The recently refurbished Theatre Royal was the superb venue for Glasgow’s most recent TEDx event at the beginning of June. The theatre’s signature central spiral stairway, which climbs towards the heavens (as well as to the stunning outdoor terrace, but that’s another story) seemed to me to encapsulate the vision for the day: first, the new staircase is wide, allowing a broad range of people to traverse it. Secondly, at each level the staircase opens out to light-filled space, with different rooms to engage in ideas and conversation. And let’s not forget the theatre itself. It’s the oldest in Glasgow: a performance space where words, imagination and creativity have been challenging attitudes and inspiring audiences to think differently for almost 150 years. A suitably fitting venue to discuss the day’s theme: “A Disruptive World”.
It was an interesting choice of word. If you google the meaning of “disruptive”, the connotations are virtually all negative: separation, disintegration, cessation, severance, chaos…the list goes on. And yet the day was the complete opposite: it was about engagement, connection, synergy, harmony, teamwork. Every time I started up a conversation with a stranger, it was as though I’d found a new friend with whom I wanted to continue the conversation for far longer than our allotted time. There was an immediate connection, despite being from an incredibly diverse range of backgrounds. And the conversations were wide-ranging, everything from geo-politics and medical devices to poverty and inequality.
If you look beyond the surface meaning of the word “disruptive”, you can see where the organisers were coming from. New ideas, new approaches to the world’s problems, new ways of doing things are always going to be “disruptive”. One of the day’s many excellent speakers, Ellis Watson, the CEO of one of the UK’s largest media organisations, DC Thomson, gave an inspirational talk on “Disrupt Yourself or Die Trying”. As human beings, we have a tendency to dislike disruption or change. We prefer routines, even simple ones like knowing which cafe sells the best espresso on your way to work. I’m someone who has had a lot of “disruption” in her life, sometimes forced on me but also actively sought out. Neither of my parents were risk-takers. Indeed, I remember their look of total horror when, in another incarnation, I informed them that I was declining the offer of a senior local government post, with all the associated benefits, and I was accepting a job with a small, independent theatre company, with no security or benefits whatsoever. I even took a pay cut. But if I hadn’t taken that step, I would have remained a square peg in a round hole and I certainly would never have gone to work for the BBC.
When I came to live in Glasgow in 2006, I was amazed at how many people still lived close to, or even in, the area they were born. Part of me, I confess, was slightly envious of the fact that they knew people they’d been to primary school with and many of their friendships went back 30, or even 40, years. This lack of movement is particularly noticeable in the West of Scotland but it’s reflected across the world, to a greater or lesser degree. It’s completely different from my life experience, which has seen me change career twice in order to find the right niche and to realise my potential. It’s been very uncomfortable at times and hasn’t been without cost but I don’t regret it at all.
And this brings me back to “disruption” at TEDxGlasgow. A lack of challenge, or not being prepared to take a risk, only increases that innate fear of taking a major step into the unknown. If your work/home “bubble” means you only speak and engage with the same people you’ve engaged with since childhood, the consequence is that you don’t experience the stimulation of different ways of thinking and being, which challenge your accepted norms and values. You don’t get that enticing, exciting and, yes, sometimes scary, glimpse of how things could be different. All the inspirational TedxGlasgow speakers were characterized by having stepped out from their comfort zone and engaged with different thinking. The results are cutting-edge ideas which are, literally, changing our world. I came out from the Theatre Royal into the Glasgow sunshine (yes really!) inspired to continue “Disrupting Myself or Die Trying”.
Image ℅ TEDxGlasgow Linkedin