes things expensive for the poor – effectively dealing them out of the issues. It also may not be trusted – security concerns could undermine the authority of the product. And a vote could still be hijacked by a small but committed group. It also may not be the best way to make complex, or unpopular but necessary decisions – eg reducing spending in some areas.

However, as time goes on and if such a product became ubiquitous, I think it could be a good system. Certainly on pure ‘conscience’ or social issues it could work. I still think for some more complicated issues it should be experts picking which way to go (which still isn’t done properly by the current system).

Matt Killingsworth: Want to be happier? Stay in the moment


As an undergrad, Killingsworth studied economics and engineering, and worked for a few years as a software product manager. He now studies happiness.


Most people want to be happier, and will seek better jobs, cars, houses because they believe it will make them happier. The paradox of happiness is that once these things are achieved, people do not feel any happier. Scientific studies recently have focussed on happiness itself. While they found education and income can have an effect, it tends to be small. Happiness seems to be about the moment-to-moment interactions rather than lifetime achievements, so Matt devised an iPhone app that would survey people about their happiness at random points of the day. By tracking people’s instantaneous happiness over the day, and asking what they’re doing, who they’re with at the time, we can understand what causes happiness. This gave 650,000 surveys from 15,000 people, from a wide variety of countries, occupations, marital statuses, ages, and incomes.

People possess the ability for their mind to wander – to think about something other than what they are currently doing. This is good for planning and thinking during menial tasks – but is it good for happiness? Perhaps if you think about something pleasant while doing something unpleasant your happiness should increase? To answer this, one of Matt’s survey questions was “are you thinking about something other than what you’re currently doing?”, and whether they were thinking about something pleasant or unpleasant. The data showed that when people’s minds wandered, they were significantly less happy. This was true regardless of what they were doing – even during a less enjoyable activity (commuting). As for what they were thinking about, people thinking pleasantly were slightly less happy than people focussed on the moment. People thinking about unpleasant things were 24 percentage points less than those who weren’t mind wandering. So mind-wanderers are less happy. He also saw that people mind-wandered before being unhappy, showing it is causative.

How often do we mind-wander? About 47% of the time – it is very frequent. So it is a frequently occurring variable in people’s unhappiness.

My Thoughts

Focus focus focus. I enjoy scientific studies, and appreciate the detail Matt went to to draw his conclusions. He argues convincingly that mind-wandering makes people unhappy, regardless of what they are doing or thinking about. However, are these thoughts nonetheless important? Especially when stressing or thinking about unhappy things, is it better to think about and resolve the issues? My thoughts are probably not – usually a mind-wander is unlikely to solve a serious problem, though there are ‘Eureka’ moments littered throughout history (where a new theory comes while taking a bath, or drinking).

After seeing this talk, I will try to focus on the moment more. It has benefits for time management as well – to do a single task rather than trying to conquer multiples at once.