A Disruptive World

TEDx Glasgow delivered on its theme, ‘A Disruptive World’, before it even began, by itself being disrupted by a fire alarm that had the massed delegates standing in the glorious June sunshine. That this disruption had been triggered by someone having a sly smoke in the alleyway behind the building cemented the fact that this would be an anarchic, very Glasgwegian affair. The west coast warmth and banter was maintained throughout the day by presenter Janice Forsyth (@janiceforsyth) and comedian Sanjeev Kholi (@govindajeggy), who ensured the proceedings had an accessible feel both on and off stage.
TED stands for Technology Education and Design, and is a non-profit organisation started all the way back in 1984. Acting as a platform for ‘ideas worth spreading’, it has grown into a international success story. TEDx is an offshoot which seeks to promote local communities in delivering TED like experiences.

TEDx Glasgow – the Theatre Royal Spiral Staircase – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

We began with a haunting, unaccompanied folk song from Kathleen McInnes, which took us to the first session. James Watt (@brewdogjames), Founder of BrewDog, spoke about his companies disruptive approach to customer culture, imploring us over a pre-10am can of lager ‘Don’t fuck up the culture’. By bringing the external internally, the dedicated customer base (of which I am one) have helped drive BrewDog to international success.

 Such openness has its risks, illustrated in animated fashion by James Lyne, Global Head of Security at Sophos (@JamesLyne). The hacker of old has gone, having been replaced by the smiling social engineer of the modern cyber-criminal. When buying credit card details is as simple as visiting a dark-web online shop, itself customer rated and more secure than the banks they’ve breached, it’s clear that the traditional reliance on others to maintain our privacy has gone.

My clear first interest is Digital Health, and to that end I was particularly interested in hearing from the medical TEDx speakers.

Dr Ravinder Dahiya (@flexsensotronic) from University of Glasgow introduced the audience to the importance of touch in robotics, sharing the groundbreaking work he and his team have been undertaking in wrapping flexible ‘e-Skin’ over advanced robots and prosthetics. The critical importance of returning this sense to the wounded, and delivering it to the robotic, cannot be underestimated and bodes well for the future of both fields.

Jason Leitch (@JasonLeitch), National Clinical Director at the Scottish Government, was his usual brilliant and urbane self as he took the audience through a crash course in recording vital signs – pulse, respiratory rate, and ‘What matters to me’. This simple question has transformed the relationship between patients and staff in many Scottish hospitals, disrupting the traditional (and regressive) top-down approach to delivering care.
Jason Leitch asking the audience to take a new vital sign from patients - 'What matters to me'
Jason Leitch asking the audience to take a new vital sign from patients – ‘What matters to me’
The medical device market, so crucial and valuable in global healthcare, is aching to be disrupted, and Dr Craig Robertson from @Epipole_ltd is doing just that, attacking Diabetic Retinopathy head-on. By developing a high quality, inexpensive fundoscope, linked to the best of cloud-based machine learning, he and his team are bringing 21st century screening to the developing world first, and seeking permission later (not the first time I heard this on  the day). He also successfully delivered a live tech demo, and wins my ‘Silicon Cojones’ award. Don’t ask to see the trophy.
Marco Plas, Head of Research at the Wonder Weeks, spoke about the serial disruptions (10!) that occur in the first 20 months of a childs life. Understanding and responding to these important disruptions, and making the most of the fleeting opportunities they present, is critical in ensuring the very best for children as they grow.

The day was interwoven with frequent breaks, workshops, and speaker Q&As. My hosts, the Digital Health & Care Institute (@DHIScotland – dhi-scotland.com) took over the 2nd floor to present ‘Innovation Avenue’, a showcase of Scotland’s future, where I was able to experience first-hand some of the incredible products being supported by the Innovation Centres (@ic_Scotlandinnovationcentres.scot). Two of the highlights were:
  • Dr David Harris-Birthill, Senior Research Fellow from St Andrews University, demonstrating touch-free pulse and oxygen saturation monitoring of up to 6 people at once using Microsoft Kinect. This could be extremely helpful in remote monitoring waiting areas in urgent care centres and emergency departments, improving safety and saving staff time and resource.
  • Dr Pablo Casaseca, Senior Lecturer in Signal & Image Processing from University of West Scotland, whose team is cleverly using a mobile phone app for audio analysis of coughs to help monitor respiratory health and predict exacerbations.

The appetite for disruptive and proactive innovation was absolutely clear. As one person described it, ‘We’re moving from asking permission first, and doing it then asking for forgiveness, to just doing it and not stopping until they taser you’ – I may well put this on my coat of arms.

The first recorded mention of ZIKA virus in a ledger held in the University of Glasgow archive
The first recorded mention of ZIKA virus in a ledger held in the University of Glasgow archive

Of course, TEDx isn’t just about medicine. Part of the magic of the event is the wide variety of speakers they assemble on one stage. The subsequent wild mixture of topics stimulates the mind and conversation even further.

 So, from the art world we heard from fashion designer Pam Hogg, (@PAMHOGGcouture) talking about ‘Divine Disorder’ and the chaotic muse she serves in delivering her incredible and personal work to the catwalks of the globe. From NVA(@_nva_), Creative Director Angus Farquhar premiered a mystical video of his art installation at St Peter’s Seminary in Cardross. He spoke of ‘healing the wounded giant’: a choral piece ringing through the illuminated skeleton of this post-modern ruin. Brianna Robertson-Kirkland (@BreeRob_Kirk) explained how the Castrato, the eunuch rock-stars of the classical operatic world, led to the development of a vocal training methodology that shapes singers today.

From the world of business, we heard of the need to innovate in the conservative world of the legal profession from Ruaridh Wynne-McHardy (@RuairidhWM). Steve McCreadie (@TheLensCP) & Dr Mark Payton (@MerciaTech) gave advice on nurturing intrapreneurship and entreprenuerhsip respectively, and Ellis Watson from DC Thomson (@DC_Thomson) lit a fire under our collective backsides and just asked us to get on with it – ‘Disrupt yourself or Die Trying’
Ellis Watson fires up the crowd
Ellis Watson fires up the crowd
And then there’s the motivational element, for which TED and TEDx excel. Mark Muller Stuart (@BeyondBorders_) reminded everyone of global conflict, and the role that a small nation such as Scotland can play in Non-State Diplomacy. Luke Robertson (@lukeRobertson) gave a humbling talk on ‘The Other Side of Fear’, and how he recovered from having a pacemaker and brain surgery to become the first Scot to complete a solo, unsupported and unassisted expedition to the South Pole. Fear can be a powerful motivator, and he encouraged us all to take more from it than it takes from us.
Which leads me to the most touching talk of the day – Laura Beveridge (@wee_munchkin6). By day she works as development officer at Who Cares? Scotland helping young people in care. Laura came from a childhood in care herself, and she spoke bravely and honestly about how fear and bureaucracy got in the way of even the most simple activities that we all take for granted:
  • Risk assessments for sleepovers.
  • Sitting on the shore while your friends play in the sea because the wrong kind of staff are present.
  • Being denied a hug, or even being told that someone loves you, because you’re not a child, but a child in care.

A more stark example of the need for disruption, and to rise about fear,  could not have been given. As her speech closed, the whole auditorium rose as one to give her a standing ovation.

The day finished as it started, with clear blue skies and warm early summer sun bathing the massed audience. Conversations with strangers continued into the evening, and it was clear that the mission statement of TEDx was being delivered. What is interesting about the TED approach is that, in contrast to more traditional conferences, answers aren’t provided. What you get instead are hints at solutions, and encouragement to communicate, collaborate, and boldly experiment. The call to disruption of the world starts by accepting disruption within.

Post TEDxGlasgow – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

You can find out more about TEDxGlasgow and the speakers, including videos of some of the talks, on their website:


Declarations of Interest: I attended TEDxGlasgow as a guest of the DHI, with whom I have worked in the past in my role as salaried employee of IC24 ltd. All other expenses were paid for personally. 

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